Samuel Llano

Unruly Bodies: Curative Trance Dancing and Resistance in Colonial Morocco


Curative trance dancing plays a key role in community building and healing among Morocco’s Sufi brotherhoods (turuq). This type of dance has been the object of increasing scholarly attention over the last decades (Witulski, Kapchan, Becker). This ethnography has enriched our understanding of the sessions at which these dances are performed (lailat), and the meaning of trance in this context. It has also shed light on the path towards emancipation and international recognition that this dance has opened in front of certain minorities in Morocco, such as the Imazighen and Gnaoua. The organisation of festivals, such as the Gnaoua World Music Festival, celebrated annually at Essaouira, has aided in this process, insofar as it has provided members of this minority with a platform to construct and negotiate their own identity.

Personal narrative 

I am a cultural historian of music and a senior lecturer in Spanish cultural studies at the University of Manchester. I specialize in the study of music and sound in Spain and the western Mediterranean. Following my first two books, which applied key theory on transnationalism and urban studies to the study of music in Spain and France, my current research studies the racialization of music and sound in colonial Morocco. I am writing a book titled The Empire of the Ear: Music, Race and the Sonic Architecture of Colonial Morocco (OUP, forthcoming), that studies the ways in which musical practice, sound and musicological discourse created complex and ambiguous spaces in which colonial power was consolidated, contested and negotiated. I have co-edited several books, including a special issue of the Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies titled “Spanish Sound Studies.”

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