RELEASE DATE: 13.05.2022
1. Dancing in Your Mind (15:57)
2. The Bird Prays For Allah (11:26)
3. Khamsa Khamsin (07:29)
4. Habibi N’Sitini (13:06)
5. Hlilya (12:18)
6. Yes, Yes, Be Patient My Heart (11:50)
7. Dancing Under The Moon (13:34)
8. L’Ayta (10:24)
9. Opening The Gate (12:44)
“Something that all who listen to music should encounter at least once in their lives.” – Spectrum Culture
Beautifully recorded in situ in the Rif mountains in the autumn of 2019, this 110-minute double CD presents these legendary musicians expansively and unhindered. Based in Jajouka, Morocco, The Master Musicians are a collective of Jbala Sufi trance makers, committed to creating a contemporary representation of their centuries-old musical tradition.
The album is produced by long time band leader Bachir Attar, and with all but one of the tracks exceeding 10-minutes in length, it is clear that these recordings authoritatively grasp the textured essence of this timeless ensemble.
Deeply hypnotic and earth-shakingly intense.
The following are the liner notes from the CD. Text by acclaimed music critic Stephen Davis.
Jajouka is the name of a hidden village in the Jebala foothills of northern Morocco. You won’t find it on any roadmap. But Jajouka is the home of the tribe Ahl Serif, sometimes translated as The Saintly, because they are descended from an Arab healer called Sidi Hamid Sheich, whose shrine the Ahl Serif hold sacred. The tribal musicians’ fame derives from their preservation of music whose origins go back to antiquity. William Burroughs called The Master Musicians of Jajouka “the four thousand year-old rock and roll band.”
The Master Musicians of Jajouka have been recorded many times over the years, often in collaboration with artists as diverse as Ornette Coleman and the Rolling Stones, and this new album, Dancing Under the Moon, sounds like their finest ever.
But first, we have to get there.
The road to Jajouka starts in Tangier. You drive out of the white city, past the Pillars of Hercules, along the northwest coast of Africa itself. You pass Asilah, the seaside town where Jajouka’s friend Paul Bowles once lived. At Larache, where Jean Genet is buried, the route turns inland toward the market town of Ksar El Kebir, gateway to the Jebala. At Ksar you head east for the hills, and you may have to stop and wait for farm trucks and shepherds’ massive flocks of goats and sheep. At the little fort called Tatoft, you ask the caïd for permission to continue on, because past Tatoft is the old kif smuggler’s route to the blue-tinted city of Chaouen, and the caïd is nominally responsible for your safety in the wild Rif. The turnoff to Jajouka is almost hidden from view; you have to know where it is. The old road up the mountain is better than it used to be, since you used to leave your car at the bottom and walk up to the village. But soon you’ll be settled onto a divan with a steaming glass of mint tea, looking forward to an evening of dueling flutes and hip-swinging rhythms for the dancing boys.
Brion Gysin, international artist and creative partner of William Burroughs, was the first modern European to make the journey from Tangier to Jajouka in the early 1950s. Taken up the mountain by the artist Mohammed Hamri, whose mother was from the village, Gysin began taping the musicians with an Uher recorder, analyzing the tribe’s healing music and its context. Gysin watched young dancers dressed in shaggy goatskins leaping through bonfires under the full moon during religious festivals, as the musicians blasted out loud wooden trumpet fanfares. Astonished, he concluded that Jajouka preserved rituals and folkloric characters that dated to ancient Persia and Arcadia. Pan the goat god, Gysin realized, was still running the Roman Lupercalia in the Moroccan hills. Jajouka’s febrile panic music carried listeners into trance states that later Muslim saints used to assuage mental disturbances in the pilgrims who journeyed to Sidi Hamid Sheich’s holy shrine for that purpose.
Cut to London in 1968. Brion Gysin plays Jajouka’s healing pipes of Pan for his friend Brian Jones, the founder of the Rolling Stones. In July of that year, Gysin brings the flamboyant English rock star (and sound engineer George Ckiantz) to Jajouka with better tape recorders. Jajouka’s chief at the time is Abdeslam Attar, known as Jnuin. One of his six sons is Bachir, then an eight-year-old shepherd tending Jnuin’s flocks down the hill. Today Bachir still remembers when his little brother Mustapha comes running, excited about a funny man with big hair. “Keep the sheep here,” Bachir orders. “I want to run see this man.” Bachir rushes to his father’s white-walled house. “I see the man with big golden hair! I shake his hand and he looks great – the first hippie in Jajouka!”
The musicians played for Brian Jones that evening and again the next day. Back in London Mr. Jones ran his tapes through a process then called electronic phasing, producing a cut-up sonic montage of his experience in Jajouka. Brian Jones died the next year; in 1971 the Stones issued his tapes as the first release on their new label, Rolling Stones Records. Today, Brian Jones Presents: The Master Musicians of Joujouka is considered to be the Alpha recording of the subsequently popular World Music movement.
