Music, trance and alterity in Tunisia

Richard C. Jankowsky

The Book

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

The University of Chicago Press (2010)


“Stambeli is a stunningly original, ethnographically rich, and theoretically nuanced work that nicely bridges the gap that often separates ethnomusicology from less musically inclined anthropological scholarship. Jankowsky knows his music, has spent quality time as an apprentice stambeli musician, and has used this highly focused experience in the field to think deeply about the phenomenology of spirit possession—he has immersed himself in the world of stambeli music, and we, the readers, are richer for it.”

Paul Stoller

West Chester University

Philip D. Schuyler

University of Washington




Richard Jankowsky is Assistant Professor of Music at Tufts University. Previously, he was Lecturer in Ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental & African Studies at the University of London.

“This is by far the best book on Maghrebi music in English. The analysis is sophisticated and theoretically informed, but Jankowsky never lets that obscure his sensitive portrait of the community where he lived. The book moves gracefully from the broad sweep of history to the organization of the society of musicians and spirits, particular performances, contemporary developments, Jankowsky’s personal experiences, and a hint of what may lie ahead.”

In Stambeli, Richard C. Jankowsky presents a vivid ethnographic account of the healing trance music created by the descendants of sub-Saharan slaves brought to Tunisia during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Stambeli music calls upon an elaborate pantheon of sub-Saharan spirits and North African Muslim saints to heal humans through ritualized trance. Based on nearly two years of participation in the musical, ritual, and social worlds of stambeli musicians, Jankowsky’s study explores the way the music evokes the cross-cultural, migratory past of its originators and their encounters with the Arab-Islamic world in which they found themselves.

Stambeli, Jankowsky avers, is thoroughly marked by a sense of otherness—the healing spirits, the founding musicians, and the instruments mostly come from outside Tunisia—which creates a unique space for profoundly meaningful interactions between sub-Saharan and North African people, beliefs, histories, and aesthetics.

Part ethnography, part history of the complex relationship between Tunisia’s Arab and sub-Saharan populations, Stambeli will be welcomed by scholars and students of ethnomusicology, anthropology, African studies, and religion.



The videos presented here are connected with this book. Please consult the chapter V of the book to read a complete description of the videos. (Images : Richard C. Jankowsky)

  1. VIDEO #1 / Kuri: Solo gumbri performance of the nuba of the spirit Kuri, performed by Baba Majid Barnawi at Dar Barnu in Tunis, 2001 (See page 121).

  2. VIDEO #2 / Sidi Marzug: Performance of the nuba Sidi Marzug by the Dar Barnu stambeli troupe, 2001 (See pages 116 and 122).

  3. VIDEO #3 / Sidi Bu Ra's el-'Ajmi: Performance of the nuba Sidi Bu Ra's el-'Ajmi by the Dar Barnu stambeli troupe, 2001 (See pages 117 and 122).