Al-samaa: Estatic spiritual audition

Al-samaa: Estatic spiritual audition

Ihsan Rmiki

The samaa, or spiritual concert, is part of the Sufi tradition, and involves listening to music and song in modes of Andalusian origin, in order to reach spiritual awakening and contact with the divine, a trance-like state known as the wajd. The practice takes place in the refined atmosphere of the zawiyas. Panegyrics are sung either solo or in chorus with an instrumental accompaniment of varying importance; the performance is conducted by a shaykh whose role is twofold: to lead the ritual and be the spiritual guide of the devotees.
Ihsan Rmiki, one of the rare female vocalists to perform samaa, transports her audience in a mood of spiritual fervour still cultivated in modern-day urban Morocco. The result is a moving musical account of this profound spiritual journey that all those who aspire to union with God will undertake.


1 – First stage along the Path – 20’02
– Greetings, allegiance
– The Abandonment of All Worlds
– Spiritual Union
2 – Second stage along the Path – 37’06
– Celebration of the Beloved
– The Path of Ecstasy
– The Quest is accomplished

Interpreters and instruments

Ihsan Rmiki (singing)
Mohamed Azeddine (direction)
Moulay Ali Moulaoud (lute)
Abdellah Fakhari (violin)
Ahmed Bzari (rabab)
Abdelilah Deqaqi (derbouka)
Rachid Hijaoui (tar)


The samaa is one of the forms of musical expression belonging to Sufism, the mystic branch of Islam. This mysticism is called tasawwuf in Arab, a word probably derived from the noun suf, meaning wool or a woollen garment. Sufism began to spread throughout the Islamic world in the 8th century, starting from Baghdad, then radiating out from Cairo in the 11th century. The Sufi brotherhoods or orders, as they came to be known, organised under the authority of a shaykh or master, base their authenticity on what are basically spiritual lineages, with the handing over of power and mystical knowledge guaranteed by a chain of transmission from master to disciple. It is essential for the mystic to live an ascetic life in order to have access to “spiritual truth”, the essence of truth itself. To attain union with God and the dissolution of the self in God (fanaa), adepts must follow the Path or Way of a particular shaykh and obey certain well-defined rules.

Sufism developed its own set of musical traditions, and there exists a whole series of melodic and vocal forms, as well as dances, from remembrance of God’s name (dhikr) to the trance state known as hadra or wajd, all conducive to the quest for God; amongst them is the samaa, a tradition of the spiritual concert with music and songs, not necessarily religious in character. The word samaa embraces various practices and meanings – mystical chant, devotional singing, audition, communion, trance-like dancing (solo or in a group) and religious ritual. Thus it covers every means by which the adept may experience the majesty of God. Devotees often describe this as an inner state of bubbling excitement leading to movements of the body controlled to a greater or lesser degree and moments of unconsciousness, followed by a feeling of serene weakness where he has the impression of being freed from all earthly constraints. In practical terms, the ritual consists of listening to music as a means of reaching a sort of enlightened state, where the adept enters into communion with the Divine; this trance state is known as the wajd.

Anyone who attends the samaa can listen to the music, but the only way he can take an active part in the ritual is by clapping his hands. The musicians, on the other hand, both singers and instrumentalists alike, are there to make music and do not try and enter into a trance. The samaa is practised in the refined intimacy of the zawiyas. Its modes or nubas are borrowed from Andalusian music, with three distinct genres: al-madih, or panegyric poems; al-samaa properly speaking, i.e. the spiritual audition itself; and al-inshad, solo singing. The poems are compilations of old and more recent poems, sung to tunes in widely used Andalusian modes linked to other old-fashioned modes such as as-sika and al-jarka, with the darj rhythm as their base.

The samaa is conceived as a spiritual concert, with music sung either by a soloist or a choir; the varied instrumental backing is conducted by a shaykh whose role is twofold: to lead the ritual and be the spiritual guide of the devotees. A hymnod or qawwal, also known as the munshid (a solo singer), who will have been selected for his talent as well as his wonderful vocal qualities, is responsible for the vocal solos. The ritual unfolds with the vocal and instrumental parts succeeding each other, sometimes separately, sometimes together. The adepts, seated in profound meditation, gradually allow themselves to be drawn into a state of trance, but they must always try not to lose their self-control. When the trance reaches its paroxysm, they rise and start dancing until they reach a state of grace and true bliss.

The music and the singers

The musical modes used in the present recording are the adraj (sing. darj), the product of the Moroccan zawiyas; some of the adraj are modern, the work of Shaykh Abdellatif Benmansour. In this recording Mohamed Azeddine provides an example of the revival of the art of samaa currently underway in Morocco. As a worthy representative of the new generation of mussammaa, whose work has reached the fullness of maturity through his constant attendance at the zawiyas of Marrakech (Abassie, Kansoussie, Jazoulie), he offers us a profoundly moving spiritual journey that all aspiring adepts must undertake to follow the Path.

