The taxi driver in the transport hub city of Ksar el-Kebir said he knew the way to Bachir’s house in the village of Joujouka/Jajouka.
Liesbeth van Roij and I had decided to see what remains of the legend of the Master Musicians of Joujouka/Jajouka, and had travelled, via Tetouan and Larache, to Ksar el-Kebir by bus from Chefchaouen. The remaining part of the journey was undertaken by grand taxi, from the taxi rank at the edge of the city, and along the small R410 past olive trees and small villages into the hills of the Ahl-Serif southern Rif mountains. The mountains are named after the local tribe of the same name.
Bachir Attar, whose music I have enjoyed for 15 years, became leader of the Musicians of Joujouka/Jajouka following his father’s death in 1982. Before that, generations of musicians from the village had played spiritual Sufi music following traditions introduced in the 15th century by Sidi Ahmed Sheich, music which contained the baraka ( blessing ) of the saint and brought healing to both physical and psychiatric disorders caused primarily by the Jnoun. His sanctuary in Joujouka/Jajouka remains venerated.
In 1950 the American author and composer Paul Bowles and English artist Brion Gysin, both resident in the International Zone of Tangier, saw the Joujouka/Jajouka musicians playing at a local festival at Sidi Kacem. A series of associations subsequently formed which led to the musicians becoming exposed to western artists and musicians, and their music becoming more famous around the world than it ever was in Morocco.
Our taxi pulled off the twisting road onto a rough concrete track and continued until it reached the beginning of a small village, where it stopped outside the door of a plain house with a corrugated metal roof. Further up the track stood the village mosque and directly across the road was a large open well, one of many within the village. Here water was being pulled by a boy leading a donkey with large water containers harnessed to it’s flanks. Unsure who we were going to meet, and whether Bachir would even be here, we knocked on the door and waited.
After a few moments a woman answered and after enquiring if this was the house of Bachir she invited us in and led us into a small room where Abdesalam, quite frail, bearded and wearing a woollen hat despite the day’s heat, was seated on what seemed to be his bed. Liesbeth introduced us in Darija and, smiling, he shook our hands, and extended a warm welcome. He quickly explained that Bachir no longer lived in the house and was living now in Tangier, but that he was a former member of the Master Musicians. He asked us to sit down with him and arranged for some tea to be made.
Liesbeth explained we had come from Chefchaouen and were interested in talking about Joujouka/Jajouka, its musicians and traditions. Abdesalam smiled and reached across the bed for a large packet of photographs. As his younger wife, the same woman who had answered our knock at the door, brought the tea he had began talking about the parts of the rich history of the Master Musicians of Joujouka/Jajouka that he could remember and had participated in.
Following Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin watching them for the first time almost 70 years ago at Sidi Kacem, Gysin arranged for the Moroccan painter and author Mohamed Hamri, who was born in Ksar el-Kebir and whose uncle was the then leader of the musicians ( and was the not yet born Bachir’s father ), to take him to the village. Hamri had already encouraged the musicians to play on the trains between Tangiers and Ksar el-Kebir in order to earn money. Gysin was so taken with the musicians that he took other friends, including William S Burroughs, up to the village to watch them. All considered them wonderful and Burroughs later described them as a ‘4,000 year old rock band’.
In 1954 Gysin and Hamri together opened the 1001 Nights Restaurant in Tangiers and arranged for the Master Musicians of Joujouka, as they had been called by Gysin, to regularly play to the wealthy Tangerine dining clientele. They played in teams of 15 musicians for 2 week stints both in Tangiers and later in Asilah, which sustained the village for 10 years. Diners included people such as Barbara Hutton, the wealthy American Woolworth’s heir, and other resident expatriats and visiting creatives.
In 1958 Gysin paid Hamri $10,000 for his share of the business before soon bizarrely losing it entirely to a couple of Scientologists and Moroccan magic ( as he was later to recount ) but more realistically it was forfeited for other reasons. Hamri opened another restaurant using the same name in Asilah and the Musicians continued their association with 1001 Nights by playing there. In 1967 Brian Jones, founder member of the Rolling Stones, visited the club, saw the Musicians playing and Hamri subsequently took him to Joujouka/Jajouka. The following year Jones, together with recording engineer George Chkiantz, Hamri and Jones’ girlfriend Suki Potier returned to the village to record the musicians using a portable Uher recorder.
Jones took the tapes to Tangier and then to London where he worked on them, developing the original music. It has been suggested by John Dunbar, a friend of the Stones’ early manager Loog Oldham, Burroughs, Gysin and Jones, that he wanted the Stones to integrate Joujouka/Jajouka music into their repertoire but Jagger and Richards declined, highlighting a growing rift between them. He never finished the project and died almost 1 year after he left Joujouka. The album ‘Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka’ was posthumously released on Rolling Stones Records, the first release on the band’s new recording label, in 1971. The album cover was of an abstract painting by Hamri of Jones surrounded by the Joujouka musicians.
