Jedba, a new album produced by artists Abdesselam (Abel) Damoussi and Nour Eddine Fatty, will be released by ARC Music (the world’s oldest world music label) on January 25th. The pair are seeking to bring Sufi music to the world.
Sufism is the religious tradition that explores the inner mystical dimension of Sunni Islam. It is characterized by an ascetic lifestyle and a spirituality ritually enforced by trance prayers, chant, and dance.
While many undoubtedly are familiar with Gnawa music—another tradition in the sufic repertoire, Jedba, the title of the album, refers to a collective dance in which participants hold hands, united in the love of the divine. Intended to renew such Sufi traditions within Morocco, the album is now poised to showcase them to the world.
Abel Damoussi has his roots in hip-hop, rock, jazz and world music. Fatty, a Moroccan musician living in Italy, is most well-known as a composer and, somewhat unusually, a contributor to the Vatican musical archives. Damoussi says of Fatty: “The magic of my friend and co-producer Nour Eddine was omnipresent throughout, with his great percussion and construction of original grooves . . . .”
In the past, Arc Music has produced Sufi music from several other countries, including India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Iran. This is the first Moroccan edition and will be released worldwide in eight countries, with up to 400 journalists reporting on the release on six continents. The major focus will be on the US, UK, Germany, and France.
The album displays the depth of the influence of Sufi chants on the culture of Morocco. Damoussi himself in the liner notes says that:
“This album is inspired by Moroccan Sufi music and chanting which is part of the everyday life of most households in Morocco . . . . Sufi music is played in all celebrations, be it birth . . . weddings or religious feasts . . . . The lyrics . . . coupled sometimes with a repetitive rhythm, elevate the spirit and the body to a state of trance and spiritual drunkenness, Alkhamriyates. Percussion playing to the rhythm of the heartbeat, and wind instruments, plus the breathing while in trance, all bring the individual to a state of spiritual elevation (the Mjdoun).”
It is this state of consciousness, which Sufis consider “essential nourishment of the soul,” that inspires the album.
“Jedba shows that Sufi music is not confined to mosques or Zawiya (monasteries) but is an intrinsic part of everyday Moroccan life. It is music from the streets, homes, marketplace and desert. Profound, mystical, compelling, entrancing . . . the entire album is a journey through the heart and soul of Marrakesh. It pays homage to the spiritual music and songs of urban and rural Morocco.”
~ Arc Music
Arc’s executive producer, Chris Tomsett, stressed the importance of showcasing the positive aspects of Islamic culture to the world at this time. Arc representative Julia Beyer is quoted in the album sleeve as saying: “There are enough wars in the world. This album is about peace; we must share it with the world.”
The official launch of the album took place at the Riad Kssour Agafay, home to the Agafay Studio, where the album was recorded. The beauty of Kssour Agafay is in perfect harmony with the spirit of the album; indeed, the album can be seen as the musical counterpart to the magnificent architectural design of the riad. Taken together, the music and the setting create an holistic aesthetic that distills in sound the experience of wandering in the Marrakech Medina.
As Chris Tomsett, executive director of Arc Music remarked, “If you could put the Medina of Marrakech into a sound, this would be it.” Studio Agafay has been professionally engineered so that quality recordings can be obtained live in the grand room of the Riad, as well as in the studio itself. Artists recording at the studio often stay in the Riad, giving them complete freedom to record when and how they wish.
The motivation for the album was born out of Jemaa el-Fna, the vast marketplace at the edge of the labyrinthine souks in the Medina—the cultural heart of Marrakech. A UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Site, it is a hub for traditional artists, storytellers, poets and musicians.
Jemaa el-Fna is a place where public expressions of sacred traditions are expected and venerated. Thus, walking to the Kssour Agafay is a musical experience in itself, complete with snake charmers, driving music, street food, lanterns, acrobats, monkeys, clairvoyants, hordes of henna ladies, and an anarchic mixture of other delights that combine to form an onslaught upon all the senses. Many of the tracks on the album include the music of contemporary street performers of the city, giving the music added authenticity.
Damoussi and Fatty have carefully arranged Jedba to include performances by Moroccan musicians from as far afield as the streets of Casablanca, the mosques of Tangier, and the villages of the Atlas Mountains. The final product therefore reflects the varied nature of the subject matter from which is it drawn. It is at once an expansive cross-section of the Sufi traditions of the whole country and a subtle, authentic piece of work, which never betrays its roots.
As Arc Music records the story of its birth:
“One day, as Abel Damoussi ventured through Jemaa el-Fna, he was immediately struck by two groups of mystics – Jilalia and Issawa – playing distinct and unexpected combinations of music: a crossing over of the double-reeded Rhaita with flute and percussion, all performed in perfect time. Abel could have walked by, but the music producer in him took charge. Abel invited the mystics for a mint tea, and afterwards to Marrakech’s Agafay Studio, where the opening track Jedba was laid down in layers.”
The ten tracks of Jedba showcase the work of many unknown artists. The voice of Nour Nejma Damoussi, Abel’s 8-year-old daughter, can be heard at the start of “Spiritual Mawal” (The Light of the Star). “Sabaato Rijal” (Seven Saints of Marrakech) features a beggar who was found praying in Jemaa el-Fna and spirited away to Studio Agafay to record.
Alongside such obscure works appears that of established musicians in the field of Sufi Music. Raid Brahim is a Sufi master musician from the Atlas Mountains, whose voice has often been compared to that of Omar Ouahrouche. Brahim plays the Ribab and sings in Amazigh (the Berber language) and captures the aesthetic of the region beautifully in the song Tazalit. Yemdeh Selem, whom Abel refers to as the “diva of the desert” was born into a Sufi family and boasts 30 years experience in the genre. Selem’s voice is often compared to that of Dimi Mint Ana, one of Mauritania’s most famous musicians.
Jedba is a welcome addition to the world music catalogue, in which many believe Moroccan Sufi music has been conspicuous by its absence. The album is an opportunity to enter this tradition through the sounds and rhythms of its musicians.
Damoussi and Fatty told Inside Arabia that they hope to produce and present sponsored live performances of this spiritual music in Kssour Agafay and to add to the repertoire in the near future.
If the new Jedba album is any indication, world music will be much enriched by what this ancient culture has to offer.