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The Master Musicians Of Joujouka At The Forge

The Master Musicians Of Joujouka At The Forge
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The intensity was off the scale. Six rhaita players and three drummers jammed, without a break, for two elemental hours, as measured in earth time. For the last half hour, they were joined by a goatskin-clad shaman channeling Bou Jeloud, a.k.a. Pan, the bestower of fertility.
Every June, what the Guinness Book of Records has dubbed "The Smallest Festival in The World" and Rolling Stone has called "The Most Exclusive Dance Party in The World," is held in the village of Joujouka high in Morocco's Rif mountains. For three days, the Master Musicians of Joujouka play host to trance-music connoisseurs and newbies from around the world, taking them on a trip through inner space and bringing them safely back, though only, quite possibly, after having gone through some changes along the way. Tickets for the festival, which began in 2008, are limited to 50, because visitors stay in the musicians' homes, and that is the maximum number who can comfortably be accommodated. It is the most immersive musical experience on the global festival menu.

The Joujouka event is organised by the Master Musicians' manager, Frank Rynne, who, together with Rikki Stein, presented tonight's performance at London's Forge, the second of two gigs at the club prior to an appearance on Glastonbury's Pyramid stage at the end of the week. Stein is the first promoter to have taken the Master Musicians on tour outside Morocco. He lived in Joujouka from 1971 to 1973, when amongst much else he helped facilitate Ornette Coleman's visit to the village to make the recordings which later appeared on the album Dancing In Your Head (Horizon, 1977). In 1980 Stein toured the Master Musicians through mainland Europe and Britain, where the itinerary included Glastonbury and five evenings at London's late lamented Commonwealth Institute. Since then, together and separately, Stein and Rynne have ensured they keep the Joujouka experience authentic.

Among those who caught the Commonwealth Institute performances in 1980 was the British saxophonist Trevor Watts, co-founder of the Spontaneous Music Ensemble and later his own Amalgam and Original Drum Orchestra. In the liner notes for the ODO's retrospective 2-CD The Art Is In The Rhythm Volume 2 (Jazz In Britain, 2023), Watts talks about seeing the Master Musicians thus: "It's the only time seeing a concert has moved me to tears. There was a feeling of community in the music that we, as a society, seemed to have lost. It was wonderful, sensual music. That was a real spur for me to travel and play music in other parts of the world."

The size of the Master Musicians' lineup is flexible. In Joujouka itself, the ensemble runs into several dozen. At the Forge it was nine musicians and a dancer, the largest number the stage can agreeably accommodate. The intensity was off the scale. Six double-reed rhaita players and three drummers jammed, without a break, for two high-decibel, elemental hours, as measured in earth time. For the last half hour, they were joined by a goatskin-clad shaman channeling Bou Jeloud, a.k.a. Pan, who struck the shoulders of every audience member within reach with a couple of leafy branches. In Joujouka, Bou Jeloud's touch is believed to transmit fertility. (See the YouTube below).

Everybody is different, but one way of tuning in to the Master Musicians is to anchor yourself to the resonant beat of the bass drum, keeping it as your rock while the rhaitas morph from riff to riff and the higher pitched drums adjust tempos and displace rhythmic accents. Whatever technique you use, if you are fortunate you will end up feeling cleansed and refreshed. However tonight's audience members got there, it was clear the message had been received.

Postscript I

The photo above does not properly convey the demeanour of the Master Musicians themselves. More characteristic are luminous smiles, welcoming all comers.

Postscript II

The Master Musicians of Joujouka are not the same ensemble as the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a breakaway group who split from the original lineup in the 1990s. The world is big enough for both of them.

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