It’s two within the morning within the little village of Joujouka within the Ahl Srif mountains of Morocco, and absolutely the oldest and loudest acoustic band on the planet are celebrating the god Pan – who nonetheless holds sway right here, in an uneasy alliance with Islam – whereas additionally warming up for Glastonbury, the place they’ll open the Pyramid stage this weekend.
There’s a full moon over the olive grove the place the Master Musicians have lower out a flat space as a stage, and tonight it’s coated in carpets beneath a inexperienced and pink patterned awning. The musicians are wearing turbans and black embroidered djellaba robes, and all are seated other than their elected chief, Ahmed El Attar, a drummer who parades in earlier than them, driving on an intricate, improvised and trance-inducing dance music that continues with out cease for hour after hour. This historical artistry, stretching again over a thousand years, is highly effective and sophisticated; the musicians say it’s non secular, bringing a blessing, baraka, to those that pay attention.
There are 4 percussionists, beating out continually altering polyrhythms on their goatskin drums, the small zowak and bigger farad, and alongside them are eight woodwind gamers, blowing into their reed ghaitas. The lead participant and two companions set up a riff, others reply or embellish the melody or use round respiration so as to add drone results to music that’s continually creating, creating phasing results because it builds from crescendo to crescendo.
Out of the blue, the lights exit, a bonfire is blazing within the area by the stage, and Boujeloud, the Pan god seems, dancing across the flames, quivering from head to foot, brandishing olive branches as he chases village youngsters earlier than leaping on stage with the band. By day, Mohamed El Hatmi is a 71-year-old cafe proprietor however as soon as he places on his costume, created from the skins of 4 black goats, he’s a person possessed. It’s a job he has performed for greater than 50 years.
That is the finale of the world’s smallest annual music festival. Solely 50 individuals, together with organisers and friends, can attend, in order to not disrupt village life, and Joujouka followers have come right here from everywhere in the world. A 3rd are from Japan, the place the band have toured and performed a reportedly frenzied five-hour set at an EDM pageant, whereas others have flown in from Los Angeles, France and the UK. After three days and nights of this intense music, with prolonged periods all the time beginning after midnight, everybody has acquired to know one another.
There may be nonetheless no operating water within the village, and alcohol is just not allowed. All of us keep within the homes of the musicians, whose wives present breakfast, and the musicians themselves assist cook dinner and serve lunch and dinner, served on the stage the place they’ll later be taking part in. Within the afternoons there are periods with oud or violin gamers.
Joujouka is a farming neighborhood perched on a ridge with a patchwork of fields and olive orchards under. There are extra donkeys and chickens on the one road than there are automobiles. It might appear like a typical north African village, but it surely has a unprecedented musical historical past. El Hatmi takes guests throughout a valley to the mountain cave the place Boujeloud, a creature who was half-man and half-goat, was stated to have first taught flute taking part in to a shepherd, within the hope of getting a spouse in return. He failed, however the villagers turned such nice musicians that Boujeloud was pacified, bringing well being, fertility and good crops to the village. That historical delusion lives on.
The pageant is organised by Frank Rynne, as soon as a musician in Dublin, the place he first met members of the Joujouka band, and now a Paris-based tutorial historian. He has studied the Boujeloud story and argues “he’s completely derived from Pan. Take a look at the depictions of Pan in Pompeii along with his pan pipes – and the Romans have been right here. It is a pre-Islamic perception that has saved going. The villagers consider that the massive fireplace that destroyed olive groves right here final 12 months occurred as a result of there had been no Boujeloud festivals – they’d been stopped by Covid.”
Islam additionally influenced the music. Within the early fifteenth century, Sufi saint Sidi Ahmed Sheich got here right here, realised the facility of the music and taught the musicians to play a mode that Rynne says “would act like a surgical instrument on the mind to assist heal individuals from melancholy”. Joujouka flourished. Some musicians travelled to Fez to play for the Sultan (a profitable gig that ended with the colonial period: the French have been in Fez, the Spanish in Joujouka, and the musicians weren’t in a position to cross the brand new colonial borders). Others stayed within the village to play to the sick who flocked right here to be cured. Once I first got here right here in 1973, musical therapeutic ceremonies have been nonetheless being held within the historical shrine to the saint within the centre of the village.
The shrine stays, nonetheless dominated by an outdated fig tree, but it surely’s now abandoned. With Rynne translating from the Arabic, I ask El Attar what had gone improper. There was a conflict between the outdated Sufi custom and trendy Islam, they usually have been banned from taking part in there: “The authorities say it shouldn’t occur as a result of there’s a mosque throughout the highway.” However he says the music nonetheless has the identical energy they usually nonetheless deal with the sick in personal: “5 weeks in the past we performed for somebody who got here to us with a djinn [a malicious African spirit] in his mind”. He and different musicians break right into a livid burst of hand clapping as they show the distinction between “the Boujeloud rhythms, for dancing” and the therapeutic music written by the saint.
There’s one other, more moderen determine within the village mythology – Rolling Stone Brian Jones, who recorded right here in 1968, a 12 months earlier than his dying, and was stated to be obsessed by the music. After Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka was launched in 1971 the village attracted extra celebrities. Once I was first invited right here there was nonetheless no electrical energy, the musicians have been taking part in on the mud sq., however the friends included William Burroughs and Ornette Coleman. Rikki Stein – later Fela Kuti’s supervisor – had been residing right here for 2 years, and in 1980 he organised passports for the band, and purchased a bus for his or her first European tour, lasting three months. Stein is again this 12 months and famous “the music has the identical power and dynamism I skilled within the Seventies – although the variety of musicians has diminished”.
It’s a wonderful story – however with one bitter edge. Bachir Attar, the son of one among Joujouka’s best-loved musicians, runs a rival band referred to as The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar. He speaks English (not like the Joujouka musicians), has lived in New York, performed with the Rolling Stones on Metal Wheels in 1989, with Ornette Coleman at his London Meltdown in 2009, and received a gold medal from the Kennedy Centre for the performing arts this 12 months. Which is all effective – there’s absolutely room for 2 bands from the area? However Bachir, who has a home within the village however was not in proof through the pageant, claims his band are the “genuine Grasp Musicians … to not be confused with any imitations”. And that has brought about main issues.
Rynne says he began the pageant in Joujouka to show that these actually are the village musicians, and was delighted that Brian Jones’s former companion Anita Pallenberg got here alongside to the primary occasion in 2008. So what do the Joujouka musicians consider Bachir’s music? “It’s widespread music, not the traditional music of Joujouka,” says El Attar. “However let him do what he needs. Anybody who comes right here and sees what we do is aware of what the story is.”
And it’s the Grasp Musicians of Joujouka, not Jajouka, who might be at Glastonbury, the place they final performed in 2011. They’re clearly excited to be going, particularly the three band members who’ve by no means been exterior Morocco earlier than. “We beloved it,” stated El Attar. “We had no wellington boots till somebody gave them to us. Boujeloud music brings blessings.”
“Folks need the baraka, the therapeutic energy,” provides the ghaita participant Abdeslam Rrtoubi. “This music is historical. It would by no means die.”