The Joujouka International

At 8pm tonight Cashmere Radio present The Joujouka International – the story of a musical tradition of The Master Musicians of Joujouka dating back more than six centuries. It explores the current state of this ritualistic Sufi music consisting of percussion and traditional pipe instruments by looking and listening to the people continuing to practice it in its spiritual birthplace – the village of Joujouka, in the Rif mountain region in Northern Morocco.

The story of Joujouka has many unexpected twists and turns throughout their long history. From explicit reference in the cut-up novels by William Burroughs, through tales of Islamic mysticism and even featuring on the Pyramid Stage of Glastonbury Festival, the unique sound of The Master Musicians of Joujouka’s pipes and drums have resonated far and wide. This radio piece attempts to retrace some of these key steps, and to understand why people — as distinct as Brian Jones and Ornette Coleman — have flocked to the mountains of Northern Morocco to experience this utterly singular music. What is, precisely, the Joujouka sound and what makes it one of the most radical musical forms living today, and which has attracted the ears of intrepid sound explorers from all over the world?

Sufi, trance and drone might be the recurring tropes that capture the spirit of this music most concretely. The connection to Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, dates back to the coming of the Sufi saint Sidi Ahmed Schiech. Sidi Ahmed Schiech brought Islam to Joujouka in the 15th century and passed on a form of music with the specific function of healing disturbed minds and hearts. This music was passed on to The Master Musicians of Joujouka’s ancestors. The shrine of Sidi Ahmed Schiech is still to be found in Joujouka, and so is his blessing (Baraka) that is carried on through each generation of the Master musicians to this day. As a music that is played continuously for several hours without any breaks or pauses, and with tight repetitive rhythmical structures, it possesses without doubt the trademarks of transcendental music (trance). Furthermore it relies strongly on the connection between the musicians and a dancing crowd, culminating in the Boujeloud suite, a potent piece of music, with dense ritualistic symbolism, where a half-goat-half man creature raves around a bonfire and provocatively engages the crowd in a frenzy dance-chase. The harmonies play a key role, insofar they create a call-and-response game, as well as dense unison drones that result in oto-acoustic emissions and aural overdrives in the ears of the listener. Extended (three to four hours, sometimes more) exposure to these psychoacoustic phenomena, as well as to engaged dancing and rhythmical movements to the point of physical exhaustion create a heightened and somewhat altered perception of the self and of the environment around the self – as well as giving an ecstatic sense of presence and awareness once the music has turned to silence (while the ears keep on ringing and pulsating).

This reportage has a dual focus: on the one hand, it deals with The Master Musicians of Joujouka sound in a somewhat unorthodox way. Instead of showcasing the music as it is, it employs sonic treatments of the original material to expose the intrinsically experimental and radical potency that this music has as a subjective listening experience. It retraces this sonic experimentation back to Rolling Stones co-founder Brian Jones, who in 1968 first recorded and subsequently produced the Master Musicians. Rather than strictly musicological in intent, Jones produced the now cult album ‘Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka’ in London, an act that explicitly connected The Master Musicians of Joujouka to his own ethos of psychedelic music currently developing in the UK at the time. On the other hand, the piece is structured in such a way that the organisation of both sound and word material doesn’t create a linear narrative but is instead structured in an open and fragmentary manner. Textual and sonic elements are repeated and superimposed to produce in a circular network; a reference to William Burroughs’ own method during his cut-up period, itself heavily influenced by the Music of Joujouka (‘the panic pipes from the blue mountain’, as read in The Ticket That Exploded, 1962).

Voices: Ahmed El Attar, Abdeslam Rrtoubi, Mohamed El Hatmi, Laila Hida, Frank Rynne, Rikki Stein Narration: Rosie Peraza-Bragg

Written & Produced by Aladin Ilou & Matteo Spanò for Cashmere Radio