Friday, September 03, 2010

Spotlight on the Master Musicians of Jajouka

British electronic paper Global Arab Network (GAN) recently published an interesting article that traced the history of Jajouka, one of the oldest music genres in the world. Jajouka is an ancient village perched above a long valley in the blue Djebala foothills of the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco.

The village is home to the Master Musicians of Jajouka as well as the sanctuary of Saint Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, who came from the East around 800 AD to spread Islam to North Morocco. As founding members of the village of Jajouka, the Attar family maintains one of the oldest and most unique surviving musical traditions known on the planet. 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 tradition has also influenced many Western writers, including Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Stephen Davis, and some claim to have connected elements of Jajouka's musical traditions to Ancient Greek and Phoenician ceremonies.

The musicians of Jajouka are taught from early childhood a complex music that is unique to Jajouka. It takes many years of training before a few of them a chosen to be masters or "malims".

GAN goes on to depict the fame of Jajouka music, relating the story of the collaboration between the Master Musicians of Jajouka and the Rolling stones. Jajouka's reputation was cemented when Rolling Stones Records released Brian Jones album, The Pipes of Pan in Jajouka in 1971, and that reputation continues today with Jajouka Live: Vol. 1, named one of the top world music albums of 2009 by The Wire.

Mick Jagger has described the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar as one of the most musically inspiring groups on the planet. In 1989 in Tangier, the Master Musicians of Jajouka recorded the song Continental Drift with Jagger, Ron Wood and Keith Richards for the Rolling Stone's Steel Wheels album. The event was documented by BBC Television and also featured in Paul Bowles Days: A Tangier Journal.

The Master Musicians of Jajouka play a variety of folk, ancient and newly written musical pieces on traditional, locally made instruments. Many of the compositions in their extensive repertoire are unique to the Attar family and their traditions in Jajouka. Boujeloudia, meaning the rites of the “father of skins,” is performed in the village during the week long festival during the Eïd el–Kebir. Their oldest and most complex musical number, Hamza oua Hamzine, has been played for centuries for successive sultans, both in the palace and on the battle field. The Hadra summons the spiritual energy of the holy saint buried in Jajouka, Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, who is said to have blessed the Attar family and their music with baraka and the power to heal people of mental and physical illness.

Photo: Cherie Nutting

In 2008, the Master Musicians of Jajouka were honored with the Prix Miroir award for World Music in Quebec, during their tour of Canada.

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