Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance Music in the Global Marketplace.

Author:Goldstein, Ruth

Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance Music in the Global Marketplace. By Deborah Kapchan. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. Pp. xi + 325, introduction, notes, bibliography, glossary notes, index, illustrations.

Deborah Kapchan traces the evolving tradition of Gnawa trance music from its Sub-Saharan African origins to its increasingly commercialized form worldwide in Traveling Spirit Masters: Moroccan Gnawa Trance Music in the Global Marketplace. She frames her work geographically in Morocco and France, and theoretically at the crossroads of performance, poetics, and aesthetics. The dancing and drumming trance tradition traveled first along the slave route, and today travels a different sort of trade route--the airwaves of live or digitized world music. Many past studies of the Maghreb have taken largely intellectual approaches, among them explaining trance's functional aspects, its legibility as cultural text, or its existence as an embodied history of colonialism. Kapchan points out that it is possible to read the history of social theory and its tropes through these studies. What sets her beautifully written ethnography apart is that she also takes the spirit world seriously. The Gnawa ontology is one of difference and its reality can be grasped only in performance. It is not enough to analyze it only intellectually. For Kapchan, Gnawa trance presents more than an object of analysis; it is also a vehicle of knowledge that often possesses her. It is from her unique position as both ethnographer and performer that the reader receives such a rich description of Gnawan practices, history, and possibilities for the future.

A Gnawa lila (ceremony) with the jnun (spirits) occurs at night. The drummers rhythmically bring the dancer into a trance and the spirits into attendance. The work of a Gnawa ceremony is to give the participants--called "trancers"--knowledge of how the soul travels through life, death, and back to life again, enabling catharsis. The catharsis, however, does not occur through a purging of the spirits from the possessed person; rather, it occurs through the acceptance of living in a possessed state. Catharsis, then, admits and empowers spirit/human cohabitation. The tropes of the colonial legacy of slavery and occupation resonate in Kapchan's analysis. However, she writes with openness to imagining and living with a multi-personality, which problematizes the notion of personhood in provocative ways...

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