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Wire's Graham Lewis On Cupol & The Master Musicians Of Joujouka
Richie Troughton , November 3rd, 2010 10:18

In an Afro Sonic-with-a-twist feature, Richie Troughton speaks to Wire's Graham Lewis about the impact the Master Musicians Of Joujouka had on the music of his post-Wire project, Cupol

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When Richie Troughton wrote about his experiences of the Master Musicians of Joujouka on the Quietus a few months back, Wire bassist Graham Lewis was the first person to comment, writing how seeing them play was a "life-changing experience" that inspired his Kluba Cupol project. We thought we'd better get Richie to interview Lewis about the impact that they had on his life and work. Read on below...

Cupol, a collaboration between Wire bassist Graham Lewis and guitarist Bruce Gilbert with artist Russell Mills, saw the sounds of a rural village in north Africa re-imagined in an art-noise soundscape – the Like This For Ages EP. Cupol’s one and only recording had been a "musical homage" to the Master Musicians of Joujouka, inspired by their records.

And as luck would have it, the July 1980 release of the 12" on 4.a.d. was promptly followed by the opportunity for Graham to witness the Master Musicians of Joujouka (also spelt Jajouka) live for the first time, an experience he described as "life changing".

Graham saw all five-nights of the Moroccan ensemble's landmark residency at Kensington's Commonwealth Institute in September 1980. The epiphany of hearing the Musicians' music is vividly described in the lyrics of the Cupol track 'Like This For Ages' - as if discovering a new world and outlook: "I salute the new day, It's natural to be nervous… It's been happening for ages", with the music a swarm of swampy dub bass, synths and clattering drums.

Thirty years on from Cupol, Graham remembers seeing the Joujouka Masters with affection: "There's rarely a month goes by without me thinking about the experience, it's just totally unforgettable."

Cupol would attempt to recreate their trance-inducing rhythms on the EP's instrumental percussion-driven companion piece, the 20-minute b-side 'Kluba Cupol'. Through a mutual friend, Lewis happened to know the person responsible for bringing the band out of North Africa and across Europe. "Rikki Stein had come across the group in the 60s," he recalls. "He had been on the trail to Morocco, discovered the Master Musicians and become completely obsessed. He was in total awe and felt other people should share his experience and good fortune."

The unusual spectacle made for an unusual crowd, intrigued by the mystique of the band attained in the 1960s following the visits of Rolling Stone Brian Jones, and Tangier residents William S Burroughs and Brion Gysin.

"The first night at the Commonwealth Institute was kind of a strange audience," remembers Lewis, who had himself encouraged all his friends to attend the party. "There were a lot of the good and the worthy kind-of-vaguely-interested-in something exotic, mixed with the Moroccan community who were there to let rip."

Not all were prepared for what was in store for them. "I think it was after the first number a middle-aged woman stood up and enquired [adopts shrill voice]: 'Please, is it possible for you to adjust the volume? I'm finding it frightfully loud!' This caused a certain amount of hilarity - Rikki walked out onto the stage and addressed the audience: 'I know you can see the PA system, but it is not being used!' The Master Musicians were simply acoustically LOUD!!

"They were just blowing people through the walls. The physical experience was magical. You couldn't stay seated, I found it impossible. The rhaita players triangulated people who were sitting, took aim, played, and lifted them out of their seats! They were unable to remain seated… I experienced synesthesia; I saw a dome of harmonics. It was exciting and shocking!"

The effect of the volume raised by the Master Musicians was matched in intensity by the length of the pieces they were performing, made all the more remarkable by the age of some of the men. "The old man who played the bass drum must have been about 80," says Lewis. "And he ran the show. It was quite extraordinary to see an ensemble, which had what appeared to be an almost telepathic communication. It's not something you see too often in Western music. Of course there are were exceptions like Sun Ra's Arkestra, who were capable of playing for seven or eight hours, with a comparative kind of mastery and intensity, and that absolutely spellbinding shifting of rhythmic gears, making the music swerve in extraordinary ways. It's a swinging acceleration that lifts you both, mentally and physically, again and again…

"Despite being previously aware of Joujouka, through the records which Ornette Coleman and Brian Jones had made with them, nothing prepared one for the actual manifestation of this 17-piece virtuoso Moroccan Maserati! What a ROAR!"

