Moroccan Nights in Brussels: from Gnawa Rituals to Popular Weddings
Dr. Hélène Sechehaye Université Libre de Bruxelles
Date & Location
Feb 27, 2023, 2:00 PM
Online Public Talk
About the Event
This lecture will focus on two musical practices that I had the occasion to study in depth in Brussels, where more than 15% of the population is of Moroccan descent. The Gnawas constitute a brotherhood community whose ritual practices are abundantly documented in Morocco. My thesis is the first research lead in their diaspora, who had to cope with the reterritorialization of the līla (‘night’) ritual. The symbolic and practical constraints it generates induce reconfigurations of ritual elements. Accepted as an unavoidable factor, the deterritorialization is also a liberation: freed from the constraint of therapeutic efficiency, the Gnawa in Brussels can reinvent the meaning of the līlāt. My second fieldwork is dedicated to the ša'bi ('popular') repertoires played in non-mixed wedding ceremonies by female ensembles daring to show themselves publicly. Ša'bi music follows precisely the ceremonial of the wedding, taking on ritual, symbolic and identity functions.
If, at first glance, one could imagine these two universes as completely opposite, theoretical categories are in fact very spontaneously transgressed through practice. Musicians not only cross paths and regularly spend time with each other, but also take on similar roles. Whether it is in relation to patriarchal societal norms, to overly strict forms of religiosity, to systemic racial discrimination or to other forms of identity essentialisation, these musicians transform the places they invest in into spaces of freedom, and free themselves, along with their listeners, for the duration of an evening.
Hélène Sechehaye has a PhD in Music and Musicology (Université Libre de Bruxelles / Université Jean Monnet, Saint-Etienne). Her doctoral thesis focuses on the musical practices of the Gnawa, a brotherhood of Moroccan origin that has been living in Brussels for more than twenty years. Hélène is a founding member and president of the Belgian national committee of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM). In 2020, Hélène joined the team of the Royal Conservatory of Brussels as Professor of Ethnomusicology and is currently Research Fellow at the Université Libre de Bruxelles.