Paula Jeanine Bennett: In Whom The Heart Is Free To Roam

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    Photograph courtesy Mbarek AG

    Needless to say, audiences were enthralled. More importantly, Paula Jeanine Bennett had built a bridge between her world and the one in Morocco, one that was soon to see another fascinating and unique project, perhaps the defining moment of her career. Following the success of her 2015 visit when Paula Jeanine Bennett returned to Morocco – this time to Essaouira to debut a new programme: Kloub Nssa (Heart Of Women) is a project that was conceived for and performed with the legendary Women Sufis from Essaouira. During the last year, Ms. Bennett has been working with the Sufi Haddarattes Souiriyattes (Hadra group from Essaouira) and presented her new work during the fourth edition of the Festival Hadra Feminine et Musique de Transe. The project featured several compositions by Ms. Bennett as well as several of their traditional Haddaratte songs that she has adapted into English.

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    The mystic, Thomas Merton, inspiration for Kloub Nssa

    In composing for the project, Bennett said she was inspired by the writings of Catholic mystic Thomas Merton. The Sufi Haddarattes of Essaouira also have an ancient and mystical tradition. The name Haddarattes derives from Hadra which means “ecstatic dance”. The Sufi Haddarattes Souiriyattes of Essaouria are among several female Hadra groups in Morocco, such as those from Chefchaouen or Meknes. The Essaouira women included the widow of the legendary Gnawa Malem Mahmoud Ghania are gaining a strong reputation. All of the women share a belief in unseen forces (djnun) and states of trance (jidba and hal). Kloub Nssa was performed at the festival on August 20, 2016. With the sweet and sultry voice of Paula Jeanine Bennett, the raspy and soulful vocals of lead Haddarattes singer Rabia el Hail, the buzzing beat of the Bendir (a frame drum dating back to before the Roman Empire), the deep boom of the Gnawa bass drum, and the unflagging energy of a women’s chorus clacking, clapping and chanting, the performance should be an exciting innovation in musical and spiritual exploration.

    Life has certainly not ended there for Paula Jeanine Bennett. Already she is preparing for another trip to Java, Indonesia on November 8. She will, no doubt be involved in something significant when she is in that little Javanese village that will be her home for the days and weeks she will spend among kindred spirits – people who breathe the air of her infectious ideas that will most certainly whet their appetite for more. But first the music that she performs will seize the ear through repeated figures that initially change slowly in tandem with a myriad of voices with rich percussive colours. The music will then become more insistent in motion and volume, with patterns morphing and darting about the air above the musicians. Finally the sonorities that Paula Jeanine Bennett creates will glisten and hypnotize. Changes in atmosphere and motion will conjure a reservoir of collected resonances. Every moment will be suffused with delicate or dramatic propulsion reflecting, in turn, the urgency and imagery of the music. And, as always, the artistry of Paula Jeanine Bennett will have laid out powerful pleadings for planet Earth in an exquisite musical environment, in which shapes, rhythms, colours and tones – both incorporated and transformed from the clicks, tweets and trills of nature’s flora and fauna, provide a compelling context for the eloquent spinning-out of emotional vocal lines and a part of our world – albeit a small one in remote Java – will be made better by it.

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