On the western fringe of Islam
With both Pope Francis and Alex Ross quoting the ninth century Sufi mystic Ali al-Khawas in the same week, we can safely assume that Sufism has finally hit the big time. My photo shows the darîh (shrine) of the Sufi marabout (saint) Sidi Moussa at Aglou on the Atlantic coast in southern Morocco. This is the western fringe of Islam, and Sufism absorbs local cultures as it travels. The animistic practices absorbed by the mystical brotherhood from Jajouka in the north of Morocco and the gnawa from the sub-Saharan south are examples of this adaption. Aglou is Berber country, and the Berbers mix observance of saintly and animistic cults with more orthodox Islam in a syncretic tradition known as Maraboutic Islam. This finds expression in the region's music, most notably among the Gnawa who blend their sub-Saharan origins with Berber and Sufi influences.
I took the header photo during my recent travels in Morocco, and the new album Taziri from Mehdi Nassouli and Titi Robin was at the top of my iPod play list there. Multi-instrumentalist Mehdi Nassouli is a product of the south Moroccan Berber tradition and he studied with several Gnawa maâ-lems (masters). In 2010 I enthusiastically reviewed his concert at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris with French virtuoso guitarist, composer, and musical nomad Titi Robin. In a sleeve note Titi Robin describes Taziri as "un blues Méditerranée" - sample here. Ali al-Khawas told us that: "Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry". So I am sure Pope Francis would approve of Mehdi Nassouli's new album.
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