The Master Musicians of Jajouka performing the Hadra outside the sanctuary of their saint, Sidi Ahmed Sheikh
Photo: Cherie Nutting

The world Hadra means “presence” in Arabic. In the context of Islam, it is the term given to the collective supererogatory rituals performed by Sufi orders. In many orders, it’s accompanied by trance–inducing music. In Jajouka, this is sacred music, and perhaps the most important tradition preserved by the Master Musicians of Jajouka. The Saint, Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, their spiritual leader, handed it to them and blessed the music with a powerful healing property or baraka. It’s the essence of Jajouka: peace. Many suffering from physical and mental illness have been healed by the music for hundreds of years.

Sometimes an insane man will be brought up to the village and with his wrists tied to a tree near the mausoleum of Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, will have the musicians play the Hadra to him for a long time, sometimes days, until he starts to listen. When the musicians see he listens, the rhythm accelerates and he starts to dance, until, maybe hours later, he will fall. Then, prayers are said, the instruments (Ghaita and Tebel) are passed over his body, and when he wakes up, he is healed. This music has a slow introductory section, with a long, complex and soothing rhythmic loop that is support for an equally long and complex melody. This slow introductory section is followed by a faster version. Later, the dancing section follows, to be concluded with another slow section.