Private Project

BEYT AL HEJBA (with English subtitles)

This film tells the story of the Gnawi Master ESSADDIQ relationship with his instrument, the "Sentir", and how that close relationship developed until it made that instrument an extension of himself, and made ESSADDIQ a dedicated Master

  • Jamila ANNAB
  • Jamila ANNAB
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 43 minutes 21 seconds
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
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  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Jamila ANNAB

Jamila Annab, Moroccan director, scriptwriter, writer and teacher researcher at the Higher Institute of Audiovisual and Cinema Professions in Rabat (Morocco)
Her academic career in the field of audiovisual and cinema began just after her Baccalaureate, she obtained a BTS in Audiovisual, a professional license in assistant directing and production, a Master's degree in cultural mediation of art, and a doctorate in communication (speciality: cinema).
She has a 13 years experience as a director at the National Society of Broadcasting and Television (SNRT), she has also collaborated with several professionals in the field of Cinema in several productions.
She has published articles related to cinema in several media and academic supports. She has also published a book on the theme of the reception of cinema.
She has directed several documentaries and magazines for television, as well as a short film entitled "Le Balayeur" in 2017, produced by Wiwan Films/ France, Metz

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Director Statement

I grew up in a family environment surrounded by songs and musical bands, in a small coastal town in southern Morocco (Safi), located not far from Essawira which is the fief of the Gnawa and trance music. Geographically close to each other, both cities were also, to a certain extent, culturally acquainted. As children, our joy was immeasurable when we were visiting Essawira, adorning ourselves with cowry shells and buying toys in the form of Gnawi musical instruments.
Within me, a childish passion for songs performed by musical bands was forged, and it was my older brothers who instilled in me a taste for their music styles and songs, in particular that of the committed and authentic group Nass El Ghiwan, to which belonged the late "Abdurrahman Paco", the Maâlem Gnawi from Essawira and the "sentyr" virtuoso.
Thus, I grew up in a family environment admiring this musical genre, that since then has pleased me and kept resonating within my heart in an unintelligible way.
My passion for the "guembri" or "sentyr" developed thanks to listening to musical Gnawa pieces played by a Gnawi musician from Safi called “Mimoun el-Gnawi”; he played the “sentyr” admirably, and I still remember him perfectly well, with his mulatto complexion and his large, colorful clothes. Actually, it was him who, one day, revealed to me the secrets of this instrument and of his intimate relationship with it, for he cherished his "sentyr" as if it were his own child and was very attentive to it.
In addition, it was Maâlem Mimoun who encouraged me to attend the Gnawa festival in Essawira in the early 2000’s. Since then, the festival has become for me an annual event that I could not miss; an opportunity to meet the great Gnawi Maâlems and to get to know the unique Gnawi culture and its captivating music very closely.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridges since then, and here I am, a film director. And within me grew the idea of making a documentary film on the Gnawa and the "sentyr", the instrument which overwhelmed my depths and continues to captivate me. Hence my decision to attend a Gnawi "Lila", which allowed me to discover, very close, the language of the "sentyr" and its impact on the admirers, and this within the framework of the spiritual ritual which makes possible the communication with supernatural entities called spirits, "mluks" (plural of melk) which are "jnuns" (genies plural of “djinn). Moreover, an admirer can only be possessed by a unique “melk” related to a specific color, a particular incense and Gnawi rhythm.
At the beginning of the "Lila" ritual, a mixture of sensations and feelings took hold of me: fear, astonishment, fascination, pleasure and spell. I really felt myself coming closer to understanding the Gnawi phenomenon as I was introduced to it.
Later, I perceived the extent of the sacredness of the "sentyr" as much for the Maâlem, the mqadma (mistress of the ceremony), the "mluks" as for the admirers; this sacredness being perceptible from the moment of its sacrament through blood and milk until the last “maqam” (musical system organizing the intervals between the sounds) of daybreak (“maqam el-bnat” (of girls) or “el- khadamate”). Usually, each “melk” is associated with a symbolic color which is that of a “maqam” (also called “mehalla”); there are seven colors corresponding to the color gradients of the rainbow. These colors are divided between the "maqamat" (plural of "maqam") or "mehallat" (plural of "mehalla"), such as "mehalla" of white, black, blue, red or yellow; certain colors keep repeating in different “mehallat” in terms of their ritual spaces and the nature of their trances.
