The Feeling’s in the Beat


Caitlen Sellers

Document Type


Publication Date



Forced into Morocco as slaves or warriors on the trans-Saharan slave trade, Africans from nations like Mali brought with them traditional healing rituals, using music, among other elements, to connect with ancient spirits. This healing ceremony is known as the lila. Mqaddema, or female overseers, call for lilatwhenever they have fallen ill due to a spirit possession. Lilat serve to appease the spirits and provide a means of cohabitation within the body of the possessed. Once widely unaccepted, the music of their rituals has become a commodity, and people travel from all over the world to attend the Le Festival Gnaoua in Essaouira.

This presentation gives a brief description of the historical context in which ancient Gnawa traditions traveled to Morocco, but it focuses more so on the lila. The presentation illustrates the way in which elements of the ritual create a connection with mluk, or spirits, while also remembering and honoring the Gnawa roots as slaves, focusing especially on the musical aspects. Music serves an important role in creating a trance-like state needed for a spirit to emerge. Lastly, it touches briefly on modern implications for the Gnawa culture, due to increasing tourism and commercialization. Music is often used as a catalyst for connecting cultures, and Gnawa has been used by some musicians, such as Randy Weston, to make connections with others and search for their roots. At the same time, many musicians aide in the destruction of tradition caused by modernization and commercialization by selling it as a commodity to tourists and Westerners.

Faculty Mentor

Nancy Gamso

This document is currently not available here.