Now Jajouka’s secret was out. After writer Robert Palmer reported on the village for Rolling Stone in late 1971, young music fanatics began making the journey into the hills to hear and record the band that had played for Brian Jones. In 1972 American photographer Joel Rubiner arrived in the village, fluent in “Darija,” the Arabic dialect spoken in Morocco. After closely questioning the malimin, or master musicians, Rubiner determined that the place was actually called Jajouka (“Owl Mountain” in English) — not “Joujouka,” as misunderstood by Brian Jones. While working in the village, Joel became familiar with the core group of malimin: Mohammed Stitu, carver of flutes; Achmed Skirkin, the cook; the brothers Mezdoubi and Mujahid; Taïr Bokarzar, their great singer; Bacari, genius of the three-stringed gimbri; avuncular Fadul and his son Abdsalam who danced as the swivel-hipped goat god Bou Jeloud (“Father of skins”).
Joel Rubiner’s tapes became the 1975 album The Master Musicians of Jajouka, which for the first time featured their music free of Brian Jones’s spacey cut-ups and harsh interventions. Free Jazz avatar Ornette Coleman appeared next, and included Jajouka on his 1975 album, Dancing In Your Head. Intrepid filmmakers produced documentaries on primitive video cameras and 16 mm. A Danish TV crew captured now legendary (and now very rare) recordings of the full band, then almost forty strong. A troupe from Jajouka began touring in Europe in 1980, drawing pilgrimage crowds seeking the healing music of their massed drums and double-reed rhaitas, like skirling bagpipes from an Arabian Valhalla.
It was around then that Jnuin decided that his son Bachir had inherited the Attar family Baraka, or blessing, to continue the tribe’s medicinal music. (The family name Attar means perfume maker; this alludes to the distinctive scent that some listeners perceive when deeply affected by Jajouka’s music.) Jnuin passed on vital secrets (especially the circular breathing that allows long-sustained notes) and lessons to Bachir, who then took their music out to the world, first in Paris, then London and New York.
After Bachir and Jajouka collaborated with the Rolling Stones in 1989, progressive musicians flocked to Jajouka’s siren song. Bill Laswell climbed the mountain and recorded a famous album that William Burroughs titled Apocalypse Across the Sky. Composer Philip Glass reissued the Brian Jones record and then released Laswell’s recording of Bachir playing with drummer Ayib Deng and sax master Maceo Parker (of James Brown renown). Jajouka toured America in 1995, with master drummer and tribal shaman Mohammed Attar (known as Berdouz) thrilling packed audiences coast to coast with his irresistible rhythms. A collaboration with the WOMAD/Real World team produced the recording Jajouka Between the Mountains around then. Over the next two decades artists associated with Jajouka included Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, Talvin Singh, Howard Shore, Marc Ribot, Al Maddy, DJ Logic, John Zorn, Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Ornette Coleman again. (When Ornette died in 2015, his family flew Bachir and his brother Mustapha from Morocco to play at his funeral in a Brooklyn church. Ornette was also said to have approved an as-yet-unreleased album of his Jajouka recordings.)
The latest musical adept to turn inland at Larache, pass through Ksar, stop by the Tatoft caïd, and find the occluded road to Jajouka is the Italian musician and engineer Jacopo Andreini. In late 2019, as the planet was closing down, and as stories circulated about the musicians’ vulnerability in today’s world, Jacopo was hired by Bachir to make comprehensive recordings of the complete Jajouka music catalogue. His mission, supervised by Bachir, was to record as much as possible – hours and hours over the course of a week – of Jajouka’s varied styles (anthems, flutes, violins, singing) in their tin-roofed madrassa, using the latest sound gear – eons away from Brion Gysin’s 1955 reel-to-reel Uher machine.
This selection of tracks from these sessions is the latest testament to the mystic enchantment and spiritual worth of Jajouka, captured in audio fidelity of the highest degree. The double-reed rhaita music recalls that Jajouka once provided musicians to Morocco’s royal court. “Khamsa Khamsin (“The 55”) and “Opening the Gate” are themes once deployed to accompany the Sultan to the mosque, and back again, as early as 1912 and before. The acoustic and percussive fiddle songs called Jibli (“mountain music”) are typical of what is played for visitors to Jajouka after a savory evening meal of couscous and tagine. These songs are descended from Andaluz music, the millennium-old melodies of Moorish Iberia.
Jajouka, its musicians, and traditions are indeed vulnerable and in transition in this rapidly changing era. It is lovingly curated projects like Dancing Under the Moon, plus the blessings of Baraka, and some luck and hard work by Bachir Attar and the current generation of the Master Musicians, that will hopefully see their ancient folkways survive into better times for everyone. Jajouka’s is healing music for our viralized world. — Stephen Davis, 2022