Sidi Ali III – The response

photo 1 (1)photo 4

Crows flying over Moulay Idriss                                     Musicians Sidi Ali

By Marega Palser


There is no rational response. The questions that loomed so large on that first visit have evaporated, most of them unanswered. The learning of the mind is different to that of the soul and the newly acquired knowledge of the pilgrimage to Sidi Ali is not easily explained, least of all in words. Perhaps it is best illustrated in actions. To do that would be to create an action or a series of actions based on cultural and spiritual identity and that begins an internal dialogue that I have yet been able to fully consider. The question of spiritual identity in turn joins that ever expanding list of the unanswered.

If there was an artist residency to the Vatican, or any other religious place of worship, I wonder if I would be questioning my response in such a manner. To know something of Islam, of Sufism, is one thing. To experience a spiritual event such as this is something quite different. At the heart of the stalls selling an array of offerings, that vary from rose water to the pelts of mammals, is a deep spiritual, even superstitious, belief in another dimension. A spirit world that most, if not all, faiths deny exists. A place where genies move between the real and spirit world. Asking a stall holder to explain the offerings proves difficult as an affable young man soon becomes guarded and then silent. Yet another question floats away soon to be laced with incense and spice and why should anyone have to explain a life held philosophy to a bunch of curious foreigners. The market place offers a glimpse of what is to come. An array of animals are sold for slaughter after a blessing at one of the many shrines. The shrines are big business and some of the offerings are instantly recycled creating a solid profitable model for the entrepreneurial. A cynical view can be taken for much of the festival if one wishes and perhaps this can be said of most religious happenings. Not everyone agrees with what is happening at Sidi Ali, even the town’s mosque has a clearly written disclaimer placed upon it’s doors distancing itself from pre-islamic pagan practice. The town has become a market place for all of this activity and the population has swollen in ranks for this annual mouseem.

It is not what the market place represents that has me questioning my own sense of spiritual investment. That has been reserved for the small and yet intense gatherings, Lilla’s. It is in small rooms, specially erected tents or rented garages that the true connection to this pilgrimage becomes clearer, if not fully transparent. In one of these make shift venues a band sets up, takes ownership of the space and then plays until the early hours of the morning. The bands have particular styles. Gnawa, Jilala, Issawa… they all facilitate dance and trance. The music is the conduit, the final part of the synthesis that opens the channel to the spirits. In it’s rhythm, singing, poetic profession there is a core connection to the soul even if those musical standards are unintelligible to me. I became transfixed on the movement of those that take to the floor, summoned by a spirit, to purge and cleanse. The musicians are tuned into their role and are responsible for the dancers and the emerging trance. The dancer becoming the conduit for the desires of the spirit, the musicians encouraging and goading the rhythmic contortion and embodiment. The dancer becomes more animated, more other worldly. At one early Lilla a young man became a convulsive stampeding being. Repitively building his movement with the fervour of the crowd before breaking into what appears to be a consultation with band and spirit. Towards the climax of the trance a knife appeared in his hand and arms were cleared of apparel in preparation. As the rhythm picked up again the entranced dancer started to slash at his arm. Blood appears …. he stopped, silently colluded with his musical compardres and the scene repeated itself until there was some concerned interaction from the musicians or the master of ceremonies urging the spirit dancer to cease. There was a moment where the genie Hamo clearly had control of the young male who refused to give up the knife and was compelled to continue the bloody quest. At the same time two women of different ages and families were called to the floor. One was dragged to the centre, close to the band, after collapsing in a heap, the other danced towards the music entranced. They both jerked physically, shook their heads, appeared distressed and then lost control. Each is chaperoned by concerned family members who ensure they are safe with in their conscious or unconscious state. They were compelling to watch as the music builds and at its very final beat they dropped to the floor. The heat in these Lilla’s builds as the temporary venues fill with enthused on lookers. The music is a magnet, a trap, and it is easy to be sucked in. The welcome is always generous and engaging, heartfelt sincerity. This is not such a market place although there is an exchange of dirhams for blessings. However these are places for the individuals to feel and then become the music, the spirit within the beat, the perpetual melody, to feel the euphoria of letting go, of possession. It is here I feel that any rational response is superfluous, that thought is obstructive, that the body and it’s unfiltered movement is a essential in connecting to spirits, self and each other.

