Alessandra Ciucci on Women’s Voices in Morocco, this Wednesday!

Women’s Voices, Verbal Ability, and Symbolic Power: The Case of Moroccan Shikhat.
Alessandra Ciucci (Northeastern University)
4:15 PM Wednesday, September 17
The Daltrey Room (Rehearsal Hall Room 003)

For musicians and audiences in North Africa and the Middle East hearing music means, first and foremost, hearing a poetic text. The Arabic term musiqa (music), in fact, needs to be understood as a relatively recent adoption brought about by colonial and post-colonial politics, conservatory training and, more recently, by the music industry. Poetry also plays a critical role in everyday life. In Morocco, where indirect speech is the preferred means of communication, poetry is the perfect coded vehicle of expression. Verses of a particular song in fact are often sung to comment on matters that are being discussed and, thus, woven in and out of spoken discourse. Singing therefore is both a socializing and an intimate discourse with which and through which people bond, express their inner selves, celebrate their desires, reflect on their predicaments, and question and challenge their status quo, reshaping ideas and reconfiguring boundaries of power.

But what does it mean for a female performer to be and to have such a poetic voice? What is her role in the context of performance? What is the role of traditional and improvised verses constituting the principal means of oral communication at occasions where participants share the understanding of the codes and convention of a specific genre of sung poetry? And what can an analysis of the interaction between audience and performers, and of the participation and socialization among the guests, reveal about the voice of a class of professional female singer-dancers (shikhat) in Morocco? In this talk I will analyze significant moments at a wedding celebration in Morocco in order to determine the role(s) of the shikhat and of a genre of sung poetry, aiṭa, in performances associated with ceremonies publicly sanctioning the transition and transformation of individuals. This ethnographic focus aims to present an analytical framework on researching authority, gender and access, and the notion of power and performance for women in North Africa and the Middle East.

Alessandra Ciucci received her PhD in music (ethnomusicology) from The City University of New York at The Graduate Center and is currently a Full-Time lecturer at Northeastern University in Boston. Her research focuses on the music of Morocco, music and gender, sung poetry, and music and migration in the Mediterranean. Her articles appear in Ethnomusicology, The Yearbook for Traditional Music, The International Journal of Middle East Studies, Mondi Migranti, Cahiers de musiques traditionnelles, and in several edited volumes. She is currently working on a book project tentatively titled Sounding Rurality: Tradition, Modernity, Migration and the Mediterranean Horizon. Ciucci has been a recipient of a Fulbright foreign scholarship grant (Morocco), a fellowship from the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women, a grant from the American Institute for Maghrib Studies Grant, and was a Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Music Department at Columbia University.