Just like there’s two versions of Faust, or seven versions of Pink Floyd going around at the moment, strangely there’s two versions of The Master Musicians of Jajouka. Which is kind’ve weird because they’re the town band in a remote village in the foothills of the Riff Mountains in Northern Morocco. Both claim authenticity, and don’t like acknowledging the other, but they splintered apart in about 1982 apparently over leadership of the group. Subsequently one is Master Musicians of Jajouka is led by Bachir Attar and the other is Master Musicians of Joujouka led by Ahmed El Attar. To these ears despite pretty similar ingredients they are very different beasts trying to do very different things.
This is the Master Musicians of Jajouka. It was recorded in 1991 by Bill Laswell in Jajouka, with whom they later collaborated in a pretty amazing set with Laswell’s band Material as well as with the Rolling Stones and Talvin Singh. What brought them to worldwide fame and consciousness was their affiliation with William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and of course the Rolling Stones. In 1971 Brian Jones released Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, treating the music with strange phaser effects – more than likely referencing the kiff heavy ears with which he heard the music when he recorded it.
Their sound is instantly recognisable, the shrill power of the Ghaita (the double reed horn), or multiple Ghaita’s operating in unison with relentless percussion underneath. It’s trance music that could go on for hours, dipping in and out of motifs, as the listener dips in and out of conciousness. It’s big, it’s raw and it’s life affirming. But this album is not just that. In fact the diversity of sounds and approaches on Apocalypse Across the Sky are quite astounding. With vocals, Gimbri (a stringed instrument more usually associated with Gnawa trance), violin and flute, even a women’s vocal ensemble there are some incredible moments on this album, particularly the flute music which you never want to end. The Musicians are incredibly tight. There is something quite refined about this music. It also sounds incredible thanks to Laswell and the mastering by Howie Weinberg (Slayer/Swans).
There’s so much going on here, a wealth of ideas, approaches, traditions and experiments. It’s truly a unique album, demonstrating once again the wealth and breadth of Moroccan music.