Bachir Attar (The Master Musicians of Jajouka): “Music Can Speak For Itself.” Interview by Bob Baker Fish


Prior to interviewing Bachir Attar, leader of the renowned traditional Moroccan music outfit The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, I listened to for the first time, Apocalypse Live, a collaboration his group released this year with Bill Laswell’s Material collective. Aside from Laswell, Material consists of drummer Hamid Drake, Senegalese percussionist Aiyb Dieng, Graham Hayens on Cornet, and Peter Apfelbaum on reeds. The way they’ve been able to meld together such different musical traditions and create such a dynamic and explosive fusion is a testament to the supreme musicianship of all involved. What’s even more impressive is that it comes from a live performance from the Gent Jazz Festival during a 2015 tour of Europe. This music isn’t programmed, multitracked or edited, and elements of both worlds weave in and out before combining and working together. This is what pure live explosive fusion sounds like. It’s both fascinating and a pure unadulterated hit of adrenalin.

“It’s like future music,” offers Attar from his home in Morocco, “and music can put pieces together in mind deep artist. Really. This is what I think about this album. I love it very much.”

Laswell and Attar have a longstanding relationship and have repeatedly collaborated in various guises throughout the years including his production on the Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar’s Apocalypse Across the Sky, recorded in the village back in 1991.

“He’s a great producer and he’s an artist,” says Attar. “He’s a very good musician and a great bass player. I met Bill Laswell a long time ago in New York, about 1989. He knew William Burroughs. He was hoping to record an album of Jajouka at that time, which he did. Bill is a great artist.”

These kinds of collaborations with Western artists have characterised Attar’s time as leader of the Jajouka ensemble. The traditions of his music go back somewhere between 700 and 4,000 years, over numerous generations and is traditional folkloric music from Attar’s home village of Jajouka in the foothills of the southern Riff Mountains of Northern Morocco. The music became more widely known, particularly in the West thanks to the 1971 LP Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, which saw the Rolling Stones guitarist add phasing effects to field recordings he made in the village. Yet international artists like William Burroughs, Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin had been coming to the village, drawn by the incredible trance inducing music since the 1950’s.

This is how Attar remembers his childhood. His father Hadj Abdesalam Attar was leader of the ensemble and his house was regularly filled with all kinds of fascinating exotic westerners.

“I was learning English when I was a child because when I opened my eyes there were many western people in my fathers house,” remembers Attar. “American, European, but most of them artists like Brion Gysin. The last time I saw William Burroughs in 1973 when Ornette Coleman spent almost 2 weeks in Jajouka and recording. A lot of artists, it was how I grow up. Me, I was hoping, how I can learn this language? I wanted to learn English because I love it.”

This curiosity extends to his music. He has performed live with everyone from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo to Ornette Coleman and recorded with the likes of The Rolling Stones (Steel Wheels), Elliot Sharp and Talvin Singh. In particular the London producer, composer and tabla player’s album with Bachir Attars Master Musicians of Jajouka released in 2000 signalled Attar’s desire to move the music into more electronic realms. In the liner notes he states “There is magic that has been waiting many years for this composition for the new millennium. The album is just the beginning of the Master Musicians’ work with electronic music.”

“That album is an incredible album that could never happen in the world anymore,” offers Attar before almost wistfully adding “I know in the future all of the artists will look to mix with Jajouka music.”

I suggest that it’s fascinating how the music of Jajouka can change with the presence of new collaborators, becoming something new.

“No you don’t change the music of Jajouka,” Attar quickly clarifies. “It becomes like twins, the Jajouka music, my family music with jazz or rock and roll, because it gives other view. It’s like building bridges between another culture. Because we can communicate, we can understand each other, because music has its own language, can speak for itself without anyone saying anything about the music. I do this new thing but have the old, but music can speak for itself.”

I couldn’t let the opportunity of speaking with Attar pass without taking the opportunity to ask about legendary avant jazz composer Ornette Coleman’s visit to the village in the 1973. The results can be heard on the track ‘Midnight Sunrise’ off his 1977 album Dancing in your Head, which ostensibly sees Coleman soloing along with the Master Musicians during the time of Attar’s father. Yet I’ve always been suspicious that there was more material lurking somewhere.

“Ornette has a big archive of Jajouka music, maybe 20 hours, and nobody knows about it,” reveals Attar. “Plus what we tour with him, the performances with him in Europe. Ornette is a sweet man and a great musician. Denardo Coleman has it. In 1973 in the time of my father, he was recording with my father and my family in the village. Plus the shows we did with Ornette were recorded too. There is many things of this (Jajouka) music with lots of artists.”

Coming to Australia as part of the Supersense Festival, Attar promises to play music from the ancient rites of Pan, harvest music, that pays homage to where Jajouka music was first taught to them by a half man half goat figure Boujeloud, who cavorts madly along to this music in search of a wife. Though Attar also continues to write and arrange new music for his ensemble.

“We play Boujeloud music, we play old music called 55, and other new songs of mine, because I translate from the old, to make more dance. Jajouka is like a big ocean really.”

Please note that The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar is a completely different entity to The Master Musicians of Joujouka. Both claim authenticity and there is considerable bad blood between them stretching back decades. Although Bachir Attar expressed considerable anger and sadness about the other group led by his cousin Ahmed El Attar for this piece I chose instead to focus on Bachir’s music and collaborations.

You can find more information about the Supersense Festival here.


About Author

Bob is the features editor of Cyclic Defrost. He is also evil. You should not trust the opinions of evil people.