Around the time of the Joujouka concerts, the future of Wire was somewhat uncertain, the band having left EMI and members pursuing other projects. From their inception as novice musicians through to the creation of Pink Flag and beyond, Wire's creativity and musicianship accelerated as they got used to their instruments. As guitarist Bruce Gilbert said: "We were moving so quickly that things came and went in the blink of an eye."

Having heard the Master Musicians' records, Lewis and Gilbert once again had the creative spark to try out new sounds on the project that would become Cupol. The catalyst for the duo to start work on the music came after accepting a suggestion by then Wire manager Mike Collins to curate an event at Notre Dame Hall, Leicester Square. It also provided the opportunity to work with artist friend Russell Mills. He would "design a set that would also be a reactive and act as a musical score, which would involve a performer actually building the set as the music unfurled".

And with the Pipes of Pan ringing firmly in their ears, the pair set about creating the soundtrack. "When we had decided we were going to compose a piece for the evening," says Lewis. "I had recently bought a sound beat box... I started experimenting with it and rapidly understood that the actual preset sounds, were rather limited, but became much more interesting if you processed them through a line of guitar FX pedals. "I'd also bought a contact mike and with the application of a lump of blu-tack you could attach it to pretty much any object and produce a audio signal of some kind."

The length of the piece they were to make was dictated by the length of time they were expected to play that night, along with the length of the multi-track tape they were using – 20 minutes.

"We used the beat box to generate a rhythm as the basis to develop the piece," said Graham. In practice, the process of creating their homage was as much of a physical feat as anything else. Without the luxuries of sampling or sequencing, everything had to be recorded as a whole take.

"We attached the contact mike to a litter bin ashtray, donned a pair of gloves and proceeded to pound it on the floor, aiming for a 20 minute take, this became the bass drum… Russell played an Irish Bodhrán drum, we layered percussion, track upon track... After three days with this incessant rhythm, when you one retired to bed it was all you could hear. In our own small way we entered a form of rhythmic ecstatic state!"

Two or three years earlier a Wire song rarely broke the two minute barrier, and yet by this stage the musicians were putting out a piece that was 20 minutes long. "The thing with Wire and the Pink Flag songs, is, as we have always said, they were that long because that's how long they were," Lewis says. "We never really thought of them as being short. What we were trying to do was avoid what were the given and obvious templates for how you wrote a pop/rock song. And of course the brevity did rather frustrate the punks who wanted to pogo [laughs]. People were always being caught. Caught short, so to speak… pogo interruptus!"

The title 'Kluba Cupol' was inspired by current affairs. "It was an anagram of Kabul," explains Lewis. "The Russians were the next colonial power to make the mistake of trying to invade and govern Afghanistan." And having already established Dome, the name Cupol itself came from "cupola", the architectural theme followed into the cover, a painting of Bruce's, inspired by Arabic mosaic.

Recording completed the EP was unveiled at the Notre Dame Hall concert, with a hand-picked line up of Blurt, D.A.F., and the premiere of the Quay Brothers' debut short film Nocturnia Artificialia. Cupol's performance featured an elaborate set constructed in front of them by young Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake, choreographed and created by Russell Mills.

Shinro had recently arrived in Britain to learn English and make contact with artists he admired. He recently became the first living artist to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo.

The night collected not just an inspiring group of young creative talents, but also led to a number of future collaborations. After Cupol, Lewis and Gilbert continued to be productive under various guises, and from August 1980 (just a month after the Cupol disc) into 1981 they had released the first three Dome records. Continuing with dark minimal pieces, devoid of pop structure, and filled with warped atmospheric twists.

"I listened to the Cupol record yesterday," said Graham. "How on earth did we think that it was rhythmically tight or accurate!? But back in the day, our ideas about accuracy and rhythm were rather different!"

