Moroccan modern : race, aesthetics, and identity in a global culture market

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Rode Schaefer, John Philip

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This dissertation asks how conceptions of race have informed popular cultural expressions in post-independence Morocco. Further, how have these expressions helped shape Moroccan modernity? What does an analysis of the history of the Gnawa in Morocco tell us about changes in Moroccan society, including the religious landscape, and the relation of these changes to globalization? This dissertation tracks the often contradictory paths that modernity has taken in Morocco through a focus on one racialized subculture, the Gnawa, ritual musicians originally from sub-Saharan Africa who have lived in Morocco for centuries without losing a certain African identity. The first part of the dissertation assesses Blackness in Morocco, considering Moroccan history in light of its relations across the Sahara desert. I examine cultural patterns of the Niger River region to which the Gnawa trace their origins, as well as crucial elements in the Moroccan past that involve racial formation. The second part of the dissertation considers how newcomers come to take on these new spiritual and musical identities, whether through a kind of musical transposition or an economic conversion. I argue that mass media have been central in Gnawa conversion narratives in the past, while more recent Gnawa identities have revolved around the consumption of commodities. The third section details my own conversion through a series of engagements with the Essaouira Festival of world music and Gnawa music in Morocco. I attended the festival as an informed tourist and also behind the scenes as an interested participant, and I found that the festival serves multiple purposes in Morocco's cultural economy. I conclude that Morocco's aesthetic history is deeply influenced by conceptions of race. These conceptions have in turn influenced commercial media expressions of post-independence Moroccan identities. Finally, since the opening of Moroccan society in the 1990s, the clearest expression of the future of Moroccan expressive and popular culture has been the rise of music festivals.




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