Home > Travel Morocco > Moroccan Music & Artists > The Master Musicians of Jajouka
Moroccan Music & Artists > The Master Musicians of Jajouka
Travel To Morocco, See The Master Musicians Of Jajouka & Bachir Attar
The Master Musicians of Jajouka is a group led by Bachir Attar, from the village of Jajouka near Ksar-el-Kebir in the southern Rif Mountains of Northern Morocco. The inhabitants of this small village are from the Ahl Sherif ("the saintly") tribe. The Attar clan of Jajouka is the founding family of Jajouka and keepers of one of the world’s oldest and most unique surviving musical traditions. The music and secrets of Jajouka have been passed down through generations from father to son, by some accounts for as long as 1,300 years. The musicians of Jajouka are taught from early childhood a complex music which is unique to Jajouka, until they finally become malims or masters. They possess baraka, (good luck) or the blessing of Allah, which gives them the power to heal, and the endurance required to play some of the most intense and complex music around. The Master Musicians of Jajouka are all descendants of one family, the Attars. Attar is a Sufi watchword and a deeply mystical name meaning "perfume maker".
The instruments played by the Master Musicians of Jajouka are a flute called the lira, a double-reed instrument called the rhaita; it is similar to an oboe, but has a louder, more penetrating tone, a drum called the tebel made of goat-skin and played with two wooden sticks and a drum called the tarija.
The music itself is considered to be part of the Sufi tradition of Islam. Prior to the colonization of Morocco by France and Spain, master musicians of the village were said to be the royal musicians of the sultans. In past centuries master musicians of the Jajouka village traditionally were excused by the country's rulers from manual labor, goat-herding, and farming to concentrate on their music because the music's powerful trance rhythms and droning woodwinds were traditionally considered to have the power to heal the sick.
Most people who live in Jajouka are members of the Ahl Sherif tribe, which means "the Saintly." The Attar clan of Jajouka is the founding family of the village and keepers of one of the oldest and most unique surviving musical traditions. The music and secrets of Jajouka have been passed down through generations from father to son, by some accounts for as long as 4000 years. The musicians of Jajouka are taught from early childhood a complex music which is unique to Jajouka. After many years of dedicated training, the musicians finally become Malims or Masters. They possess baraka, (good luck) the blessing of Allah, which gives them the power to heal, and the endurance required to play some of the most intense and complex music around.
For centuries, the Master Musicians of Jajouka were employed by the Kingdom of Morocco as the royal musicians of the King. They had special papers detailing their rights as privileged citizens which allowed them to remain the royal musicians for many rulers - even through French, English and up to Spanish colonization. Throughout that time, the Musicians would still continue to play in and around Jajouka at weddings, Moussems (local music festivals centered around a Saint), and for holidays such as the Aid El Kabir (New Year). Supported locally by farmers through out the Djebala, the musicians were allowed to take an annual tithe from their crops, a privilege they held until the early twentieth century.
The first recordings by the earlier incarnation of the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar's father, Hadj Abdessalem Attar, included recordings with Brian Jones (Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, 1971 AFM/1995 Point Music), Joel Rubiner (The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Adelphi), and Ornette Coleman (Dancing in Your Head).
Led today by Bachir Attar, these are the Master Musicians of Jajouka recognized by the Kingdom of Morocco. The younger generation of their legendary group recorded under the names "Master Musicians of Jajouka" and "Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar" with The Rolling Stones (Steel Wheels, 1989), Bill Laswell (Apocalypse Across the Sky, Axiom Records, 1992), Tchad Blake (Jajouka Between the Mountains, WOMAD/Real World Records, 1996), Talvin Singh (The Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar, Point Music, 2000), Lee Ranaldo (Crossing Border Fest, The Hague, 2003), Bernardo Bertolucci (The Sheltering Sky film soundtrack), Nicholas Roeg (Bad Timing film soundtrack), and others.
Two of the great influences on the Beat Generation, Brion Gysin, the painter and inventor and Paul Bowles, the writer and composer, first heard the wild music of Jajouka at a moussem or festival near Sidi Kacem, Morocco, in July 1950.
Tangier, Morocco was then an International Zone, where anything could and did happen. In this adventurous climate, in 1954 the painter and writer Brion Gysin opened the now-legendary and popular 1001 Nights restaurant in Tangier, located in a wing of the Menehbi palace on the Marshan. Gysin hired the Master Musicians of Jajouka to perform, dance and serve to a largely international clientele. Those were the days of Beat writer William S. Burroughs' Interzone, described in his book The Naked Lunch.
In 1968 Brion Gysin brought his close friend Brian Jones, the founder of The Rolling Stones, to Jajouka. Tragically, Brian Jones drowned in 1969, a month after returning from Morocco, and the album he recorded, Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, was released two years later in 1971 and reissued in 1995. The original LP album was very influential and led to scores of people visiting the village in the following years, including the jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, who recorded the track "Midnight Sunrise" in Jajouka for his 1973 album Dancing In Your Head.
The Master Musicians of Jajouka are often described as the first "World Music" group. In 1980 the Master Musicians of Jajouka began a series of European tours, but lost momentum in 1982 with the death of their chief and group leader, Hadj Abdessalam Attar. One of his younger sons, Bachir Attar, has taken over as the legitimate hereditary leader of the Master Musicians, and Bachir works hard to preserve Jajouka’s traditions and secrets. Over the years, Bachir Attar has collaborated with other musicians, including Deborah Harry, saxophonist Ornette Coleman, Talvin Singh, Maceo Parker, Ginger Baker, Elliott Sharp, Bill Laswell, and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, and others.