Thanks to Russell Mills for the Cupol live photos from 1980 at Notre Dame Hall and to the Master Musicians of Joujouka and Frank Rynne for the photo of current band leader Ahmed Attar, taken from the 1980 European tour booklet. Wire play The Lexington on behalf of the Quietus next Monday and Tuesday, November 8th and 9th

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Torben Holleufer
Nov 10, 2010 1:47am

The Frank Rynne edition of The Master Musicians of Jajouka (called Joujouka) is not the genuine article. They are a rather ordinary jaballah band from the village set up by foreigners. There are bands all over the Jaballah, that play this kind of music. The Jaballah is the region, which are foothills of the Rif. You may not see the difference, but it is vast. The leader of the genuine band is Bachir Attar, who is the son of Hadj Abdessalam Attar, also known as Djiniouin. I am a journalist who has traveled in Morocco for 30 years, who was chief when Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman casme to the village. I knew Paul Bowles, who introduced me to the group, whom he had known since the 1950'es, and I took part in the traditional festival of Boujeloud for 5 years straight following the moslem feast of the lamb, Aid El Kbir - this has nothing to do with the Brian Jones festival, which is a Frank Rynne creation directed at foreigners.
Paul Bowles knew Bachir since he was a little boy. Frank Rynne was/is the friend of the despotic former manager of the group,the painter Mohammed Hamri, who died ten years ago, and who was ousted more than 30 years ago by the musicians. He treated them badly and sold the rights to the sacred music to Brian Jones back in 1968, which later has been a huge problem in Jajouka, who these days must have permission from The Rolling Stones in order to release this very sacred music, I talk of among other things the gigantic suite called Hamsa U Hamseen (55). If you are genuinely interested in knowing about these things, I suggest that you read John Hopkins'Tangier Diaries, the last diary by Paul Bowles 'Days - a Tangier Journal' and read the letter from the producer Joel Rubiner to Frank Rynne and Joe Ambrose, which is found on the website
Much regards.
Torben Holleufer, journalist & reviewer, Copenhagen, Denmark

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Torben Holleufer
Nov 10, 2010 1:49am

In reply to Torben Holleufer:

Correction: It was of course Hadj Abdessalam Attar, also known as Djiniouin, who was chief when Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman came to the village....

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John Doran
Nov 10, 2010 9:34am

In reply to Torben Holleufer:

"Paul Bowles knew Bachir since he was a little boy"

I'll bet he did...

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Cherie Nutting
Nov 17, 2010 6:29pm

In reply to John Doran:

Thank you Torben Holleufer for your accurate information on
The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar. One thing is different however. Paul Bowles was in the village before Bachir was born.They met later in Tangier when Bachir was an adult.I knew Paul very well and met Bachir when he dropped by for a visit
in order to invite him to the village for a party and filming for Bob Palmer and Randy Weston by Rolling Stone Magazine in 1988. Cherie Nutting (Manager of Bachir Attar and The Master Musicians of Jajouka)

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Richie Troughton
Nov 22, 2010 12:30pm

Dear Torben,
I notice this isn’t the first time you have chosen to comment and bring into question the credibility of the artists who go under the “Joujouka” name. On the letters page of Mojo magazine, December 2008, you wrote in about journalist Mark Paytress’ report on his visit to the village that year. He responded to your comments saying he had “opted for reportage rather than unpicking the controversy,” as I have here.
I have to disagree with your suggestion that the “Joujouka” band is “rather ordinary” and “not the genuine article”. The above article is of course about Graham Lewis’ experience of seeing the Master Musicians in London in 1980 and the inspiration behind the Cupol record. For the purposes of the piece I did not feel it was relevant to mention that today there are two bands, operating under the names the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians of Joujouka. Cousins Bachir Attar and Ahmed Attar, the respective leaders of the two groups today, were both involved on the tour discussed, and before such divisions existed. The band that played those concerts performed under the spelling “Jajouka” and that is why this is referenced in the text.
I have experienced seeing both bands, I saw Bachir Attar’s troupe support Ornette Coleman as part of his Meltdown festival in London, summer 2009, and followed that this summer by visiting the village to see the Master Musicians of Joujouka festival.
I will leave it to others to enjoy the two bands, but they should not be put off by the negative comments above.
Yes, the Boujeloud/Brian Jones festival is aimed at “foreigners”, originally organised to mark the 40th anniversary of Jones’ visit to Joujouka, allowing the musicians and their families to prepare a fantastic event of music, food and hospitality for their guests, the likes of which you would be very lucky to get anywhere else. Great people, great music. And of course, fantastic musicians, some of whom incidentally played under and are related to former band leader Abdeslam Attar.
The current band is made up of the men who live side by side in the village and play the music on a daily basis carrying on the age old traditions. The event is promoted as a music festival and a chance to see and hear the musicians and their music in its natural setting.
Those who attend the event pay for the privilege, bringing a small, but welcome economic boost to the village community, that did not just pay for our keep while we were there, but will have given the villagers funds that would last for weeks.
Everyone visiting knew it was separate from the traditional events and religious feasts, such as Aid El Kebir, they knew the history, and many had read the books.
I for one was reassured to know I was attending an event where we were not intruding on the private lives and rituals of the villagers; and where the musicians, their families and the other villagers were happy to embrace us during our stay.

