University of Waterloo Music Professor Maisie Sum will share about the social, political, and spiritual significance of musical instruments to individuals and societies, at the 2023 Benjamin Eby Lecture at Conrad Grebel University College on Thursday, November 9. The Benjamin Eby Lecture is an annual lecture that presents the research of a faculty member at Grebel. This year’s lecture is titled Trace, Trajectory, and Truth: A Story of Morocco’s Iconic Lute.   


The guembri is a symbolic artifact of the Black African diaspora in Morocco. An oblong gut-string lute crucial to a syncretic spiritual practice, it was shrouded in secrecy and taboo until the late twentieth century when it gained worldwide popularity. The Eby Lecture audience will have the rare opportunity to see and hear a guembri. 

Weaving together various strands of knowledge, Professor Sum will situate the guembri within the social and musical fabric of contemporary Morocco and beyond to explore its enduring significance for culture bearers. “At the national level, it moved from being a taboo symbol a generation ago to being added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural assets in 2021,” explained Sum. “For its culture bearers, the guembri serves as a potent symbol of resilience, agency, and ingenuity that spans centuries.” She added, “Remarkably, the guembri’s music continues to uphold spiritual ideas and observances of a marginalized practice whilst securing a place in mainstream Moroccan society and an elevated status on the world stage. Few traditions match this dual reality, making Gnawa music and the guembri noteworthy among the world’s music cultures.”  

Sum is an ethnomusicologist, educator, and performer. Her research and teaching combine a variety of fields, including ethnomusicology, anthropology, music analysis, performance, ritual studies, peace and conflict studies, psychology, and health studies. She is also the general director of the University of Waterloo Balinese Gamelan ensemble. 

“I heard the guembri for the first time at a music festival in Japan, when I was living there,” shared Sum. “The combined effect of the guembri’s alluring resonance, deft improvisatory skills of the guembri master and leader, and verve of the performers compelled me to visit Morocco a week later. Rather than satisfy my curiosity, experiencing the music in its original setting of the lila ritual in Morocco deepened my fascination. As a musician in community ensembles, my attention to the guembri and its repertoire reflects my broader interest in music’s affective potential, particularly regarding collective and improvised practices and the temporalities enacted in the course of performance.”  

“Professor Sum’s courses are taught through a cross-cultural lens helping students to examine music in culture, society and within social contexts, and are often, by design, multi-disciplinary,” noted Music Chair Mark Vuorinen. “She is an expert on ritual performance in Morocco and brings this expertise to this year’s Eby Lecture."

Event Details  
Trace, Trajectory, and Truth: A Story of Morocco’s Iconic Lute  
Thursday, November 9 at 7:30 PM   
Conrad Grebel University College Chapel  
140 Westmount Road, North Waterloo, Ontario   
For more information on the lecture, see the website or contact Birgit Moscinski