Marrakech, Motorcycles and Sufi Chanting
We're here and getting established with the help of a medina map which we highlight with our routes. Marrakech is both overwhelming in its massive material good industry and calming in its obvious catering to tourists and people like ourselves. We, for the first time since coming to Morocco, are not exceptional here at first glance. But it is hard to describe the calamatous souks and vibrant colors of Marrakech when right now my head is in the sufi world. Yesterday afternoon we had a woman come to talk to us about some of the ins and outs of basic sufism. She herself is writting a book on the femal sufi saints, so naturally our talk drifted in that direction and we had a fantastic discussion. But this evening we had a sufi chanting group come and perform for us. We sat in Riad Arabesca's zelliged courtyard lulled by the ups and downs, ins and outs and shouts and silences of the five sufis chanting for us. They were following a path of only their knowing as first one then another took up the lead, clapping a gentle beat, tapping an almost silent rhythm and singing the praises of Allah. The sufis use this chanting to lull them into a trance-like state enveloping themselves in the music and the pattern of their familiar words. It was amazing as I felt myself calming with the musical sound of the sufi poems. Any tension or worries seemed to ebb and take a place furthur back in the recesses of my mind, what might have seemed pressing and urgent felt feather-light and easily dealt with. It was a period of meditation where silence was not the object, but release in music.
After they finished their chants we sat up near them and asked them as many questions as we could think of, in French. They started at their 'zawia' or gathering house for budding sufis and teachers at the age of seven. They also attended regular school as well as lessons on the Qu'ran. Of the five men chanting one was a high school economics teacher, one a retiree who was volunteering for the religious part of the government inspecting mosques around the country, one was a music teacher, one was a taxi driver and one was an aide to the minister of the interior for Morocco. When we asked how many were in their group they said about 200, and these five came because they were the best. They also have between 100 and 150 women at their zawia, but the women and men don't sing together. Not learning about their backgrounds until after we heard them chant was really interesting, because hearing how they interacted with one and other and how they blended their voices I thought that the pursuit of sufi knowledge through continuing scholarly education and practicing of singing would be their full time job. But they only get together to sing every friday for two hours for prayers when the public can come, and special gatherings like our 'soiree'. It was an amazing experience and I think it is an integral part of Moroccan culture that can only be understood through actual conversations and hearing the chanting.