The different stages along the Path are clearly indicated. The corpus of poetic work used and tapped in these spiritual circles over many centuries provides a rich treasure trove, from which a clear recitative emerges. The viator will pace himself from one spiritual theme to another according to the words of the Sufi masters, whose thought is expressed through the poetic extracts. Apart from its aesthetic value, the “poetic shortcut”, as it’s called, has a real doctrinal role to play; its dense message is firmly and impressively conveyed by the form.

Ihsan Rmiki usually sings Andalusian muwashshah, but here she performs one of the most perfect and accomplished spiritual epics known to Muslims, as well as singing poems by Abu al Hassan Shustari (d. 1270), and Sidi Abu Madyan, the great master from Tlemcen, Ibn al Farid, al Harraq, Dila’i… Thanks to Mohamed Azeddine’s selection of poems and the unearthly quality of Ihsan Rmiki’s voice, the listener is transported in a mood of spiritual fervour still cultivated in modern-day urban Morocco. This is the first time that the Al-Jud Ensemble of Marrakech has welcomed a female singer into its midst.


Shustari’s spiritual lineage 

The poetry of the great Andalusian-Maghrebi master Abu al Hassan Shustari (d. 1270), who renounced the glory and worldly splendour of his status as emir in order to take up the Sufi Path, continues to exert considerable influence today in popular circles as well as amongst the Sufi elite. The great Sufi masters have always taken it upon themselves to defend him, for the spiritual teachings his poetry conveys are at the heart of major controversies found throughout the history of Sufism. In poetry of dense, concise expression, he hovers over the long history of wisdom, giving himself a kind of universal “spiritual lineage” that includes the repositories of Ancient Egyptian wisdom, Socrates, Plato, and even the two-horned Zul Qarnain, the king and spiritual guide mentioned in the Qura’n (sura XVIII, al-Kahf). He also claims spiritual kinship with certain great Muslim philosophers and mystics such as Hallaj, Ibn Arabi and Ibn Sab’in. Shustari’s name is mentioned amongst the greatest lovers in the history of humankind too, with his name on “The Tree of Love” that must be planted in the earth of our souls, as the poet and Grand Vizier of Granada, Ibn al Khatib, put it.

Jaafar Kansoussi
Translated by Délia Morris

The recording

The present recording proposes several extracts from work that provides the perfect illustration in musical and poetic terms of exactly what is meant by the samaa ritual as it is currently understood amongst Sufis. Its main features are as follows:
– poetry describing the different stages along the path leading to spiritual union with the Divine;
– a modal structure based on Moroccan tubu’;
– rhythm patterns, particularly the darj and the quddam, with a certain cadence that will help the adept to reach the state of mystical bliss so sought after by all those taking part in the ritual.

It consists of two stages, the first develops in two specifically Moroccan modes, al-hijaz al-mashriqi and raml al-maya, and the second in the ar-rasd mode featuring a pentatonic scale, followed by the al-hijaz al-kabir mode.

The sung poetry retraces the stages that the viator, or person seeking divine union, will go through as he travels along the Path.

Part one

At the end of a period of ghafla, varying in length, and characterized by the heart being distracted by worldly goods, the viator comes upon the qawm, the people of the Sufi Path. He greets those assembled before him and praises their nobility of character. Awakened to the reality of the spiritual life, and the adab (a certain elegance of the mind and the conventions of good behaviour) he then undergoes a real transformation, conversion even, in his heart, and abandons all worlds with love, joy and allegiance in order to attain his new spiritual goal. To die in this world in order to be reborn for what is essential holds no terrors for the loving novice, quite the contrary. This ultimate destination closes the first part of the singing, where the viator experiences spiritual union.

Part two

The singing now bursts forth from the intimacy of friendship with God, expressing the state of unity and union so longed for and at last achieved. The air is heavy with the scent of incense, flutes and other pastoral sounds pierce the state of ecstasy in the cool of daybreak or the fresh air of evening, when a light breeze rubs against the panels of His garment, and the Beloved, the Unique, appears. In the whole universe, He alone, and no other, is to be contemplated. The path of ecstasy taken here is that proposed by Shustari. To quench one’s thirst in the cup of the Beloved enables one to take one’s place in the ranks of the spiritual elite, and it is precisely in this spirit that that music and singing are allowed in Sufi rituals. In the context of this contemplative quest, the poetic shortcut with its initiatory content, the music and devotional singing are all revealed as being the supreme way to reach the “holy Soul”.

The theme of the censor is declaimed towards the end of the recitative – the samaa ritual has always had its opponents amongst certain doctors of law. But the lover seeking his Beloved will remain deaf to these indelicate words.

As custom would have it, the final theme is devoted to peace and prayer to the Prophet Muhammad. The true spiritual master is none other than the Messenger of God, a source of knowledge, an example for his fellows, and the ultimate aim of all sainthood in Islam.

  • Reference : 321.075
  • Ean : 794 881 761 722
  • Main artist : Ihsan Rmiki (إحسان الرميقي)
  • Year of recording : 2004
  • Year of publishing : 2004
  • Muic style: Sufi Music
  • Country : Morocco
  • City of recording : Paris
  • Main language : Arabic
  • Composers : Traditional
  • Lyricists : Traditional
  • Copyright : Institut du Monde Arabe