The reference to Pan in the title had been constructed by Gysin based on a loose analogy between the European figure and the pre-Islamic Beaujloud, whose festival occurs on the first full moon following Eide el Adha ( the Festival of Sacrifice ). This is a fertility festival where Beaujloud, a half goat, half man figure, together with the teasing Aisha Hamqa ( a local variation of the infamous female spirit Aisha Qandisha ) and al-Haj ( an old man ), dances around the village touching as many people as possible with an olive branch , conferring fecundity both on a personal level and also globally for the success of the annual harvest. The creature has also been accredited with bringing the gift of the flute to the Musicians who play their inordinately complex rhythms throughout the whole ritual. The music first soothes and then repels the beast from the village back to its cave higher in the mountain. The tunes played at the festival by the Musicians are the most vibrant and dynamic of all of their repertoire. The role of the shamanic Boujloud has been played for some 50 years by unassuming villager Mohammed Matmi and that of Aisha Hamqa always by a young boy.
The original legend upon which the ritual is based is recounted by Richie Troughton :
That legend begins with Attar, a young shepherd, who dared to rest in the forbidden cave of Magara (pronounced Ma’ara), near Joujouka, while his flock grazed on the greenery below. The cave was seen as taboo by villagers and, soon enough, Attar was roused from his slumber by the sound of pipes being played by the part-goat, part-man figure of Boujeloud – the “father of the skins”. Boujeloud made a deal with Attar that he would teach him the secrets of the music, in return that he never share them. If he did break this vow, his teacher would be entitled to take a bride from the village. Alas, Attar couldn’t keep the music to himself, and was heard playing by an infuriated Boujeloud, who came to take his promised bride. The villagers kept to the bargain, but presented Boujelord with the mad Aisha Kandisha, who tired him out with her insane dancing. Although briefly gratified, Boujeloud could eventually take no more, and left the village alone. Following his departure the villagers enjoyed a successful harvest.
The ritual has been described in the following rich terms by Rosemary Woodruff Leary ( wife of Timothy Leary ) upon visiting Joujouka in 1969 and the fuller document can be found here :
The hooded men lifted their horns, and a thin piercing sound from the oboe-like instruments was sustained for an incredibly long time, maintained by the subtle joining of one horn to another, as no single breath could be that long. I travelled the brighter, larger, and then the horns went higher, taking me almost to the point of pain, then the music swirled into a skirling bagpipe sound whose rhythm the wind had torn away. The drums, silent until then, boomed into being, a thudding heartbeat of rhythm. My breath was caught by the horns; my pulses by the drums. Was this music, or was it the thunder of mammoth hooves, screams of birds of prey? It seemed the very tempo of life in my body. Eardrums could be shattered. Hearts could burst from these sounds. The drums built a wall that contained the reed instruments. The reeds descended into a weaving ribbon of silver notes, playful to the drums’ assertive tempo, seductive, cajoling, demanding rhythms.
A creature leapt over the fire to confront the musicians. He was tall, powerful, barely covered by tattered clothing. His face was concealed by a deep straw basket adorned with antler-like branch-arches curved so high that his feet were hooves. Trailing branches in his hands, flailing the air, his pelvis thrusting, he was goaded by the music. He whirled around the fire, pausing once to glare at me with a goat’s horizontal eyes. The creature struck me with the branches. Struck me or anointed me, I don’t know which.
‘Bou Jeloud’, Hamri said.
Pan lives, I thought.
A slender figure in a blue-spangled dress came from the shadows. Arms curved, veils aswirl, her hips swaying with seduction, she turned before the Bou Jeloud. He followed her dancing form, leaping before her as she teased him with her veils. She played with him, turning him around and around, mocking him. Abruptly she was gone and the creature confronted the musicians, but they taunted him with their rhythms. He danced before them, controlled by them. The drums reverberated through the mountains. The horns’ high notes seemed to come from everywhere. Bou Jeloud bucked convulsively, howling in anguish that Aisha had left him. The drums slowed; the horns were one pure fading note. Bou Jeloud scattered the fire with his flails and disappeared into the black night.
Throughout this entire timescale Gysin, Hamri, Bowles and Burroughs maintained interest and contact with the Joujouka musicians. Financial support was provided as much as possible and extended time was spent with the Musicians in their village.
