Mehdi Qamoum

5 questions for Mehdi Qamoum

The Moroccan musician talks about trance rituals and the spiritual importance of music.

The fascinating bass lines and polyrhythmic drums of the Gnawa have already attracted musicians like Bob Marley, Jimmy Hendrix or Cat Stevens, all of whom made the pilgrimage to Morocco. Why would you say this music holds such an appeal for jazz and pop artists alike, and how did (or does) it influence these genres?

From jazz to pop, most genres of music have their roots in Africa, and in the musical rhythms of North Africa’s Gnawa people. It is only natural that Gnawa music should attract the interest of international artists: musicians from many different genres find a connection with their roots in it. The instruments used are crafted from natural materials and are played at a frequency similar to the natural sounds of the Earth.

What is the most intriguing thing about Gnawa music for you?

Participants in Gnawa sessions may experience the state of trance known as »tsoukina«; I am fascinated by the power of sound that can then arise, a life-forging sound that can make you happy or sad. The repetitive rhythms of Gnawa music allow the brain waves to be at »theta-wave frequency« (editor’s note: neuronal activities in the frequency range of 4 to 8 Hz, typical in phases of drowsiness, inattention and light sleep), and therefore experience the ultimate divine benefits of being in trance.

You practice the so-called »lila ritual«. Where does it come from, and what makes it so unique?

»Lila« means »night« in Arabic. A »lila« can last for more than 12 hours, and is usually conducted in intimate gatherings, for the purpose of creating a safe place where people can enter the state of trance and be healed by the music. It’s a combination of colorful healing sessions guided by appropriate music.

Mehdi Qamoum: L’Bouhala

You are performing the ritual in the Elbphilharmonie. How should we imagine the original setting?

Many different artists have performed at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie and left beautiful energy in that space. I truly feel I am a vessel for Gnawa music to find its way into the concert hall and mark its presence there.

How do you reach the trance state, and what does it give to the participants?

Trance is a spiritual journey to the world within, in order for change or healing to happen in the outside world. The combination of certain colors that hold a specific energy, combined with the repetitive rhythms and chants of Gnawa music, allow the participants to go into trance: based on the individual’s reason for taking part, he or she will enter a state of trance that allows healing to occur.


Questions: Anastasia Päßler, last updated: 10 Nov 2022

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