Lalla Aisha and the Gnaoua


While doing the research for Moor, Kenzi and I encountered all kinds of strange and supernatural characters, in the form of jnoun. Jnoun (plural, jinn singular) are a race of spirits engaged with on various levels by the Moroccan people, and form an important part of the Moroccan Sufi Muslim belief system. They are very fond of henna, and have many odd quirks that cause us humans to have to be wary- they are not difficult to anger, and results could be highly undesirable.

While researching, we began at points to be moderately obsessed with the jnoun– did they live in New York City and not just Morocco? Were they hiding in the drain, the armoire, or other common jinn hangouts? Were we going to invite their wrath by not offering them our leftover henna as prescribed? The most fearsome of all is Aisha Qandisha, also called Lalla Aisha, who often appears as a beautiful woman with the feet of a camel.

The Sufi groups in Morocco have unique ways of negotiating with these jnoun. One of the most important ways is through music. The music of the Gnaoua order, who moved north to Morocco from sub-Saharan Africa is especially haunting, featuring a bass lute called a guembri and several pairs of metal clappers called qaraqeb. An invocation to the jinn is sung and she is invited into the ceremony.

Here’s a short clip of one of my favorite Gnaoua songs, youbati:

Ultimately, we’re pretty sure the jnoun haven’t made it over to the states yet… but watch out!

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