Many of these events predate Abdesalam’s memory. He said that he was now 60, and could remember some of the latter events as a boy. He said he began playing the t’bel ( drums ) when he was only 4 years old and had played with the musicians in Morocco, but had never travelled abroad with them. He said that many of the musicians he played with had now died, and many of those still alive had moved out of the village to Tatoft and other nearby villages. He repeated sadly again that Bachir now lived in Tangier and as Liesbeth tried to find out more, Abdesalam suggested there had been problems but wouldn’t describe more fully.
The photographs were a mixture of images of musicians and figures long associated with the group, mostly from localities within Morocco. All were original and the colour ones were fading, and all had been well handled. It was easy to imagine the hundreds, or even thousands, of times these same photographs had been passed around for other to see. They were an invitation to look into a time which had now passed, a time where a confluence of creative and influential writers, artists and musicians had recognised something unique in these musicians and transported them physically and culturally into a vortex where their music was played and celebrated on stages across the world. Also giants from a range of musical genres began to seek them out and wanted to play with them, and wanted them to appear on their records.
Abdesalam slowly showed us photographs, as I remember, of Paul Bowles, Mohamed Hamri, Brion Gysin, of a young Bachir Attar and his brothers Mostapha Attar and Abdellah Attar, of their father Hadj Abdesalam Attar, of Cherie Nutting, American photographer and for a time Bachir’s wife, of Bachir’s young son, of Frank Rynne, their later manager and producer of albums, of fellow musicians long dead and some who are still alive. In some photos Cherie and Bowles displayed the mutual affection that would later be portrayed in her collaboration with him in Yesterday’s Perfume : An Intimate Memoir of Paul Bowles published just 1 year after his death in 2000. In some photographs the musicians wear the long ceremonial djellabas which is their trademark performance costumes, in others they appear in western clothing, their darker skins the only sign they are Moroccan. The backgrounds vary between deserts, urban environments and hills and mountains which might easily have been terrain around the local village. Some photographs depict the annual Joujouka Festival, introduced in 2008 by Bachir’s cousin Ahmed el Attar, where the phenomenon Boujloud can be seen dancing and spectators are enjoying the spectacle. Abdesalam can remember all of the names if not all of the locations. He speaks of famous people as if it is entirely a normal and routine practice.
We tried to find out a little more about Boujloud, where the goat skin is kept in between performances. He unexpectedly said there was a village wedding the following day and Boujloud would be a part of the celebration. Abdesalam also kept repeating that Frank would be coming tomorrow, that Frank was in Marrakech but would come tomorrow. I learnt later that Frank was Frank Rynne, the Masters of Joujouka’s Irish manager.
As he was talking he would sometimes stop, fill his pipe with kif, take a few breaths and stop talking for a few seconds. The light from the single small window above his head just lit small parts of him.
The afternoon had almost passed and it was decided Liesbeth and I would stay the night. A meal of chicken and bread was provided which we ate with Abdesalam in his room.
We were shown the room where we would sleep then decided to go out for a walk to see the village as sunset approached. Walking up into the village I found the location of the original Musicians House paid for by Brion Gysin that was now hidden behind large walls. Some boys took me to the edge of the village and from the shelter of ancient olive trees pointed out on the distant hill the cave of Magara where Boujloud resides. Singing from the Mosque brought me back into the village where chickens ran around freely, people drew water from the wells and children played around a large rock beside the concrete track which wound up and beyond the mosque behind.
If the years before the recording of Brian Jones record were progressive for the Musicians, the years after were a mixture of good and bad fortune. Apart from the recognition and fame that was to accrue, perhaps the most significant development was the splitting of the Master Musicians of Joujouka from one group into two separate groups between which internecine conflict and disagreement lasts even until today.
The small village of Joujouka/Jajouka now hosts 2 separate groups of musicians, with slightly different spellings of their names, different management structures and different styles of playing, both claiming that they are the original and authentic group. The Master Musicians of Jajouka is led by Bashir Attar, and managed by his former wife Cherie Nutting, and the Master Musicians of Joujouka is led by Ahmed el Attar, Bachir’s cousin, and managed originally by Hamri and subsequently by Irishman Frank Rynne. Both groups have released albums, both play with other musicians and both tour the world. Another difference is that the Master Musicians of Joujouka hosted a festival in the village in 2008, which Anita Pallenberg attended, and marked the 40th anniversary of the Brian Jones recording. The Brian Jones Anniversary Festival has occurred yearly since.
The reason for the chronic disagreement is difficult to fathom, but appears to do with longstanding disagreements about leadership entitlement, perceptions of authenticity and, perhaps even more crucially, a dispute over money and royalties going back even to the Brian Jones recording where allegedly Mohamed Hamri sold the rights to their music as a part of the recording deal. The 1995 re-release of the Brian Jones album saw both the band’s name change from Joujouka to Jajouka and the original image on the cover change from the abstract painting of Brian Jones in the middle of Musicians to a photograph of Bachir Attar playing his reed instrument by the cave of Magara.
