Gnawa music from Morocco is very powerful spiritual music and it is primarily used for healing. The Gnawa carry out trance ceremonies (derdeba) in order to heal people who are very sick. The healing rituals' goal may be to flush out an evil spirit that has brought illness, infertility, anxiety, scorpion stings and psychic disorders, or some other affliction. The Gnawa cure diseases by the use of colors, fragrances and fear.
A central figure in Gnawa lore is a feminine being, a spirit known as Aisha Kandisha. She is a beautiful enchantress and insatiable jinniya (she-devil) with the power to bewitch both women and men. Helpless against her evil charms, her victims are driven beyond the brink of madness to a state of frenzied derangement and even to suicide. The only way to lift the curse is through elaborate trance ceremonies such as the ones carried out by the Gnawa. On the other hand, the purpose of the derdeba may be to extend a helpful relationship with a spirit that has brought prosperity, good fortune, or some other baraka (blessings).
The derdeba lasts all night long in order to carry out the healing and purification process. The musicians and devotees warm up for the derdeba with entertainment music played on the sentir. When they are ready to initiate the ceremony, all the participants congregate outside, in front of the house where the derdeba is to take place. The drums and karkabas proclaim to neighbors and spirits alike that the derdeba is about to begin. The crowd then walks back inside the house in a candlelight procession. The m'allem (lead musician or maestro) again plays the sentir, and the group sings and plays a series of songs to offer the robes to be worn during the ceremony, while the other partakers share dates and milk.
The whole ceremony includes seven parts, each controlled by a different saint or family of spirits. Each section is associated with clothing of a particular color. The ritual sends some of the participants into a trance or a spirit may first possess a devotee, and then express through the dancer's mouth its desire for the appropriate tune. The trance state is accelerated by the proper combination of spices and incense that must be burned, and the dancer must be dressed in the spirit's preferred color.
A complete derdeba may last all night, well past dawn on the following day. As the trance ceremony ends, the musicians return to lighter music meant to relax the spectators.
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