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cherie nutting
Jan 1, 2011 6:00pm

FYI The Master Musicians of JAJOUKA led by BACHIR ATTAR
have been named #1 for global music 2009 by "THE WIRE" and now
for 2010 their latest cd "The Source" has been rated #2
for global music.

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jiminy cricket
Jan 2, 2011 3:46am

In reply to cherie nutting:

thats great Cherie nice that someone from Joujouka is pursuing a commercial career in World Music and making some cash.
Now with that under your belt perhaps you should concentrate your efforts on Bachir's commercial career and leave the poor people of the village to play their traditional Sufi ritual music and stop annoying people with your inane attacks on a village of poor people who play ritual trance music. You are a very sad person!!!!

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Oct 15, 2011 9:56am

In reply to Richie Troughton:

I am off course happy that people get to the Jaballah area to experience the great music, which is played in the many villages of which Jajouka is just one. And which out of the laziness and ignorance of mainly english speaking fans remains the sole representative for this great music in our narrow minded part of the world. The sad truth as I see it is, that yes, Bachir IS the heir to the Jajouka tradition. And yes, Bachir is far from the greatest master I have seen as a musician. But as an arranger and realiser of the ancient music he is very brilliant.
I think that the idea that Jajouka is sufi music is far fetched. Like all other bands of the Jaballah they play a mixture of arabo-andalucian, wedding music, popular taqtouqa jabaliya, aissawa, jaballah folk tunes and yes, sufi music. I don't see them as a sufi tariqa, and there are as far as I know no record of Sidi Ahmed Sheikh outside of Jajouka, and my guess is that he is a very local sayyid like som many others all over the area. What is sad about the whole Jajouka/Joujouka story is, that it is so much hyped towards an english speaking public and press, rightly assuming that they are the most naive and will believe anything as soon as the talk is of "magic moons" and Arabian nights. The other villages don't have someone speaking english and making it easy for lazy visitors, and thus Jajouka remains the sole representative of Jaballah music in english minds. It is sad, when so many great masters outside of this small and insignificant village. And the sadness is even more accenturated, when Frank Rynne and his guys just spin another yarn on top of all the hype and pretend to the public that his new invention is the real thing.
Which - though - takes me back to Jajouka in 1997. No divisions and all the musicians playing down by the mosque for the REAL and traditional feast of Boujeloud after the moslem feast of Aid El Kebir. Invited by Bachir Attar and impeccably played in the precense of late masters like Tahir Boukzar and Mohamed "Berdous" Attar. You see guys, that was he real thing. And to you Ritchie: Dream on, and reearch jaballah music a bit next time. I for one curently work with the Association Ayta Jaballiya de Masmoda. A whole new chapter opening up.

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Expert on such matters
Oct 17, 2011 6:06pm

In reply to

Might we assume that your tardy reply has something to do with tomorrow's release by Jane's Addictione featuring the Master Musicians...a little more of your cultural terrorism saltted with inane observations and we are expected to believe a Westerner like you has not been losers would be are funny if you hand not engaged in such cultural and physical terrorism over this poor village and its musicians...Fail again Torben

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Jiminet Cricket
Oct 17, 2011 10:31pm

In reply to

Hi Mr Torben, you are continuously proven incorrect in your assertions over the last decades. Obviously you are of the Stephen Davis School of journalism, lots of fill supposed firsthand accounts and really poor background research.

