Home International The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar

The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar


Jajouka is the name of a hidden village in the Jebala foothills of northern Morocco where the legendary Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka live. The Master Musicians are a collective of Jbala Sufi trance makers committed to creating a contemporary representation of their centuries-old musical tradition. A new double album, titled ‘Dancing Under the Moon’, has been released by Glitterbeat Records and declared their finest ever.

In popular culture, The Master Musicians of Jajouka are often associated with the likes of novelist and composer Paul Bowles, artist Brion Gysin, The Beat Generation, and The Rolling Stones.

Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones recorded them in 1968, and the album Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka was released in 1971 after his death which exposed many more people to their mesmerising music. They also collaborated with the likes of Ornette Coleman (Dancing In My Head) and with the Rolling Stones in 1989. Brian was first introduced to their music by Brion Gysin, who recorded them in the early 1950s.

“Taken up the mountain by the artist Mohammed Hamri, whose mother was from the village, Gysin began taping the musicians with an Uher recorder, analyzing the tribe’s healing music and its context.” Stephen Davis (Album Liner Notes)

Although he did not record The Master Musicians of Jajouka, Paul Bowles also undertook recordings across Morrocco after relentlessly pursuing a research grant ($6,800) to record Morocco’s indigenous music before it was lost. Bowles was no stranger to the country, having first visited the area in 1931. He later settled in Tangier in 1947, following which he published his first novel, The Sheltering Sky (1949). He also paved the way for the Beat Generation authors, including William Burroughs, who wrote most of Naked Lunch there. Burroughs also referred to The Master Musicians of Jajouka as “the four-thousand-year-old rock and roll band.”

Bowles was awarded the grant in 1959, and he was provided with a reel-to-reel Ampex tape recorder. The recordings were made over several months. He travelled an estimated 25,000 miles over 23 locations in a Volkswagen Beetle, negotiating sand storms, local politics, temperatures of 135 degrees in the shade, and dealing with equipment issues. He had no battery pack for the Ampex recorder, which required 110 voltage and the generators used in remote areas usually gave off 220 volts of direct current. In one instance, due to the absence of power, he had to arrange to transport thirty musicians to where there was a power supply they could use.*

Bowles’s Volkswagen Beetle, stopped along a mountain road in Morocco, 1959

The following video features a conversation between Mick Jagger and Paul Bowles, during which they discuss his 1959 trip as well as Brian’s recording of The Master Musicians of Jajouka. The recording was made in 1989 when Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood’s journeyed to Tangiers to record the Master Musicians for their input for “Continental Drift” from the “Steel Wheels” album.

Dancing Under the Moon

In late 2019, as the planet was closing down, and as stories circulated about the musicians’ vulnerability in today’s world, Italian musician and engineer Jacopo Andreini was hired by Bachir Attar to make comprehensive recordings of the complete Jajouka music catalogue. His mission, supervised by Bachir, was to record as much as possible – hours and hours over the course of a week – of Jajouka’s varied styles (anthems, flutes, violins, singing) in their tin-roofed madrassa, using the latest sound gear – eons away from Brion Gysin’s 1955 reel-to-reel Uher machine who apparently invented the Cut-Up Method of writing for William Burroughs while they lived together in the Beat Hotel in Paris on rue Git le Couer.

This selection of tracks from these sessions is the latest testament to the mystic enchantment and spiritual worth of Jajouka, captured in audio fidelity of the highest degree. The double-reed rhaita music recalls that Jajouka once provided musicians to Morocco’s royal court. “Khamsa Khamsin” (“The 55”) and “Opening the Gate” are themes once deployed to accompany the Sultan to the mosque, and back again, as early as 1912 and before. The acoustic and percussive fiddle songs called Jibli (“mountain music”) are typical of what is played for visitors to Jajouka after a savoury evening meal of couscous and tagine. These songs are descended from Andaluz music, the millennium-old melodies of Moorish Iberia.

Jajouka, its musicians, and traditions are indeed vulnerable and in transition in this rapidly changing era. It is lovingly curated projects like ‘Dancing Under the Moon’, plus the blessings of Baraka and some luck and hard work by Bachir Attar and the current generation of the Master Musicians, that will hopefully see their ancient folkways survive into better times for everyone. Jajouka’s is healing music for our viralized world.

Beautifully recorded in situ in the Rif mountains in the autumn of 2019, this 110-minute double CD presents these legendary musicians expansively and unhindered.

The album is produced by long time band leader Bachir Attar, and with all but one of the tracks exceeding 10-minutes in length, it is clear that these recordings authoritatively grasp the textured essence of this timeless ensemble.


1. Dancing in Your Mind (15:57)
2. The Bird Prays For Allah (11:26)
3. Khamsa Khamsin (07:29)
4. Habibi N’Sitini (13:06)
5. Hlilya (12:18)
6. Yes, Yes, Be Patient My Heart (11:50)
7. Dancing Under The Moon (13:34)
8. L’Ayta (10:24)
9. Opening The Gate (12:44) 

Overall length: 110 minutes

“Dancing Under the Moon” is out May 13, 2022


*Paul Bowles a Life- by Virginia Spencer Carr

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