Feeling the Way Through With Sound: Social Warmth, Critical Feeling, and Affective Trance in North African Popular Islamic Rituals

Tamara Turner

The research project investigated the fundamental role of feeling in Sufi and popular Islamic rituals in contemporary North Africa, up to 2022. In 2022, it was awarded the British Forum for Ethnomusicology’s Early Career Prize for the article “Affective Temporalities of Presence and Absence.” This article explored what it means to be musically haunted, reflecting on the intertwined, spectral interdependency of music, affect, and politics in the context of dīwān rituals in Algeria, by way of non-Western understandings of affect, music, and ritualized temporality.

In dīwān, the popular Algerian Islamic ritual, one can be haunted by the deep, bass-register melodies of spirits, saints, and historical figures of the trans-Saharan slave trade. Musical haunting is affective haunting. Melodies are not only experienced emotionally as recurrent fear, dread, and ambiguous feelings; they are simultaneously physically arresting for the body and senses, erupting into uncomfortable sensations like prickling skin and a knot in the stomach, eventually precipitating registers of trance. Here, musical affects manifest spectrally—both directly as non-human entities or spirits and indirectly through strong emotions that tend to “take over.” The haunted are never completely “healed” through ritual; suffering always comes back in some form. Rather, dīwān is a modality of continually inhabiting and embodying various tumultuous political histories that perpetually resound through the daily lives and physical bodies of the dīwān community.

The article was praised by the jury as beautifully written and truly outstanding within a strong field that is at the forefront of contemporary ethnomusicology. It could be considered an example of a vivid ethnography that at the same time clearly discusses its theoretical positioning.

The book manuscript on Feeling the Way Through With Sound is near completion.

Key References

Turner, T. D. (2020). Affective temporalities of presence and absence: Musical haunting and embodied political histories in an Algerian religious community. Culture, Theory and Critique, 61(2-3), 169–186. https://doi.org/10.1080/14735784.2020.1856700
Turner, T. D. (2022). Hausa songs in Algeria: Sounds of trans-Saharan continuity and rupture. The Journal of North African Studies, 27(5), 998–1026. https://doi.org/10.1080/13629387.2021.1898225
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