More can be read regarding these stark divisions in an article by Richie Troughton here
The following morning, I woke early and set out for a walk again, watching the sun rise over the folding hills and lakes of the surrounding hills. In the serenity of dawn it was difficult to sense the ongoing division and difficulty within the village and the bitterness of the rival factions. The music seemed too pure to give rise to such divisions. Bachir’s album The Next Dream, a present from a friend years ago, is what first engaged me within the Joujouka world. The reality of that world though is slightly different than the Joujouka dream I had held for a long time. Within that dream it is also difficult to separate out the two factions of musicians from the ghosts of all the characters who existed with and had supported them.
Abdesalam’s photographs had provided the closest glimpse I have had into that lost colonial world of Bowles, Hamri, Gysin, Burroughs and all the other characters and personalities who had lived in Tangier when it was an International Zone. Previous attempts of mine to uncover remnants of that controversial world have resulted in finding just brittle photographs on the walls of Cafe Baba, memorabilia in the American Legation, drinking coffee at the dusty old cafe’s and haunts where these people had once met and talked, visiting the el Muniria hotel where Burroughs had written large chunks of the Naked Lunch, and tracking down flats and houses some of them had once occupied. But I had never met anyone who was actually a part of that world and knew its protagonists. Add to these characters the ghosts of Brian Jones, Ornette Coleman ( whose New York funeral procession Bachir and his Musicians led in 2015 ), Anita Pallenberg and others, it all amounts to an impressive legacy. Abdesalam, although only having the memories of a child for some of those associations, had known them all and his collection of fading photographs keeps that reality alive for him.
I also had some new leads to follow up, for example who was Cherie and Frank, new names within the lexicon of Tangier and north Morocco.
An unexpected positive for me was being told of the Boujloud mythology, particularly discovering the role that Aisha Qandisha, the ubiquitous jinniya of popular Moroccan folklore I seemed to encounter everywhere I travelled, played within that mythology. Sometimes apparently disparate threads join up in mysterious and unexpected ways.
I returned and had breakfast of m’semem, honey and coffee with Liesbeth and Abdesslam. Even though a village wedding was planned that day and Boujloud would be dancing and Aisha would tease him, and Frank Rynne would be there from Marrakesh, and we had kindly been invited to attend, we had decided to leave. Rosemary Woodruffe Leary’s searing account above provides a rich sense of what we might have seen had we stayed; the repetitive and piercing rhaita pipes, lira and pounding t’bel of healing Sufi music and the feverish whirling Boujloud trying to win the teasing Aisha in a remote village on a Moroccan hillside, finally to be driven back to his cave for another year by the baraka of Sufi music.
Instead the taxi drew up and returned us along the winding road back to Ksar el Kebir, where we had started the day before. It will take another journey into the Ahl-Serif mountains to enter still further into its mysteries.
Thank you to Liesbeth van Roij for being my companion and translating all that was discussed and to Abdesalam for being a wonderful host.
As an addendum to this article I have had a conversation with Cherie Nutting, photographer, former wife of Bachir Attar and current manager of the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Cherie explained that Bachir has never lived in the house that the taxi driver brought us to in Joujouka/Jajouka and that Abdeselam, although touring once as a drummer with the Master Musicians of Jajouka, was not a Master Musician ( ie someone who has undertaken years of practice and training to learn the complex rhythms and tunes of the Sufi music the Jajouka band play ). His two brothers however were Master Musicians and had both played in and regularly toured with the Master Musicians of Jajouka.
Bachir’s original family home has recently been used as a guest house and his present home in the village is behind the gate and walls which can be seen on the 6th photograph following this article. Cherie also explained that the word Joujouka is an incorrect spelling of the village’s name and was falsely introduced by former Rolling Stone’s founding member Brian Jones. She said that the correct spelling is Jajouka, or variations of that. Although now mostly living in Tangiers, both Bachir Attar and herself have contributed financially and culturally to the well being of the village and the villagers. She believes that the Jajouka band ( ie the collection of musicians she manages and that Bachir leads ) are the true band and the Joujouka band led by Bachir’s cousin Ahmed el Attar are ‘imposters’. She believes that Bachir is the true leader of the Master Musicians of both Jajouka and Joujouka. She believes that the photographs Liesbeth and I were shown are authentic and that some of these may have been taken by her. As a result of her helpful comments I have amended the article to reflect this new information. I would like to thank Cherie Nutting ( and Bachir Attar ) for this contribution.
Some photographs from Joujouka :