Music for the unseen: interaction between two realms during a Gnawa lila

  • Maisie Sum Conrad Grebel University College


Moroccan Gnawa music is intended for sacred spirit possession rituals called lila. During a lila, sequential performances of possession dance take place. In the oral tradition of Gnawa practice, no explicit discourse seems to exist for these interactions. This paper investigates how variation in musical processes and possession dance correlate during a single performance of trance. My governing questions are: 1) how does music occur in the various stages of trance, and 2) what do musical processes tell us about the abstract phenomenon of trance? 3) Does a transitional phase exist that is expressed in a musical phrase? Following from Rouget’s concept that music is a technique of communication of the human world in order to facilitate trance and validate ritual beliefs, my interest lies in deciphering what music communicates about trance and how music (and dance) communicates the interaction between the temporal and supernatural in Gnawa rituals.