Master Musicians Of Jajouka Release New Album, Cancel U.S. Tour

Group leader Bachir Attar fears Moroccan village's music on verge of extinction.

Even in the Rif Mountains of Morocco, money makes the world go round; it's the reason the legendary Master Musicians of Jajouka have canceled the September U.S. tour that would have promoted their eponymous new release.

"There wasn't enough money," said Bachir Attar, the trance musicians' leader. "We needed a big tour with good venues, and we didn't find that. Maybe now isn't the time for us in America."

The Master Musicians last performed in the United States a year ago, and Attar is a part-time New York resident.

The Jajoukans have attracted many famous friends throughout the past 50 years. The Beat-generation writers William Burroughs, Brian Gysin and Paul Bowles, who all spent time in Tangier during the early 1960s, first brought them to international attention. Rolling Stone Brian Jones recorded them during a visit to Morocco that the Stones made in 1968. And jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman performs with them on Dancing in Your Head.

Anglo-Asian percussionist/producer Talvin Singh, the star of the burgeoning Asian Underground scene, produced the Master Musicians' most recent recording. "He was the right one for the bridge between Western, Arabic and Indian music I wanted to make," Attar said. "He's a good mixer and percussionist."

Tracks Polished In London

Singh traveled to the Berber village of Jajouka to record tracks with the 10-piece band. Then Attar and his brother, Mustapha, worked on tracks with Singh in London. Attar, the hereditary master of the Masters (group membership passes from father to son), wrote or co-wrote all the album's music.

The result is schizophrenic, veering from the purity of the oboelike ghaita and drums on "The Truth Forever" (RealAudio excerpt) to the techno trickery of "Jamming in London" (RealAudio excerpt), where Singh's presence is felt strongly.

"The album's field recordings didn't seem to have a great deal of sonic attention, while the produced pieces were very concentrated," said adventurous American producer Bill Laswell, who recorded the Master Musicians in 1990 for the ensemble's Apocalypse Across the Sky. "Talvin told me he and Bachir were trying new things in the studio. That's an evolution that had to happen."

The roots of the Jajouka sound extend to before the birth of Christ. The Master Musicians were Morocco's court orchestra for more than a millennium, but in the 1930s, as the modern world encroached, they returned to their native village. The seminal Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Jajouka, released in 1971, was full of psychedelic studio effects like phasing and flanging — tweakings that foreshadowed such Singh-produced tracks as "Above the Moon."

Masters Don't Own Disc

The Jones disc doesn't belong to the Master Musicians, however, but rather to the Rolling Stones, who lent it to them for five years. "We released it in 1995," Attar said, "but now our rights to it have run out. The biggest always eats the smallest."

"Brian Jones tried to re-create the effect of being stoned, but listeners at the time didn't know the sound had been processed," noted Laswell, who produced his own crystal-clear production in order "to document the experience of being there, and what it could sound like with more amplification and clarity."

Despite all the celebrities who've visited Jajouka, life remains a struggle. A rival Jajouka group, for example, is providing competition for the Master Musicians. But "Jajouka is one band," Attar said, "It's never been two."

Members of the group have even been attacked for their supposed riches. "We don't make money, and you need money," said Attar. "It's not like earlier times. In this century you have to have money."

While they won't visit the United States, the Master Musicians will soon tour Europe, Japan and Australia. Following their international tour, Attar plans to record a solo album with "some Western musicians and my brother."

As for the future of the Master Musicians and their music of trance and healing, Attar is pessimistic.

"The families are leaving Jajouka," he said. "The younger generation see the problems we have with no money, and they don't want that. We are the last generation. In the next 50 years this music will be over, it'll die. And then people will realize what they've lost."