Trance music isn’t just for ravers. The past two decades have seen that term attached to a specific type of electronic music, but you can’t deny that other types of music serve the same purpose. I recently saw Omar Souleyman perform, and damn, the entire crowd was undeniably in a trance – eyes rolling back, arms waving wildly, feet flying – the whole shebang.
The concept of “the trance” goes way back. Ancient shamanic figures assumed such states, as did the famed Oracle at Delphi, to predict the future or commune with spirits. Warriors, including the Viking Berserkers, threw themselves into a blind frenzy in which they could feel no pain and see nothing but rage. Each and every one of us drifts into daydreams, losing touch with the present moment and settling into the unconscious.
Music was born with humanity. The earliest thumping beat inspired movement. A few million years later, we aren’t so different. Sonic repetition and tonal consistency still bring us out of our shells and into a freer state. Consider vedic chanting: the voices of one or many, looping rhythmic and sonorous. After a while, you cease to hear yourself or the others, and the concept of time that controls our lives fades to unimportance. After a time, you wake up, without ever sleeping.
One of my favorite types of trance music is Afrobeat, popularized by Fela Kuti but practiced by many others, including the Cameroonian Manu Dibango. “Soul Makossa” feels over before starting, even though it runs over six minutes. The key to trance, I think, is a steady beat paired with an uncommon treble (in this case, the group chanting and plucky horns). The electronic version offers the 4×4 beat with synthesized sounds that our brains force into a natural order. The Afrobeat strain, however, offers a more human element, a wild desire that brings sweat to the brow of any listener.
Embrace that humanity, join your primate ancestors, and step into the trance.