Mobility, Memory, and the performance of Bousaadiya in Libya

Episode 159

Mobility, Memory, and the performance of Bousaadiya in Libya

In this podcast, Dr. Leila TayebAssistant Professor in Residence in the Communication and Liberal Arts Programs at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q), explores the cultural politics of mobility and memory in Libya. Looking at Bousaadiya, a figure who has been performed in many iterations throughout North Africa, she offers a reading of these performance practices as a space in which Libyans enact and contest practices of belonging. Tayeb describes how performance, and specifically dance, creates a frame through which to observe political, historical, and cultural phenomena. Highlighting repetition as an important element of performance, she argues that mimesis of certain practices over time can serve to reinstantiate – or disrupt – power structures. Bousaadiya performance practices, Tayeb argues, serve as a space in which Libyans grapple with the unresolved history of the trans-Saharan slave trade which took place in Libya for centuries and persisted even after it was formally abolished. Reading Bousaadiya through these lenses allows for an excavation of this history, its legacies, and opportunities for repair.

Leila Tayeb is Assistant Professor in Residence in the Communication and Liberal Arts Programs at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q). She earned her PhD in performance studies from Northwestern University and holds an MA in performance studies from New York University (NYU) and an MA in international affairs from The New School. Leila is an interdisciplinary scholar of performance and politics, focusing on topics including sound and militarism in daily life, dance studies, digital intimacies, race and indigeneity in North Africa, and state-sponsored performance. Her writing has appeared in the Arab Studies Journal, the Journal of North African StudiesCommunication and the Public, and Lateral. Together with Adam Benkato and Amina Zarrugh, Leila is a founding member of the editorial collective of the multilingual, open-access publication Lamma: A Journal of Libyan Studies. The article that Leila discusses in this episode, “To Follow Bousaadiya: Mobility and Memory in Libyan Cultural Politics,” is forthcoming in the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication in English and is in the process of being translated into Arabic for subsequent publication. Leila can be reached at

This episode is part of the “Libya Studies” lecture series and was recorded via Zoom on the 22nd of February, 2023 by the Centre d'Études Maghrébines à Tunis (CEMAT

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We thank Hisham Errish, a music composer and oud soloist, for his interpretation of “When the Desert Sings” in the introduction and conclusion of this podcast.

Posted by: Hayet Yebbous Bensaid, Librarian, Outreach Coordinator, Content Curator (CEMA).

Suggested Bibliography

Altaleb, Amal M. 2015. The Social and Economic History of Slavery in Libya (1800-1950). PhD dissertation, University of Manchester.


Becker, Cynthia J. 2020. Blackness in Morocco: Gnawa Identity through Music and Visual CultureMinneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Colbert, Soyica Diggs, Douglas A. Jones Jr., and Shane Vogel. 2020. Introduction: Tidying Up after Repetition. In Soyica Diggs Colbert, Douglas A. Jones Jr., and Shane Vogel, eds, Race and Performance after Repetition, pp. 1-25. Durham: Duke University Press.


Goldman, Danielle. 2010. I Want to Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.


Gordon, Avery F. 2008 [1997]. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Hom, Stephanie Malia. 2012. Empires of Tourism: Travel and Rhetoric in Italian Colonial Libya and Albania, 1911-1943Journal of Tourism History 4 (3): 281-300.


Jankowsky, Richard C. 2006. Black Spirits, White Saints: Music, Spirit Possession, and Sub-Saharans in Tunisia. Ethnomusicology 3 (3): 373-410.


Jankowsky, Richard C. 2010. Stambeli: Music, Trance, and Alterity in Tunisia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Martin, Randy. 1998. Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


McLaren, Brian L. 2006. Architecture and Tourism in Italian Colonial Libya: An Ambivalent ModernismSeattle: University of Washington Press.


Roach, Joseph. 1996. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press.

Tayeb, Leila. 2021. What is Whiteness in North Africa? Lateral 10 (1).