Ahmed El Maanouni | Morocco 1981 | 1h30m | Moroccan Arabic with English subtitles | 15
Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane is the subject of this captivating music documentary. As storytellers connected to political theatre, the band became an international sensation, referred to by music critics as the ‘Rolling Stones of North Africa’. With political lyrics and sublime acoustic sound, they draw on the trance tradition. Both a concert movie and an audiovisual experiment, this film is a work of cinematic poetry. Trances was the first film to be restored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Fund at the Cineteca di Bologna.
Aïta | Izza Génini | Morocco 1988 | 26m | Moroccan Arabic with English subtitles | 15
A short film by Izza Génini about a female travelling troubadour. Génini produced Trances and went on to become a prolific music documentary maker.
Both filmmakers were in attendance for a Q&A after the screenings.
This screening was supported by the AHRC-funded Transnational Moroccan Cinema Research Project based at the University of Exeter, and is part of AiM’s focus on Africa’s lost classics.
Cineteca di Bologna
Via dell'Industria, 2
Tel: +39 051 6018607
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CLIP 1: The musicians sing and play traditional instruments to a wildly enthusiastic audience in Carthage, overflowing onto the stage, which is patrolled by policemen.
CLIP 2: People dancing and “trancing” to the music of Nass El Ghiwane, including images of the ocean coast near Essaouira, where most of the band members were born. The sequence finishes with the death of Mohamed V, with people crying and fainting with grief.
Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwane is the subject of this captivating music documentary. In this rare, transformational work, Nass El Ghiwane perform their music at concerts at once fervidly rally-like and suffused with the spontaneity of a mass happening; recount their time working alongside the great chaâbi musician Boudjemaâ El Ankis in the 1970s; and generally philosophise and reflect upon life. As storytellers connected to political theatre, the band became an international sensation, referred to by music critics as the ‘Rolling Stones of North Africa’. With political lyrics and sublime acoustic sound, they draw on the trance tradition. Both a concert movie and an audiovisual experiment, this film is a work of cinematic poetry. Trances was the first film to be restored by Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Fund.
About the Director and the Producer
Ahmed El Maanouni is a screenwriter, film director, cinematographer, actor and producer born in Casablanca. His films include Alyam Alyam (1978), the first Moroccan film to be selected in Cannes Film Festival and winner of the Grand Prize at the Mannheim film festival. His documentary films consistently interrogate colonial history and its impact on Moroccan memory. In 2007 he was honored with the title of Officier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.
Having graduated at the Belgian state film school, Ahmed El Maanouni made the bona fide debut of Moroccan cinema at Cannes with his first feature, Alyam alyam (Oh the Days!, 1978), which included a song by the Nass El Ghiwane. In France, Alyam alyam was distributed by the Moroccan-born Izza Genini. Around the same time, Genini attended the first concert in Paris of the extraordinarily popular Nass El Ghiwane. She immediately intuited the importance of documenting on celluloid this groundbreaking group. It was Genini who brought El Maanouni on board as director of Trances (1981).
After an earlier incarnation, Nass El Ghiwane was formally established in 1971, their name meaning the disciples (Nass) of a chanted philosophy (El Ghiwane). They modestly started a cultural revolution that swept the Arab world. Nass El Ghiwane rejected Egyptian-style music (asriya), with its languorous love songs in the Classical Arabic that then prevailed. Instead, they found inspiration in local poetry, ancestral rites, and everyday life, denouncing unemployment, corruption, and social inequality in Arab societies. The band quickly won a fervent international following. The band made a conscious decision to sing in Darija, the local version of Arabic influenced by Amazigh that still doesn’t exist in written form. Nass El Ghiwane made it cool to listen to the local product. Moroccans began to feel proud of their musical heritage.
Filmed in 16mm (and subsequently transferred to 35mm for its release) on a very small budget over a period of four months, with El Maanouni doing most of the camera work himself, Trances interweaves concert footage, filmed interviews, and archival footage. El Maanouni takes us on a route that reveals both the shared heritage of the band members—Omar Sayed, Larbi Batma, Abderrahman Kirouche (nicknamed Paco), and Allal Yaala—and their individual identities, creating a portrait of the group and of Morocco.
Nass El Ghiwane’s success coincided with the nearly forty-year reign of Hassan II (1961–99). Following two attempts on his life in the early 1970s, the king implemented martial law in the kingdom, imprisoning political dissidents. While some interpret Nass El Ghiwane’s lyrics as a call against those “Years of Lead”, the reality is more complicated. Hassan II was a music lover and a fan of artists, and under him, the Moroccan film industry made great strides. Nass El Ghiwane enjoyed cordial, almost amicable, relations with Hassan II. On several occasions, he invited them to perform, and also aided the group when they were threatened with censorship.
With Trances, Izza Genini found her calling. In addition to her promotion of Moroccan and African cinema with her company Ohra, she has devoted herself since 1987 to exploring the wealth of Moroccan musical culture in a series of films she both directed and produced, entitled Maroc, corps et ame (Morocco, Body and Soul).
El Maanouni says: “Nass El Ghiwane were a phenomenon for young people. All young people, not just Moroccans but almost all of the Arab world in the late seventies and in the eighties, identified with them, because Nass El Ghiwane expressed their rebellion, their thirst for freedom, their thirst for justice. As they managed to build this colossal image, in reality, what I experienced with them during that tour was that they were young people who were completely ordinary, completely humble.”
The restoration of Transes used the original 16mm camera and sound negative provided by producer Izza Génini. The camera negative was restored both photochemically and digitally and blown-up to 35mm format. The sound negative was restored to Dolby SR and digital. The film was restored in 2007 by Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Ahmed El-Maanouni, and Izza Genini. Restoration funded by Armani, Cartier, Qatar Airways and Qatar Museum Authority.
“It was in 1981 while I was editing a film, The King of Comedy. We worked at night so no one would call us on the telephone and I would have television on, and one channel in New York at the time, around 2 or 3 in the morning, was showing a film called Transes. It repeated all night and it repeated many nights. And it had commercials in it, but it didn’t matter. So I became passionate about this music that I heard and I saw also the way the film was made, the concert that was photographed and the effect of the music on the audience at the concert. I tracked down the music and eventually it became my inspiration for many of the designs and construction of my film The Last Temptation of Christ. […] And I think the group was singing damnation: their people, their beliefs, their sufferings and their prayers all came through their singing. And I think the film is beautifully made by Ahmed El Maanouni; it’s been an obsession of mine since 1981 and that is why we are inaugurating the Foundation with Trances.” –Martin Scorsese, May 2007
Shafto, Sally (2013), ‘Trances: power to the People’ in: Criterion Collection, accessible online: https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2992-trances-power-to-the-people