An Action In Response


Items Needed:

Carrier Bag

Can of beer (lager or bitter)


Music Player

T shirt or cloth

Knife or Hammer

Object or item of some importance



1. Place carrier bag on floor

2. Remove items

3. Place music player in front

4. Play music

5. Open bottle of beer and throw around space (over self is optional)

6. Place T shirt/cloth over face

7. Dance

8. Build movement into mini moments of climax

9. Keep listening to music – check in

10. Use voice to respond where necessary

11. Throw more beer about

12. Repeat movements

13. Add greater intention to movements

14. When a sufficiently altered state of being has been attained … remove the item of importance and the knife/hammer

15. Whilst maintaining the repetition of the movement add a slash or blow to the item of importance

16. At climax of music and movement – collapse

17. Place blanket over self and rest for a while.

18. Drink what’s left of the beer.


Gareth Clark


illuminated manuscript

Illuminated Manuscripts by Cara Cole.


To Sidi Ali
Where pink, yellow ochre, turquoise , lilac, black and red rub up to eachother
Where there’s a tree made of birds
Where lizards are packed with incense and hung up like beads
Where you can have your hands adorned
and your futures read
Where candles warm damp caves
Where you can sip sacred tap water from a plastic bucket
Where we can sit as one
If only for a moment in time.


In GoDs kitchen
Anything goes
Colours and spices
Natural and day-glo
In GoDs dustbin
Don’t be shy
It’s where we worship
Try to get high
Throw in your offerings
Of incense and musk
Burn a stuffed lizard
See it turn to dust
Slit a sheep’s  throat
Slaughter a goat
Watch the chickens prance
as they perform their death dance
Offer your pants up
Don’t be shy
You won’t need them later
When you shag the next guy.


Dance no.1. ……
First you rock
Forwards and back
Forwards and back
The rhythm then takes you
Side to side
Swaying, the dance is now in you
An alien being
Now released
Up to your head
You shake it and pull it
Try to lose it
Try to lose it
Lose it
A headless body

Dance no.2…….. Like a CocK.
You stand proud
Like a cock
Pacing, walking
Letting the spirit enter
Bursts of down, down, down
Your elbows spasm
try to sprout wings
Your feet stamp
Hit the rhythm
Down, down, down
Total Being
The essence of Now

Then it stops
as if it didn’t happen
… we are suspended
Just for a moment.


Dance no.3………From The SouL.
From the soul
This one erupts
Ripples thru’ the room
A fever spreading
The voice laments
Persistent rhythm
Cigarette smoke and frankincense
Feeds the flame
Explosive movement in fits and starts
becomes persistent
Supported all the way
A connection to Earth
through a white held scarf
Harnessed firmly
brought in to land.


By Marega Palser


January the 1st, a new dawn to a new year, on what feels like the freshest day in eternity. The skies are so clear and the landscape we drive though so iridescent it feels like the first clean white leaf of a 365 page large, luxurious, sketch book.  On this new years day, a small group of artists is heading up to the sacred mountain of Zerhoune for a one week artists residency to draw inspiration form the Mouseem (pilgrimage event) around Saint Ali Ben Hamdouch.

sidi ali iii artistsGareth Clark, Marega Palser,  Jess Stephens,

Othman Maniar,Cara Cole and Catherine Abbott.

During the time of the Prophets birthday, it is said that the gateway to world of the jiins is closer to that of the human world. For those folk possessed by a particular spirit, now is the time to enter a ceremony, unravel the rituals and satisfy the needy life force, whether that be through sacrifice, trance, offerings or simple gesture of lighting a candle.

Othman Maniar, Marega Palser, Gareth Clarke and Cara Cole are the artists that make up with residency crew in Culture Vultures third year of running this rich program.  The entourage of creative beings contains the skills of movement, music, magic, mentalism, linear markings and manuscripts.


Notes by Marega Palser from the artist’s presentations.

There’s a charge, power and force to the event of the Sidi Ali Mouseem; whether you deny or embrace the myths and stories that lie behind the reasoning for entering a trance, taking in a ritual or making the offering…. the adrenalin rushes and senses are overloaded.

Jess Stephens – Project Manager

CMJN de base


Leave a Reply