It is with enormous pleasure that I am able to document a group of women playing music in Essaouira. The Haddarates Souiriyattes practice regularly at La Recontre cafe which is next door to where I have resided. The chanting and drumming of Sufi music has certainly been an integral part of my living here. An association led by Latifa Boumazzourh ( who features on the heading photograph on the blog page ), they are certainly a vibrant and important part of local culture.
In 2016 I wrote an article called The Sacred and the Profane, describing the two forms of Gnaoua music ( see http://sannyassa.co.uk/sacred-profane-gnaoua-world-music-festival-essaouira-2016/ ).
In that article I identified the paradox that lay ahead for the Gnaouia; to survive it had to become more popular, but by becoming popular it denied its sacred form and would slowly kill itself. Today, profane ( or popular ) Gnaoua can be heard throughout Essaouira. I was told that there are now 1000 malleem musicians in the city and private Gnaoua parties are common.
Correspondingly, the sacred form of Gnaoua is now rare. When held, it is mostly found in zaouias, for example that of Sidna Bilal, in Essaouira, or the zaouia of another brotherhood, such as the Hamadcha. It is mostly private and deals exclusively with the interaction between maleem and the jnoun. Of the 1000 malleem reputedly in Essaouira, I have also been told there are less than 10 who are sufficiently skilled or capable of conducting a truly sacred ritual.
The Gnaoua have long sacrificed the absolute sacredality of its music and have evolved public performances which they called xxxxxx. Traditionally a form of healing music where the Mallem ( master musician ) supported by several other musicians and a clairvoyant, negotiated with jinn ( spirits ), fusion with other forms of music brought abouxxxxxxx. Early forms of this fusion was with American jazz players and some rock and blues musicians. The latter included Robert Plant and Jimmy Page who developed a special interest in north African music, attending concerts and festivals.
Famously members of British rock band Led Zeppelin, Page and Plant played with Gnaouia musicians in and around Marrakech in 1993.
One of the most important things to appreciate about Morocco is to regard legends and traditions with caution. Moroccans are born story tellers and some may welcome association with historical figures or events; embellishing stories and history is not unusual.
Jimi Hendrix, one of a number of famous western musicians who have visited Essaouira, flew into Casablanca in 1969 and spent 11 days in Morocco, which included some time in Essaouira. He travelled around Morocco by limousine and a chauffeur, and stayed in 3 different hotels, including “Hotel des Iles” in Essaouira, the most luxurious accommodation in the town at the time.
“You will fly over the ocean,” he continued, “by the power of baraka, the blessing of Sidi Moulay Brahim, tair lajbal, indicating the spirit bird that flies over the Atlas Mountains”
Memoir of a Berber by Hassan Ouakrim
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.