Master Musicians of Jajouka is a Sufi trance group led by Bachir Attar, from the village of Jajouka near Ksar-el-Kebir in the Ahl Srif mountains in the southern Rif Mountains of northern Morocco.
First brought to the Western world’s attention by William S. Burroughs and Paul Bowles in the ‘50s, early recordings by the Master Musicians of Jajouka who were led by Bachir Attar’s father, Hadj Abdessalem Attar, included recordings with Rolling Stones guitarist 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, the younger generation of the group has 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), Nicolas Roeg (Bad Timing film soundtrack), and others.
Bachir Attar has recorded with artists such as Elliott Sharp, Maceo Parker, Ginger Baker and Deborah Harry. The Master Musicians of Jajouka and Bachir have also toured with the artists Ornette Coleman, Steve Lacy and Critters Buggin.
Their music has been used on film soundtracks: Ornette: Made in America (1985), The Sheltering Sky (1990), Naked Lunch (1991), The Cell (2000), Along Came Polly (2004).
The Jajouka flute is called the “lira” and is considered the oldest instrument in Jajouka. The double-reed instrument is called the rhaita; it is similar to an oboe, but possessing a louder sound and more penetrating tone. The drum is called the “tebel” and is made of goat-skin and played with two wooden sticks. There is also another goat-skin drum called the “tarija” which allows for more fast-paced virtuosity.
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.
The music of the region has a strong connection to Pan. According to the tale, thousands of years ago a goat-man called “Bou Jeloud” appeared to an Attar ancestor in a cave, and danced to his music. The musicians of the village re-enact this event annually.
A schism exists between two similarly-named ensembles from the same village. Lee Ranaldo, following a 1995 visit to Morocco, wrote:
There are currently two groups of musicians claiming to be the ‘real’ Master Musicians OF Jajouka/Joujouka (they’re even arguing over the spelling). One group, the ‘Jajouka’ faction, is led by Bachir Attar, whose father was the leader of the group in the 60s when Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman made their visits… The ‘Joujouka’ faction is in the care of Mohammed Hamri, who has been involved with the village since the 50s and 60s, and who had a hand in bringing Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles there.
The full story about village of Jajouka and the group can be found on their website. This is just a part taken from their website:
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.
Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs, Steven Davis and other writers have connected elements of Jajouka’s musical traditions to Ancient Greek and Phoenician ceremonies. Burroughs famously dubbed the Master Musicians of Jajouka “A 4000 year old rock band.” However, he was likely connecting the unique rites of Boujeloudia, performed in Jajouka during the Aïd el–Kebir, to Lupercalia, the ancient Roman celebration, rather than precisely dating the origins of the music itself. Bachir Attar, leader of the Master Musicians of Jajouka, whose father, El Hadj Abdesalam el Attar led the group until his death in 1981, says the family’s most sacred compositions originated more than 1000 years ago.
Although no one can say for certain exactly when the village was founded, all agree that Jajouka derives its baraka, or spiritual power, from the learned Saint Sidi Ahmed Sheikh, whose tomb is both the spiritual and geographic center of Jajouka. Most people who live in Jajouka are members of the Ahl Sherif tribe, which means “the saintly”. The musicians of Jajouka are taught from early childhood a complex music that is unique to Jajouka. After many years of dedicated training, the musicians may finally become Malimin or Masters. In the past, the Jajouka musicians numbered as many as fifty or more players at a time. However, not all musicians reach the level of Malim. Usually only a few great masters arise each generation to pass along the secrets to their sons and nephews…
The rest of the story can be read at Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar websiteTracklist: