Sufi music in Morocco


Sufi music is a means of connecting to the Divine through chanting and dance. But it's more than simply worship; it also serves a therapeutic purpose. When someone is depressed or otherwise mentally ill, Sufis consider the sufferer to be endiablé – inhabited by a devil – and the only solution is to drive away the demon with an ever-crescendoing swell of heavy percussion and songs set to religious poetry. It's incredibly loud – especially when the horns blare.

Imagine yourself depressed. A brotherhood of ten robed mystics shows up at your bedside and starts drumming and singing in a clamorous fortissimo. There's no ignoring them – and that's the point: to penetrate the sufferer's consciousness, rouse him from torpor, and get him up and moving in a sort of trance-dance. Once this happens, the music must not stop until the endiablé falls to the floor, an indication that the demon has been exorcised.


I must say, it works. Before I arrived in Morocco, all I knew of Sufism was that it's the mystical branch of Islam. Religious-poetry and musical scholar Youssef Ghazale invited me to experience a house blessing by a brotherhood of Sufi musicians. This was my first major assignment on the first full day of shooting. Frankly, I was freaking out, fearing myself caught in something way beyond my abilities, and I had no clue how to approach the task before me.

The drumming and chanting began. So great was the intensity of noise that my chair shook. I locked my jaw in a frozen smile, but incense kept tickling my nose, forcing me to relax my facial muscles. As the music volume swelled, so did my mind-chatter, and suddenly I was faced with a choice: trip on my own self-made insanity or surrender to the present moment. The horns blasted in a deafening roar, and up I leapt, clapping and hollering alongside the women. By the end, I felt positively giddy.

Up until recently there were few – if any – opportunities for outsiders to hear these glorious, cathartic sounds in person. But lately you can, if you time your trip to coincide with the Fès Festival of World Sacred Music ( in French). Be sure to bring your demons with you.

John Vlahides travelled to Morocco on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow his adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.

Further information

Find yourself in Fès: download the Imperial Cities, Middle Atlas & the East chapter from our Morocco guidebook.