Horn squeals and drum taps puncture the silence, come faster and gradually knit into melody and rhythm. A yowl of high-pitched ghaita horns pierces the air, reverberating from every direction, despite the lack of walls. Five different kinds of drums thunder into a rhythm, then syncopate and alternate, creating layers of polyrhythms. ~ Suzanne Gerber
Each year in Morocco, "4,000-year-old rock & roll band" the Master Musicians of Joujouka throw a three-day tribal trance festival – for 50 lucky travellers. The music played in the village is said to date back to the 15th century, when the Sufi saint Sidi Ahmed Schiech arrived and taught the Masters' ancestors music which could heal. Today's group of Master Musicians are blessed with the Baraka or spirit of their saint, who is buried in the village. In 2011 the group travelled to England to perform on the main Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. For the annual festival in Joujouka visitors spend three days with the Musicians in their homes Suzanne Gerber was there for Rolling Stone
As Joujouka's musical tradition has evolved from its tribal roots into an international concern, two factions have emerged who call themselves the Master Musicians. One group, led by Bachir Attar, whose father was the leader during the Jones era and who no longer resides in the village, has spent decades blocking the efforts of the local contingent (currently led by the bass drummer Ahmed el Attar) to call themselves the Masters and perform as such. It's been challenging for them, but ironically, has led to greater exposure and acclaim.
|organiser Frank Rynne with musicians|
As organiser Frank Rynne puts it in his unmistakable brogue, "The festival began to give the Master Musicians of Joujouka a voice and a place where they could show people that they were truly the masters of their village and their music. For their own community, it shows the younger generation that there is a future in the music, as each year people come from across the world and show devotion to their parents' playing, culture and hospitality. And they want it to continue. They feel this music in their hearts; it's in their blood."
|Mohamed Hatmi - "Boujeloud"|
Then there's Boujeloud, a Pan-like half-goat man who's known throughout Morocco, and who, according to myth, gave the gift of flute music to the master musicians. Every spring, he would come out of his cave and dance during the "feast week" that honored the Sufi saint, and bring fertility. The man who's played this shamanic role for the past 47 years is an unassuming villager named Mohamed Hatmi. If you passed him on the dirt road, you might dismiss him as a simple man with little opportunity for self-expression. You would be very, very wrong.
|"...the ghaitas are thrusting you forward..."|
The more you listen, the better able you are to pick out something like melody from the seven ghaitas, and if you really focus, you can start to follow some of the pounding polyrhythms. But then the horn leader imperceptibly signals a change, and everything shifts. Is this the same song about the mountain girl? Or have we segued into a number about spiritual devotion? Or is this the cautionary tale about too much hash, a fat wife and three kids you've never met?
No matter: You're back in the hive, and your only job is to unhinge your hips and follow the footwork of the teenage boy you're no doubt dancing with. All the while, the ghaitas are thrusting you forward. The percussion is pounding inside you. Sweaty? Exhausted? Dance on. Later, much later, you can sleep and dream, then wake up and do it all over again.
I ask Rynne why he puts on the festival. "Once it started it can't be stopped," he says. "Each year is unique, a different set of people, a new energy, and the Masters feed off that. By organizing the festival, I get to hear three days of the greatest trance music played live, and no two performances are the same. The only thing each year guarantees," he concludes with an exhausted half-smile, "is that the Master Musicians of Joujouka will push it a notch more intense than the one before."
Read the full article: RollingStone