Richie Troughton has obviously done his research you have not responded to his comments.
Re Sidi Ahmed I think recent unpublished research will show you how incorrect both the current groups theses on his origins and importance and indeed the importance of the village after the t Andalusian exodus. You and your pals have engaged in cultural terrorism while your pal Bachir engaged in actual terrorism until someone in the village proved to him that using violence was both counterproductive and had a reciprocal effect. Since then ie 2000 AD his terrorist activities in the village ceased but have been pushed by Westerners like yourself who are deliberately ignorant and deliberately divisive. In tha past years the hand of peace has been rebuffed so The Master do their own thing building their global recognition without concern about you or your boy.
Master Musician of Joujouka/Jajouka's track with Jane's Addiction will be released today on JA’s fine LP The Great Escape Artist. I presume that has something with the timing of your reply one year after you were definitively rebuffed by the author of this piece which has nothing to do with your bull shit.

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Richie Troughton
Oct 18, 2011 11:32am

In reply to

Torben, One year on, and a reply, although I'm not sure how relevant it is to the above piece about Cupol and the Master Musicians of Joujouka/Jajouka.
As I understand it the Master Musicians of Joujouka (as led by Ahmed El Attar) continue to perform at the traditional religious feasts in the village to this day, where they have the support of the other residents.
To say the crowds that visited the village (from all around the world) for the recent festivals are “lazy” is laughable, be they ethnomusicologists, or just plain old fans of good music. Many of those in attendance in the village over the last two summers I was there were well aware of and supportive of other groups in the area and beyond, either through buying records or seeing groups elsewhere on their travels, and during my stays in Morocco I don't think I ever got through a day without tracking down some form of live music.
Comments like yours may be off-putting to others reading this, which is a shame, as the divisions you speak of are not visible in the village.

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Apr 28, 2012 5:20am

In reply to Richie Troughton:

This is all so silly. The Joujouka group is backed by Irish. The leader is simply a drummer who made 1 tour in 1980s. He was an apprentice at this time. He never toured again with Bachir's father who was leader.Nor did he tour with Bachir as he was fired by all the musicians for very bad misdeeds concerning tourist who visited Jajouka.He was never ever a master.
This is a perfect example of the West interferring in the village
politics. Until Frank Rynne came in to the village we had wonderful events with all the villagers.We have films of this with famous artists who visit. Of course money is the issue. But the income is so small so this is more of an issue of the Irish wanting to become important on Wikipedia.This guy has nothing to do but make a name for himself not the group.Very sad. However it is obvious who is the real Jajouka. Just listen to the precise difference of each piece. One is fuzzy and the other clear and magical. Too bad the Westerners can be duped. The Moroccan writers however know that Bachir is the true voice.

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Prince Phillip
May 10, 2012 8:27pm

In reply to :

Bloddy Oirish again they cost us India you know and I loved a bit of curry.

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Prince Phillip
May 10, 2012 8:34pm

In reply to Prince Phillip :

Bloody Wikipedia and the damn Irish. Who is this "drummer" chappie and what in God's name is a Bachir? I think Lizzie should be informed of the bloody Irish stuff in the former Froggy land

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a westerner
Feb 5, 2013 1:27am

In reply to :

Sorry but as a Westerner who went to the village it really makes me laugh that you are picking on F.R. when the only reason we're having this debate is that a string of westerners, back in the days made us aware that something was going on there.

As we say in French "le soleil est levé pour tout le monde". The sun is shining for all my friends and you can all get what you wish from this experience, whether you believe it's supernatural powers, fame, money or, like I did, a thrilling musical experience.

in a hundred years we will all be sparkles from a bonfire

why cling to any kind of ownership? nobody owns free spirits. nobody owns the memory of great men, nobody owns the beauty of art and its effects on our soul

let go of the Ego...

