Trances (Ahmed El Maanouni, 1981) / Courtesy of the Criterion Collection

Ahmed El Maanouni’s radiant 1981 doc, Trances, opens in media res, as the swirling rhythms and chants of the film’s subject, Moroccan folk group Nass El Ghiwane, drives a surging crowd to hysterics. The words “Brothers, when shall our days brighten?” ring out across the Carthage stadium, as over-enthused fans rush the stage and embrace the band members. Unlike the teen frenzies induced by, say, the Beatles, the effect of Nass El Ghiwane’s performance seems to arise not only from their celebrity, but from the spiritual and political content of their music, a modernization of the Moroccan Gnawa trance-ritual tradition. El Maanouni’s film makes clear that the group’s extraordinary popularity grew out of their engagement with this tradition. Late in the film, Abderrahman “Paco” Kirouche, the band’s Gnawa master, performs a rapture-inducing ritual called a lila. As contrails of incense fill a cramped, white-tiled room, worshippers dance until they lose all control of their bodies, the strings of Paco’s guimbri pushing them on.

Inspired by the new Criterion Collection edition of Trances, our playlist takes the music of Nass El Ghiwane as a starting point for a collection that includes the progressive folk of the band’s contemporaries Lemchaheb and Jil Jilala, the more traditional Gnawa performances of Mahmoud Guinia, and much more from a period and region abundant in rapturous tunes.

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