Jajouka Rolling Stone: Brian Jones’ Moroccan musical adventure and its legacy

By on May 26, 2016

In August 1968, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones spent two days in a remote mountain village in Morocco, recording the ceremonial music of the musical clan who lived there. Three years later, the tapes would become Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, perhaps the first album of what came to be known as “world music” to enter the pop mainstream.

Pipes of Pan original cover

That entrance literally took centuries, and was spawned by the enthusiasm of a group of hip cognoscenti. The men who would be known as the Master Musicians of Jajouka – the malim, as they were known among their tribe – had probably been performing their music since around 800 A.D.

Playing rhaita (indigenous reed instruments), wooden flutes, and handheld drums, they appeared at the pleasure of Morocco’s sultans; in later years, they were supported financially by other natives of their Rif Mountains community.

Master Musicians in the mountains

Master Musicians of Jajouka in the mountains

Though they were Muslims, the malim staged an annual festival, thought to be a vestige of the ancient Romans’ fertility ceremony of Lupercal.

There, village boys portraying Bou Jeloud, a part-man/part-goat local divinity, would dance to their music, whipping the woman with branches to ensure that they could bear children.

Bou Jeloud

Bou Jeloudby Brion Gysin

“Bou Jeloud is Fear and Fucking,” Brion Gysin would write of the ceremony in his 1967 novel The Process. Author, artist, and psychic explorer Gysin was among the first Westerners to hear the music of the malim.

He came to Tangier in 1950 at the behest of the American composer and writer Paul Bowles, one of the first notable postwar expatriates in North Africa.

(In 1959, Bowles extensively documented Moroccan music for the Library of Congress; those recordings can be heard on a four-CD set issued in early 2016 by Dust-To-Digital Records.)

Brion Gysin-William Burroughs

Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs

Gysin and Bowles first encountered the keening, ecstatic music of the malim at a 1951 festival.

Via an entrée from Mohamed Hamri — a Tangier artist and hustler (and lover of both Bowles and Gysin) who was a member of the mountain Attar clan, the village’s prime musical movers — Gysin later re-encountered the musicians on their hillside home turf.

Master Musicians by Hamri

Les musiciens de Joujouka by Mohamed Hamri

Gysin in turn introduced the music to another expat, American novelist William S. Burroughs, who settled in Tangier during the ‘50s; in his 1962 novel The Ticket That Exploded – which employed Gysin’s “cut-up” assembly techniques — Burroughs wrote of “the Pan God of Panic piping blue notes through empty streets.”

Obsessed with the Master Musicians, Gysin established a restaurant, the 1001 Nights, in Tangier in 1954, and imported the players from Jajouka to perform there.

Unfortunately, he also hired the erratic Hamri to manage the establishment, and the enterprise ultimately ran aground, with the malim returning to the Djebala foothills to play before their people again.

It is natural that Brian Jones would acquire his own taste for the malim a decade later. Co-founder of the Rolling Stones in 1962, he was the force who injected the most exotic elements into the band’s blues-based sound.

He made his first trip to Morocco in 1966; upon his return in March 1967, he met Gysin for the first time, and was famously abandoned in a Tangier hospital by his band mate Keith Richards and his girlfriend, actress Anita Pallenberg, who quickly became lovers.

Nonetheless, Morocco continued to beckon Jones, who could resist neither the ancient, rapturous lure of the country’s music nor the hyper-potent kif (a hashish derivative) that powered its sound.

And so in 1968 the rock star returned again, joined by recording engineer George Chkiantz, who brought a battery-powered tape machine.

Mohamed Hamri took Jones and Chkiantz up into the hillside where the Master Musicians resided, and the players recreated the music of the Jeloudia during a day-long session. At one juncture during their stay, a goat was paraded before Jones; gazing at the animal, he exclaimed in awe and fright, “That’s me!” The animal was then led off to slaughter for a communal meal.

Jones envisioned his recordings not as some form of documentation, but as the basis for a rock album. He did not approach the tracks with anything like purity: He slathered the sound with phasing and echo, and edited and cross-faded some selections. But he ultimately did not fulfill his vision of fusion.

Besieged by drug-related legal woes and hobbled by personal problems that made him a professional liability, he was himself led to slaughter:

On June 8, 1969, Jones was confronted at home by Richards, Mick Jagger, and Charlie Watts, and fired from the Stones. Less than a month later, he was found dead in his own swimming pool. He was 27.

The Rolling Stones’ issued Jones’ tapes in 1971, with its location misspelled, as Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, on their own custom imprint. Not surprisingly, it did not sell well, but it prophesied a deep interest among rock musicians in world music sounds, and it enjoyed a long afterlife in the work of others.

Some with more folkloric interests in Jajouka’s music traveled to Morocco with their own tape machines. In 1972, American Joel Rubiner recorded the malim in their village; one of the selections, “Brian Jones,” was created in homage to the Master Musicians’ late, famous champion. (Rubiner later appeared as a character in Jajouka Rolling Stone, an astonishing fact-based 1993 “novel” by Stephen Davis, author of the Led Zeppelin bio Hammer of the Gods.)

Another pilgrim was musician and journalist Robert Palmer, who had been transfixed by Gysin’s The Process.

In January 1973, Palmer brought avant garde saxophonist-composer Ornette Coleman to Jajouka, where the pair recorded for hours with the Master Musicians. A snippet of the work, the track “Midnight Sunrise,” was included on Coleman’s 1977 harmolodic jazz-rock album Dancing in Your Head.

Two albums worth of material are said to remain unreleased.

Dancing in Your Head cover

Most ironically, in 1989 Jagger and Richards traveled to Morocco to record with the Master Musicians of Jajouka in Tangier.

The sessions, and a joint interview with Jagger and a very unimpressed Paul Bowles, were filmed for a promotional documentary; even 20 years after Jones’ demise, his band mates seemed uneasy talking about him.

MMJ 1989 recording session

The Moroccan tracks were used as the basis for “Continental Drift,” a standout track on the Rolling Stones’ 1989 album Steel Wheels, and as a concert fanfare.

Steel Wheels cover

For their own part, the Master Musicians of Jajouka endured, despite an internal schism that divided the older and younger players for years. They toured internationally, recorded several commercial releases (under the direction of Bachir Attar, scion of the musical family), and played regularly at Brian Jones memorial concerts in England and elsewhere.

For many years, a framed promotional photo of Brian Jones was prominently displayed on the wall of the musicians’ communal living quarters in the heart of the Rif.


About Chris Morris

Chris Morris is the author of Together Through Life: A Personal Journey with the Music of Bob Dylan (ROTHCO Press) and the critical biography Los Lobos: Dream in Blue (University of Texas Press). He is also a contributor to X bassist-vocalist John Doe’s bestselling book about L.A. punk, Under the Big Black Sun (Da Capo Books).
  • Fritz Catlin

    There’s a yearly festival in June where 50 people can experience the music in the village for a few days which brings them much needed income and helps the younger generation see value in keeping the tradition going details here: http://www.joujouka.org/