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Jun 1, 2015 11:41am

In reply to a westerner:

Seen from a Moroccan point of view, it must be quite hillarious with all these westerners, who keep traveling to that small village on the absolute outskirts of the mighty Jabalah mountain range. Even more because these westerners with an almost fanatical dedication know all about the Beats, Brian Jones and other - in a Moroccan context - rather inferior players on the Moroccan scene. I believe that much of the misunderstandings regarding the musicians of this small village in the Ahl Serif tribal area came, when some western dreamer - probably Brion Gysin - invented the term Master Musicians. A term which uniquely from then on included all members of the village, from the real masters on Ghaita or Gimbri (lothar) to the drummers. But not a term which ever was accurate, but was invented, just like the story of Boujeloud being a Dionysian feast with roots in the Pan myth in ancient Greece. It is one of the more hillarious moments in time, when Gysin started using Edward Westermarck's Ritual and Belief in Morocco (which never mentions Jajouka - or Jahjouka as it is spelled on maps - to prove his point. It would have been credible, if he had cared to do some research in Morocco and he would have found out, that the Berbers, who are Chleuh speaking and live in South Morocco, celebrate Boujeloud and have done forever.
I more and more believe, that the myth of Jajouka has to do with laziness among english speaking journalists and writers. That Jajouka exists primarilly because of the business wisdom of first Hamri and then Bachir, who knew that speaking english was the way to reach an audience and keep a business running. Most english speaking westerners are gullable and ignorant and rarely speak other languages. They'd believe the scam, because with their Disneyland frame of mind, the whole picture fitted so nicely.
My worldview is a bit different. I am Danish and speak 6 languages. I don't work with Jajouka, but more with Sufi groups like Hamadcha, Aissaoua and Gnaoua. I am a jedba (i.e. Trance adept working with Moulay Abdelkader Jilali) and have for 14 years been the manager of Maalem Mokhtar Gania of Essaouira, who soon will have an album out with Bill Laswell. And two weeks ago in Essaouira at the annual festival, I actually was lucky and met Stephen Davis for the first time and Joel Rubiner. And yes, we talked about Jajouka. I also visit true pilgrimage sites like Sidi Ali, Tamesloht, Moulay Brahim and Moulay Abdessalam ben Mchich on a regular basis. Here you TRULY find master musicians, but admittedly NO english faux guide babbling on about Brian Jones or Burroughs. There it is wise to polish up your arabic.
So in my view Jajouka was the village in Ahl Serif, where musicians were found, who could play at weddings, circumcisions, and feasts. Just like other Jabalah tribal territories have their in Morocco more famous villages with many great musicians. Tribes like Beni Aros, Beni Ahmed, Lachmas and Masmoda. But off course, not directed solely at english speaking dreamers with Disneyland minds.
Next time you are in Morocco, go look for cassette tapes. For The late Mohammed Laroussi, the younger Houcine Laroussi, Goerfti, Abdelatif Khomsi and all the groups, that Jibli people actually listen to. And forget Burroughs, Jones and the others.
Torben Holleufer

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Torben Holleufer
Jun 1, 2015 12:04pm

In reply to :

And regarding Jajouka and the Sufi myth: I have seen a list over Zaouias in Morocco on an official national list. The Shrine of Sidi Ahmed Sheikh was not on the extensive list with many shrines in Morocco. And sources in Jajouka and Ksar El Kbir actually have told me, that the right to call the place a Sufi shrine was taken away in the 1990'es. Just like I in interviews with a number of Jajouka musicians never have heard any talking about actually believing in Aicha Qandisha or Boujeloud. They are all faithful moslems for whom only Allah and The Prophet counts. But off course, for people in the hills, the folkloristic faith still counts, and the odd adept will be tied to the chain by the old tree inside the zaouia....
I recommend people who really want the sufi experience to go to the great pilgrimage sites. Jajouka these days is an echo of old days. Migration have made most masters go to Ksar El Kbir, Tanger or Europe. The party is practically over and just a museum piece.
It's too bad.

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Jan 4, 2017 7:27pm

In reply to Torben Holleufer:

it's a pity that people don't want to listen to Torben Holleufer
but that's the way the world works
jajouka is significant for certain music unique to the village
but a lot of what they play is found throughout the jbala hills
how wonderful that this purely local music has survived !!!
and been recorded !!!
now if only some intrepid person like Torben Holleufer branching out into the rich world world of Moroccan music would record other lesser known ensembles such as the Oulad Hassada or the Oulad Miliana both found in northern Morocco (and who have never
had commercially-released music, neither in Morocco nor elsewhere---but can be found -if one knows how to look- on youtube) people's outlook might become re-aligned a bit closer to reality.

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