Alongside other sacred music in Tunisia, ma’lūf al-judd – a Sufi repertoire with origins in al-Andalus (Medieval Islamic Iberia) – has faced systematic foreclosure, displacement, and alteration in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The repression of popular Islamic music in zāwāya (Sufi lodges) was a significant component of nationalist projects that sought to relocate musical performance to ‘modern’ venues (European-syle concert halls and music conservatory spaces) and to transform ma’lūf into ‘secular’ heritage object.
In this talk I theorize loudness, echo, and reverb – aesthetic and formal features of contemporary ma’lūf – as stylized artifacts of the music’s historical sounding in particular religious architectures and participatory social contexts. Drawing on historical accounts and my own ethnographic observations, I examine the inter-relations between architectural acoustics, acoustemological preferences, and musical aesthetics; this relational framework illuminates our understanding of the expectations and conventions of ma’lūf audition today. Listening for these fragments and threads of ma’lūf’s ‘somewhat audible pasts’ offers, I argue, a history that recognizes musical continuity and the harm of institutionally-imposed ruptures and erasure of sacred musical practice.
Rachel Colwell is an ethnomusicologist specializing in Tunisian Andalusi Art Music (ma’lūf) and listening practices. She received her Doctorate in Ethnomusicology at the University of California, Berkeley and her B.A. in Anthropology and Musical Studies at Oberlin College. In her ethnographic work, she investigates the connections to geographic places and movements, emplaced sonic histories, and affective orientations perpetuated and challenged through contemporary Tunisian listening. She advocates for increased attention toward musical access and participation in post-authoritarian contexts and for multisensory and emplaced knowledge as key sites of continued anti-colonial resistance and scholarship. During the 2019-2020 academic year she served as the Visiting Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology at Grinnell College, where she taught three courses of her own design and instructed an Arab music ensemble.