1. The Aissawa took their name after Sidi Mohammed Ben A'issa (also known as 'the perfect Sheikh') the 16th century founder of an Sufi brotherhood. This society were known throughout Morocco to use music in the practice of dhikr and other consciousness-altering ceremonies (See Ahmed Aydoun,1992 and Emile Dermengen, 1951). The Oujda group, however, appeared to differ considerably in membership, practice and musical style from other Aissawa brotherhoods, and I can only assume that either the name was adopted by the local community to authenticate local traditions or that these developed idiosyncratically from common historical origins. The name Fqira, is a feminine form of F'qir, approximating the meaning of 'facilitator'.
2. The bendir is a circular frame drum, of around 70cm in diameter, with a goat-skin head and three or four gut snares. They are found throughout North Africa, but are largely associated with rural customs and womens music. The snares create a buzzing effect, which itself is taken to be sensual and enervating for dance music but quite inappropriate for art genres or male religious practices. Bendirs are used in some male dhikr ceremonies, but these are played without snares, in order for the audition to remain sacred and not profane. The use of snared bendirs in the Aissawa is itself suggestive of a particularly feminine listening aesthetic, involving a sensual and emotional jouissance. A valuable comparative study of such drums can be found in Doubleday 1999.
3. As the word el baroud refers not only to the gunpowder, but to the shotgun itself, this line indirectly demands access to a uniquely male preserve. If, as it has been suggested to me, the term is also used locally as a metaphor for the penis, this adds a further poetic nuance to this song.
4. It is quite possible that the visa being asked for, which was always for access to Europe, might well be on the behalf of the women's menfolk or children, as male economic migration was widely regarded as the most reliable way to better an entire familys circumstances.
5. As it was the intention to bring about and complete this cathartic process, the duration of such pieces depended upon the emotional condition of the dancers. Accordingly, the Fqira led the performance and initiated such musical or sung changes as best encouraged the dancers' state of trance. Thus, if a piece had gone on for some time and the process had not moved towards a conclusion, the Fqira brought in a novel cross-rhythmic pattern on her own instrument, quickened the tempo or introduced another appropriate chant. Such musical variations usually succeeded in their object of enervating the dancers to a point of being emotionally overwhelmed.
6. Sugar was considered a 'good' substance which played an important role as currency in various symbolic exchanges, particularly but not exclusively, amongst women. Sweet cakes, sugar and honey were often given as gifts to friends and neighbours (as they are in many other cultures). Moreover, large loaves of sugar (usually weighing one kilo) were amongst the most frequent items presented by supplicants to the Fqira as payment for assitance in the ritual. The distribution of 'spiritually charged' sugar after the event marks both a transformation from the mundane to the holy and, most importantly, the sharing of resources amongst the ritual community.
7. See Langlois (1998) for a discussion of other therapeutic uses of religious music in Oujda. For further analysis of the role of maraboutic saints in women's religious practice see Daisy Hilse Dwyer (1978), or Crapanzano's (1980) study of gender symbolism in Morrocan folk religion.
8. For more thoughts on this matter, refer to Gilbert Rouget's study of 'Music and Trance amongst the Arabs' in his 'Music and Trance' (1980). Here he suggests that the widespread criticism of all music-making, made by some Islamic authorities, is based upon the belief that music has profound, uncontrollable emotional and moral effects upon listeners.
9. Popular male conceptions of women's spiritual existence were quite discriminatory. For example, on many occasions men, possibly hoping to convert me to Islam, described the sensual pleasures which awaited the faithful in the afterlife. Here, it was suggested, each man would have every desire met by willing female houris. When I asked if their wives would also get to heaven and if so, what they would think of this arrangement, it was hinted that they went somewhere else altogether, where they did not, it seemed, receive reciprocal treatment.
10. The women of a household or street formed a close social group in which older members exercised the greater authority over their younger relatives. It was one priority of the matriarch to limit the freedom of movement of unmarried girls and young wives, as any hint of immorality could bring shame upon the entire household and ruin the reputation and marriage prospects of the woman. It was the norm for respectable Oujdi women to take part in public activities as a group, where mutual surveillance, as well as support, could be maintained. Some suspicion, from both sexes, was cast upon women who spent time unoccupied and unaccompanied. See Susan Schaefer-Davis (1983) for a more detailed description of female hierarchies within traditional Moroccan homes and neighbourhoods.
11. It should be noted here that although there were musical, and especially rhythmical similarities between Aissawa tunes and non-religious womens music, the physical dance response to each was very different. In this case it was clearly the text of the song and the context in which it was played, which signified the important distinction between sacred and profane music.
12. In many respects this stereotype might have been countered by the observation that women, in fact, did much of the management of the household as well as, very often, being in engaged in non-domestic economic activities. It was also widely observed that Western women, and even 'Westernised' Moroccan women, did not fit this model, therefore, logically, polarising gender stereotypes were cultural rather than natural. The fact that such alternative views were not commonly expressed in the public sphere is testimony to the extent of male political control of this area of cultural discourse. Interestingly, middle class young women, many of whom were educated at the local university, had other strategies available to them, including active involvement in 'revivalist' political Islam. Female university students frequently observed stricter and more 'middle-eastern' dress codes than their less-educated counterparts, just as many young men at university grew beards to display their new-found religious and political orientation. It is reasonable to suggest that such practices were, for women at least, an alternative strategy for self-empowerment. The greater freedom of movement and career prospects enjoyed by educated women were 'paid for' by clearly distancing themselves from the negative aspects of local gender stereotypes, and identifying themselves with more pan-Islamic constructions.
13. I have observed the yu-yu being employed as mobbing cry against men on a number of occasions. Once, when an unwelcome local man entered the Aissawa courtyard, this call was raised almost unanimously by the gathered women. Collectively, then, and without revealing individual identities, the women marked this as a transgression of boundaries, which made the man so uncomfortable that he left very shortly afterwards. My own presence originally brought a similar response, but this was eventually dropped when a) I had explained my intentions, b) received the approval of the Fqira and c) clearly failed to respond appropriately to the yu-yu.
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