Song of the Day: Madiha Abu Laila – Betel il Habash


Zār is a possession cult practised on the outskirts of the rapidly modernising societies of North Africa and the Middle East. It’s a phenomenon that crosses not only geographical boundaries but also those determined by the rational mind. The boundaries here are not clearly defined; multiple worlds intertwine. Zar can’t be enclosed in a single frame or functional model. If needed it could be perceived as a healing practice. However, the first stage of dealing with illness is always diagnosis, which in zar is made using music. Songs and rhythms form a bridge between the two worlds. Every zār spirit has its own song. Consecutive rhythms are used to establish which spirit is being dealt with, and the initiate responds with rhythmic body movements called tafqir. The hypnotic rhythm increases until, usually about 30 minutes in, the dance turns into a trance in which the dancer’s personality merges completely with that of the spirit.

JuJu Sounds travelled to Egypt to experience, record and share with you this well hidden culture. This album presents all three varieties of zār still practised today. Hypnotic rhythms and mesmerising melodies were recorded not only in studio but also live during hadra – weekly zār ceremonies. Sound recordings and in depth liner notes offer absolutely unique insight into zār micro-communities in the Nile Delta and Cairo. Each of them is slightly different, but they all function as self-sufficient systems, remaining practically invisible in mainstream culture.

Zar: Songs for the spirits is the second production of independent micro-label JuJu Sounds. The project focuses on building bridges between musicians from marginalised communities and niche audiences from around the world. The mission of JuJu Sounds is to revive valuable musical ecosystems, not just to sell exotic products. Enjoy Madiha Abu Laila with Betel il Habash!