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Observations placeholder

Music therapy - The Gnawa, the hadra, gumbri, ganga, and qeraqeb



Type of Spiritual Experience


Lots of examples of Gnawa music

Morocco Gnawa Music Part 1

Morocco Gnawa Music Part 2

Morocco Gnawa Music Part 3

Morocco Gnawa Music Part 4

There are more examples in this series from youtube

A description of the experience

Amnon Shiloah – Jewish and Muslim Traditions of Music therapy [in Music as Medicine]

The ecstatic procedure is quite frequently found in the healing rituals of certain Muslim co-fraternities like the Moroccan 'Isawiyya, or 'Isawa, the Hamadisha –a society more aptly described as a community of exorcists - and the Gnawa - a group of black descendants of slaves who may have been brought to North Africa from the coast of Guinea.

The special therapeutic ritual used by them is called hadra, the name usually given to the North African Sufi rite which assists adepts in attaining mystical union with God. It should be noted that the North African term hadra is intimately linked to the concept of sama [listening or audition] and this refers in classical Sufism to the ritual said to intensify the adepts’ love of God and sensation of ecstasy; its application in the healing ritual performed by those communities has been rejected by Sufi authorities and considered as marginal.

The chief aim of their hadra, states Fritz Meier, is to induce trances or fits in themselves and in the sick in order to clear a path for certain spirits to pass through the soul and depart from it, that is to release psychic blockages.

A more positive evaluation of the claimed affinity with classical mysticism is found in a recent enlightening study on the Moroccan Gnawa - a brotherhood who have placed themselves under the patronage of Bilal, the prophet's black muezzin. According to Viviana Paques, for the Gnawa words are far from being the only sources of uplift for the initiate; they rather consider music as essential to the revelation of the universe, and as a prominent factor in their system of faith.

Indeed, songs, instrumental music and dances are signs and symbols of a whole web of knowledge and ideas, and dictate a series of mystical techniques which make the adept not only knowledgeable but, particularly, an actor, a participant. Hence, dance steps, music tempi and the like are loaded with signification. It is said that listening attentively to the melody of the gumbri [a long-necked three-stringed lute] is the best way for the adept's soul to be caught in a lake of allusions. The effect of the music is tremendously increased when a subtle game of perfumes (incenses) is used at a precise moment in the ritual to reinforce the totality of codes to which the adepts are committed.

For the Gnawa, rituals usually mark and enhance all their proper feasts; they can also be performed in private on the demand of an adept, or of a sick person wishing to receive the baraka [benediction, grace] or a healing service.

The group of musicians who ensure the unfolding of all ceremonies comprises first a player on gumbri considered as knowledgeable, who assumes the role of master of the ritual; he also beats the ganga [a big side-drum]. The other musicians of the group are four or six qeraqeb players. The qeraqeb is a pair of iron clappers or castanets tied to the players' palms.

The musicians also take part in the dancing and can beat small drums. To the metallic beat, the dancers display their skills in a sequence of acrobatic figures performed with impressive rapidity.

A little before midnight (all ceremonies are held at night, hence the general name given to them: Lila, meaning 'night'), the lute is purified with incense before the last phase in which, along with the ganga, it accompanies the ecstatic dance of exorcism. The patient in need of a cure becomes agitated, stands up and makes frenetic gestures, dancing himself into a trance. He finally reaches a state of exhaustion which supposedly indicates his release from the spirit that has possessed him.


The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps