A Rolling Stone's Moroccan odyssey

Tue, Jul 22, 2008, 01:00

The group's founder member Brian Jones's obsession with the haunting music of Joujouka is to be recalled at a Moroccan festival in his honour, writes Frank Rynne.

WHEN I FIRST visited Morocco in 1994, I took a one-way charter flight to Malaga and a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar. On one side of the Straits were the burnt hills of Southern Spain, on the other the high colossus of the Rif Mountains.

Soon I was standing in the ship's restaurant being inspected by curious frontier police in line with Djellaba clad men, women in fine silk robes and the odd backpacker. Having had my passport stamped in Arabic script, I could stay up to three months. Arriving at Tangier port, I was assailed by offers of taxi rides, protection, and beggars. The contrast with the sedate south of Spain could not have been greater.

I made my way to the Café de Paris to meet Hamri. Hamri had famously brought Beat writers Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and the painter Brion Gysin to his village in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he had taken Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones and LSD guru Timothy Leary. By 1973, Ornette Coleman, the inventor of "free jazz", had made the same pilgrimage to visit the Master Musicians of Joujouka. The musicians were described by Burroughs and Leary as a "4,000-year-old rock'n'roll band". According to Gysin, the musicians held a secret, hidden even from themselves: they still practised "the Rites of Pan under the ragged cloak of Islam". The "ragged" referring to the musicians' poverty.

The Master Musicians of Joujouka are Sufi trance musicians from a tiny village in the Southern Rif Mountains. They play a form of trance music which is used for healing. Each year in the village, a boy is sewn into goat skins to dance as Boujeloud, who appears to Westerners as Pan. The flute-playing goat god is the protector of shepherd boys who brings fertility in springtime. The musicians play ancient music to drive Boujeloud back to his cave. With the beast appeased by their music, they can expect a good harvest. Women touched by his flailing palm fronds will bear healthy children.

Hamri took me to his studio, where beautiful paintings hung in various stages of completion. Soon the smell of linseed oil and canvas was penetrated by cumin, coriander and chicken as Hamri prepared his famous harira soup.

The next morning, we took a series of taxis to Joujouka, making the last leg of the journey on foot, up a steep impassable track. We were laden with meat, tea, sugar, mint and other basic provisions for the musicians, the mosque and the sanctuary of the village's patron saint. Since the 9th century, Sidi Ahmed Schiech's sanctuary in Joujouka has been a place of pilgrimage for the Ahl Srif tribe.

I first met the Master Musicians in 1992. I helped bring them to Dublin to participate in the Here to Goshow at the old Project Arts Centre. The show, in honour of Gysin, was the first joint exhibition of his and Burroughs' paintings. Gysin had invented the Cut-Up method of writing which Burroughs famously used to deconstruct the modern novel. Burroughs said of Gysin: "He was the only man I ever respected." He died in 1986 having never achieved the recognition that Burroughs felt he deserved. Hamri and Gysin had exhibited together in the early 1950s. Having heard the Master Musicians of Joujouka, Gysin abandoned the Western art scene and spent 23 years in Morocco to be close to them and their music. It was Hamri who suggested that an art show for Brion would be incomplete without Joujouka music.

At Hamri's house in the village, the musicians began to arrive singly and in small groups. I was overwhelmed by the welcome I received from the musicians who had been to Dublin. Soon a large group of cloaked men were sitting on the veranda. Tea was brewing and a tagine of lamb was slowly bubbling. Bamboo flutes, drums and sepsi pipes for smoking kif, a mix of mild marijuana and home grown tobacco, were produced.

The music began with long plaintive notes segueing into repetitive refrains and hypnotic drumming. This music is haunting and unworldly. They played the tunes left by their patron saint, which the musicians and their ancestors have played for centuries to heal illness and mental disturbances. They continued for several hours until dinner was served on a large plate from which we all ate communally.

After the meal, the musicians produced long mahogany double reed horns called rhiatas, which are similar to oboes. Their massed sound carries for miles in the little hills of the Ahl Srif.

The musicians use long extended notes and utilise circular breathing techniques. The horn players divide into sections and play extended loops following a lead section. They are loud as any rock band.

IT WAS MY LOVE of the Rolling Stones and, in particular, the enigmatic talents of their founder Brian Jones, that first made me aware of Joujouka. In 1982, I saw the Stones in all their stadia glory at Slane Castle. The subtle elegance of Jones' 1960s experiments with Eastern rhythm and instrumentation had been replaced by the hard edged, over-sexed blues rock that conquered the American mid-West.

Last week, I asked Anita Pallenberg what had set Brian Jones apart. "He was a renaissance man and a blues man, way ahead of his time," she said. Anita had famously been Brian's girlfriend when he entered a spiritual decline. Since his untimely death in 1969, the rock world has become all too familiar with such sensitive souls being crushed by the demands of an over-commercial oeuvre.

On July 29th, 1968, Gysin and Hamri brought Jones and his engineer George Chkiantz to Joujouka to record the Masters. For Jones, the experience was to dominate the last year of his life. His obsession with the music of Joujouka was yet another factor that distanced him from Jagger and Richards. Jones wished to incorporate it into the Stones's sound.

John Dunbar was a friend of the Stones's first manager Andrew Loog Oldham as well as Burroughs, Gysin and Jones. He remembers Brian on his return from Morocco coming to his flat to play the tapes. According to Dunbar: "Brian loved Joujouka and he hawked those tapes around trying to do something for the musicians. This really was going in a different direction from Mick and Keith."

Brian spent the rest of the summer preparing the art work and sleeve design for the LP. In the studio he experimented, playing the music out of synch. Jagger recently said that Brian's Joujouka experiments were the equivalent to scratching in the early days of hip hop.

In Morocco, Hamri, Gysin and the Master Musicians anxiously awaited the result of the star's labours. The musicians had received some money and they hoped that Brian's interest would rescue them from poverty by making their music popular in the West.

Hamri and Gysin had spent the 1950s and 1960s keeping the village going by employing troupes of musicians to play at their 1001 Nights restaurant in Tangier. Later, Hamri opened a second 1001 Nights in Asilah. It was in the latter that Jones first came to know the music and the musicians. Hamri would tell stories from his village to a reclining Jones. When Hamri would assume that Brian was asleep and stop his story, Brian would say in an English accent which Hamri imitated in recollection: "And then?" And the stories continued.

When the Rolling Stones set up their own record label in 1971, the first release was Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka. The cover painted by Hamri features Brian in the centre of the Masters. Some friends felt it was the least they could have done for Brian.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, I have visited Joujouka nearly 50 times, recording three CDs. Nearly all the older musicians who played on the Brian Jones record are now dead. Ahmed Attar, who at 12 years of age drummed on Pipes of Pan, leads the group in the village.

An old musician, Mujehid Mujdoubi, once asked me: "Why do you Irish people have swimming pools filled with milk, when the cows in Joujouka give barely one cup a day?" Having been to Ireland in 1980 as part of the group that appear in Bob Quinn's Atlanteandocumentary, he was referring to a modern dairy farm so different from Joujouka's medieval agriculture.

IN 2006, BILLY Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins contacted me and came to the village. I was on my way there anyway to bring the group to Casa Da Musica in Porto. After a week, he felt the music was the loudest and most intense acoustic music imaginable.

The lure of stardom led one musician, Bachir Attar, who emigrated to New York, to claim he was the hereditary leader of the musicians. Although he was a toddler in 1968, this claim was readily accepted by music business executives, leading to Brian Jones' LP being reissued in 1995 but bringing no benefit to the village. Hamri's original cover art was replaced with by a contemporary photograph of Bachir. All mention of Hamri was excised from Brion Gysin's original sleeve notes. Bachir trades under the eponymous "Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar". In contrast to the musicians in Joujouka, he states he likes to work in the studio.

On July 29th, the Master Musicians of Joujouka host the Brian Jones 40th Anniversary Festival in the village square. Fifty Westerners will join the villagers for the festival of Boujeloud, celebrated to highlight Jones' contribution to the village and promote peace. Last year, the musicians built a two-room guest house for visitors. The legacy of Jones still affects the music and musicians.

A standard song now in the village repertoire is Brian Jones Joujouka Very Stoned. The lyrics go: "Joujouka mezyana b sseyyed dyala (Joujouka is good because the Sanctuary is powerful)./ Oh Brian Jones Joujouka very stoned, Oh Brian Jones Joujouka Rolling Stone."

• Master Musicians of Joujouka present the Brian Jones 40th Anniversary Festival in Joujouka, Morocco.

www.joujouka.net

• Frank Rynne has produced three CDs of Master Musicians of Joujouka, Joujouka Black Eyes(1995), Sufi: Moroccan Trance(1996) and Boujeloud(2006). He is an historian currently researching the Fenians and the Land War 1879-1882.