Popular hadra women’s choir from Chefchaouen, Morocco at De Meervaart

Hadra Chefchaounia

Ensemble Rhoum El Bakkali

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Hadra is an ancient musical sufi tradition from the Moroccan mountain town of Chefchaouen, exclusively performed by women. The famous hadra choir from Chefchaouen is performing an intimate concert at The Meervaart as a foretaste of the Holland Festival Proms, in which the choir will be performing in an innovative collaboration with the Amsterdam Andalusian Orchestra and the Orchestre Temsamani (Tetouan). The women are singing their own popular and poetic repertoire in the Meervaart. Texts of the songs are based on poems by Arab and Andalusian masters. The rousing rhythms and percussion gradually progress from a stately tempo to a dynamic climax.

background information

The Rhoum El Bakkali Ensemble is made up of young women from the Northern Moroccan region surrounding the city of Chefchaouen. The ensemble performs repertoire consisting of

 'hadra' and folk songs, under the leadership of Mme Rahoum Bakkali. The musicians accompany their singing with hand drums or tambourines. 

Hadra is a collective ritual. This type of ceremony is found between Morocco and Malaysia and is usually performed after prayer services, or during religious festivals. The ritual may contain songs, readings, joint study, a recitation from the Koran or texts by writers and spiritual leaders from a specific order. The ceremonies are often carried out by religious brotherhoods, and the invocations and singing are sometimes used to attain a state of trance, which is a sign of divine presence.

The word ‘hadra’ is even derived from the word 'presence.' The 'hadra' has close links with Sufism, a term used to describe various mystical movements within Islam. Sufism is aimed at spiritual depth and is a religious activity that goes beyond merely fulfilling religious obligations. At the heart of that spirituality are the philosophical texts and poems written by such Sufi saints as Jalal ad-Din Rumi and Haji Bektash Veli. In their writings, they leave room for humour and the glorification of love, which is why some stricter types of Islam adopt a dismissive attitude towards Sufism. Followers of Sufi use such texts for meditation, which can take various forms. One example is the Whirling Dervishes from Konya, Turkey, who perform a ritual based on the songs of Rumi. Hadra is another such ritual but based on a different musical foundation. 

The hadra, as performed by the Rhoum El Bakkali Ensemble, has its origins in the region surrounding Chefchaouen and has links to the ancient Bekkalia order. That brotherhood, under the guidance of its founder Sidi Ali Hadj Bekkali, produced a significant legacy of doctrines, religious poems, invocations and songs. At the end of the nineteenth century, Cherifa Lalla Hiba Bekkalia began adapting the hadra tradition for women, and Mme Rahoum Bakkali and her group, the Rhoum El Bakkali Ensemble, continue to follow in her footsteps.

These women from the Rif Mountains perform their repertoire dressed in traditional festive attire. A number of them sit on the floor and use hand drums to accompany the singing. A soloist with an extraordinary voice is at the centre of the group. She sings the melodies, adding extremely delicate embellishments. Sometimes the soloist is accompanied by the soft tones of an oud. The rest of the women stand behind the group. At first, the singing is slow and majestic, but it increases in speed, urged on by the percussion and the piercing howls of the chorus. The group finally reaches a climax of ecstasy, which is at the core of the hadra.



The Ensemble Rhoum El Bakkali, led by singer and oud player Sayda Rahoum Bakkali, is dedicated to carrying on and preserving the hadratradition, which originated in the region surrounding the 

Northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen in the sixteenth century. The hadra is a Sufi ritual that makes use of invocations, hymns and prayers set to music, and is often performed by brotherhoods. The Rhoum El Bakkali Sufi brotherhood traces back to Sidi Ali Hadj Bekkali, the founder of the Bekkalia Sufi order, whose descendants have maintained the tradition’s legacy to this day. Starting from the end of the nineteenth century, women from the Chefchaouen region also began performing the hadra at the initiative of Cherifa Lalla Hiba Bekkalia.

Sayda Rahoum Bakkali has devoted herself to carrying on this tradition. She is the daughter of a tribal elder and has studied Arabic-Andalusian music and theory to better understand the aesthetics of the hadra. This background helps her in passing on her legacy to a group of young women from the Chefchaouen region. These women meet three times a week to study repertoire consisting of religious songs accompanied by hand drums. The gatherings are a combination of prayer meetings and rehearsals for performances of these works and the folk melodies that are also part of the Rahoum family heritage. The ensemble performs during festivals in Morocco and farther afield, including performances at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, or the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and at festivals dedicated to Sufi music in Konya and Jakarta.



Ensemble Rhoum El Bakkali

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