A Varied Landscape
Morocco’s music is as enchanting and varied as its landscape. From the refined classical music of Andalusian Spain to soulful Berber songs, from hypnotic Gnawan chants to the music of the Sephardic Jewish community, the music of Morocco is truly a mosaic. Whether performed on a festival stage or amidst the colorful whirl of a moussem, or religious festival, Maghrebi music is a potent symbol of its country’s multicultural, vibrantly diverse history and people.
Morocco has intrigued Westerners for centuries. From Eugène Delacroix’s images of the country to Edith Wharton’s travel writings, many travelers to Morocco have sent home images of a tantalizing, mysterious, and certainly exotic land. (The accuracy and sensitivity of those depictions, of course, may be something else altogether.) The fascination with Morocco reached a peak with the popularity of writer Paul Bowles’ Morocco stories [see Endtrack, page 66] and the influx of Beat authors exploring the country (and especially the infamous city of Tangiers).
In 1950, author Bowles and painter/inventor Brion Gysin first heard a group of musicians from the foothills of the Rif Mountains known as the Master Musicians of Jajouka; for centuries, the forefathers of these players had been the courtly musicians for Morocco’s sultans, but their wild music (to which many attributed healing powers) were virtually unknown in the West. That all changed in 1968, when Gysin’s friend Brian Jones, the then-guitarist for the Rolling Stones, traveled to Morocco and heard these legendary players and the roiling, awesomely loud sounds of their oboe-like ghaita pipes. Jones went on to record an album with the Jajouka musicians, Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka (spelled Joujouka on the original LP release). In the wake of that record release in 1971, scores of other musicians followed in Jones’ footsteps to Jajouka, among them, the groundbreaking jazz saxophonist and composer Ornette Coleman.
Although Hadj Abdessalam Attar (the Jajouka musicians’ leader at the time of the Jones recording) passed away in 1982, his legacy and talent for blending old and new has carried on through his son and successor, Bachir Attar. Under his leadership, the group has performed and recorded with such trendsetters as beat master Talvin Singh and globetrotting guitarist and producer Bill Laswell.
The influence and impact of Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka is hard to overestimate; for quite some time, it was the only “Moroccan” album available in the West. Thankfully, the last decade has seen an enormous upswing in the availability of Moroccan music abroad and increased opportunities for Moroccan musicians to present themselves without the scrim of foreigners’ perceptions. And with this burst of recording has come a panoply of voices, underscoring the fact that there is no single Moroccan style. Rather, whether their music is traditional, contemporary, religious, or secular, these artists are making their voices heard in a larger marketplace.
Some of the Moroccan artists who are best known inter
Recommended Moroccan CDs
Since their debut Revolt Against Reason in 1993, Ahlam has been using music as a political instrument to remind the world Islam’s base is love, not war. A unifying vehicle, the Marrakech-based outfit went dub style here with Bill Laswell’s lucid production skills and continuing devotion to their musical message.
South Moroccan Motor Beber
Reviving the spirit of the Berber culture’s first meshing with the likes of the Velvet Underground and Jimi Hendrix in the early ’70s, Argan adds dynamic electronic elements to traditional music, adding searing guitars into banjo riffs.
l’empreinte digitale ED 13144
In concert these five women do somersaults, balance trays carrying lit candles on their heads while singing, bang percussion instruments madly and whip audiences into a frenzy. Surprisingly, the minimalist Berber songs to which they do all of this lose little in the translation to disc. Intoxicating .
ESSASOUIRA FESTIVAL GNAOUA
Créon Music 5911272
A live sampler of last year’s Gnaoua fete in Essaouira, featuring Amadou and Mariam, Karim Ziad, Julian Lourau and Louis Bertignac. Traditional ceremonial music meets rock and blues in a lively intimate recording.
America’s tireless ambassador of Gnaoua, his Moroccan rock has been hailed internationally, comfortable in both traditional setting and arena alike. His latest on Triloka continues these sonically ingenious expeditions.
MARA AND JALAL