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Research Seminar: Performing Presence “El Hadhrah”
Today, if your turn on Tunisian radio or TV, you most likely will find popular Tunisian music that makes reference to, or specifically celebrates, the Sufi personalities of sidi Ali Azouz, sidi Mansour, baba Bahri, baba Lasmar (lit. "the dark-skinned") or sidi Bu Sa‘id, the female saints sayyida al-Manoubiyya and Umm al-Zine al-Jammaliyya, and even groups of pious Sufis like the "rijal al-Hammada." Until the 90s, this type of song was forbidden, and only "Sulamiyya" would be allowed on Tunisian TV or radio.
It is common knowledge that this change in the Tunisian cultural scene took place because of "El Hadhra" of Fadhel Jaziri. In an interview with Jaziri, I asked him about the circumstances that led him to leave the theatre and go to this type of show. His answer was that this work of art is a response to the liminal stance of loss that he and the Arabs felt after the Gulf war. In this moment of loss, Jaziri wanted to find the way by staging/representing the world of his youth (el-Mdina el `Arbi), as he put it.
This presentation intends to shed light on the traditional place of Sufi music performance in Tunisian society and explores how this genre of religious and mystical practice has been popularized and disseminated through its re-invention in popular music. Consequently, the research will examine the intersection of popular culture, music, literature and religion in the Tunisian context, to examine how Sufism continues to influence the country’s culture both directly and indirectly.
Speaker: Dr. Imed Nsiri, Assistant Professor, Department of Arabic and Translation Studies
Dr. Imed Nsiri holds a PhD in Arabic and Comparative Literature, Indiana University, USA. He taught English language and literature at the University of Tunis, and English literature and Arabic language courses at Indiana University, USA. His research interests include pedagogy and Arabic heritage, modern Arabic poetry and comparative literature of the modernists as well as Arabic music.
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