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African Legends

The Master Musicians of Jajouka

By Jeff Tamarkin
Published November 17, 2006

It’s difficult to imagine today, just how shocking an album Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka was when it was released in 1971.

Presented on Rolling Stones Records, the vanity label handed to the same-named British rock gods to do with whatever they liked, this was music far more psychedelic than anything most rock fans had ever before encountered. Nearly three-and-a-half decades later, it remains so.

Jones was already dead by the time the album surfaced. He had recorded it in 1968 during a journey to Morocco’s Rites of Pan Festival, at the behest of Brion Gysin, a painter who’d befriended the rocker. Gysin, an influence on the legendary Beat writers, had settled in Tangier in the early 1950s, where he first heard the Master Musicians of Jajouka. Falling for the ethereal, otherworldly beauty of their music, he hired them as the house band for his restaurant.

Jones too was taken by them, and he allowed his tape recorder to capture a seven-hour excerpt of one of the troupe’s endless musical bacchanals, its waves of chanted vocals, relentless percussion and eerie pipes a precursor of the trance music so popular today.

The Master Musicians of Jajouka had already logged thousands of years by the time the Englishmen found them, and they continue today. Current leader Bachir Attar, like all of the Master Musicians, is a descendant of the founders of Jajouka; having taken over from his late father, he still utilizes the traditional instruments of Jajouka: the ghaita (Arabic oboe), lira (bamboo flute), the guimbri (three-stringed lute), and the double-headed Moroccan drums, among others.

But today’s Master Musicians look toward the future as well as the past. They’ve appeared on recordings by artists as diverse as avant-garde jazz great Ornette Coleman and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, and have been produced by such modernists as Bill Laswell and Talvin Singh.

Recommended Recordings

Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan At Jajouka (Point Music)
The Master Musicians Of Jajouka: The Primal Energy (Genes)
Master Musicians Of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar (Point)