As a result, the idea of making this documentary film was accentuated even more, supported by research and meetings with dedicated Maâlems, those concerned by the subject and researchers in ethnomusicology, anthropology and sociology. Therefore, the project moved away from simple information to explore the human and cultural aspects of the Gnawi phenomenon, and in particular that of the "sentyr". Also, to better understand the spiritual and anthropological dimensions which link the Maâlem to his instrument, and the way in which the Maâlem reaches consecration.
I met Maâlem Esseddiq, the main character of the film, in Essawiraon the occasion of the 2017 edition of the "Gnaoua World Music Festival". We had a coversation and he talked to me about his beginnings in this universe. Through our frequent subsequent exchanges, I discovered that the authentic Maâlem is the one who plays an instrument made by himself and of which he witnessed the creation. Because the "sentyr", in the Gnawi culture, is a sacred Gnawi entity, provided with rites and customs, and this from the first stages of its manufacture,the choice of skins and wood, until the "Lila", going through the rite of isolation ("hajba").
Once completed, the “sentyr” is placed in “beytl hajba” because it needs solitude; the Maâlem himself has no right to break this spiritual isolation and can only approach it after a period of seven days; the period for its "biological" and spiritual fulfillment, so that it becomes an immortal instrument, reborn each time under the impulse of its owner during the Gnawi ritual.
The Gnawa themselves ended up agreeing on the fact that the "sentyr" acquires its sacred character only after the completion of its manufacture, its fumigation and after being hidden from view, and then its participation in the rite of purification practiced by the Maâlem before the ritual of the "Lila", through ablution with water, orange blossom water, rose water and other ingredients, before proceeding to one's own sacrament and that of the "sentyr" (out of "beyt al hajba" where it is kept for seven days), using spiritual components such as incense, blood and milk. Finally comes the moment of "Lila", when the total unity between the two beings is accomplished.
Based on our interest in dealing with the central idea focusing on the “sentyr” and its status within the culture of the Gnawa, we aim to highlight the grandeur of the ritual concerned, as well as the emotion aroused in us by the energy of this living instrument, its spirituality, its immortality, as well as by its extension through its maker, the Maâlem.
It is impossible not to notice this extra-natural union between the “sentyr” and the Maâlem, the master of this spirituality. Indeed, this instrument is considered to be a Being with a personality, to which is added its quality of constituting an intelligent unit, and even an extension of the body of its owner, the Maâlem who also keeps it in a clean, safe place free from malicious spirits, so that it is not to be desecrated by anyone. Indeed, it is an instrument that speaks in the presence of its owner, is silent in his absence and is the only creature that all Gnawa esteem and respect.
Another aspect that caught our attention relates to the enigma surrounding the assembly of the "sentyr" and the manufacture of its various constituent parts. It is strictly forbidden, for example, for the Maâlem to use nails or any other metal parts, because, according to the Gnawi belief, the "mluks" reject foreign bodies, especially iron. In addition, the skin used for its manufacture is never soaked in salted water, because "jnuns" loathe salt and its taste, their meals always being "messus" (unsalted). Other mysteries are added to those mentioned and many questions remain unanswered.
One of the characteristics that make the “sentyr” a unique instrument, particularized by a Gnawi tone, lies in its composition of three parts, simultaneously: the resonance box covered by a stretched skin, the string neck and the “sarsara” (literally : a bell; rhythmic musical device fixed on the handle, which has the function of attracting spirits during the "Lila").
Thus, the “sentyr” grants to the Gnawi “Lila” a spiritual language which projects the participants into a parallel world, because it appeals, through the musical rhythm played and the Gnawi tone, to a “ melk ”attracted by a specific color and a particular incensethat create a situation of fulfillment and "jadba" (state of trance) in the disciples as they dance.
As we reflect on the theme of this documentary film, multiple questions arise, and these lead us to investigate several axes, including:
- The course of the making of the "sentyr" until it becomes a living skin that speaks to others and dialogues with them;
- The spirituality of the “sentyr” and of the Maâlem;
- How this instrument affects the faculties of reason and souls;
- Why the Maâlem shows a great attachment to his instrument;
- When and how this attachment materializes;
- Why it is obligatory for the Maâlem to manufacture his own instrument;
- Who influences the other: the instrument or the "mamluk" (the possessed);
- If the Maâlemis allowed to manufacture several instruments;
- What he should do if his own instrument deteriorates;
- The state of "jadba" and that of communion between two, or more, parallel worlds;
- The mystery of the "sentyr" during the "hadra" (part of the ritual that involves trances), which is the "invocation of spirits" session during the rite of possession called "Lila".