Tuesday, August 14, 2012


The little blue hills of Ah Serif stretch out in a breathtaking vista that the dusty Maghreb tumbleweed town of Ksar El Kebir does nothing to prepare you for.
Home to some 600 souls, the village of Joujouka, a couple of hours' drive south of Tangiers, is pretty impoverished.
But what it lacks in modernity, it makes up for in breathtaking beauty.
The hills roll in all directions, lush and way greener than what you'd expect from a country that leads down into the Sahara.

The view from Hamri's grave in Joujouka

Beauty, however, is not the only surprise the tiny village of Joujouka throws at the tired traveller; there's also the music.
And nothing prepares you for the music.
Pipes and flute have put this village on the map and made it a musical mecca, a place of pilgrimage for sonic subversives, thrill seekers, artists and odd balls of all hues.
The guest list here reads like a veritable counter-culture "who's who."
The wild spectral sounds are what first lured the group's manager, Irishman Frank Rynne, up these hot, dusty hills.
Frank and the Masters now host an annual festival every June, an event of pure wonder.

Then an aspiring rock star, Frank Rynne was lured up to the village at the age of 19 by one of the only villagers to achieve fame and notoriety outside of the world of Sufi trance music, the late great Moroccan painter Hamri,  the friend and companion of Beat icons; the artists and writers Brion Gysin and William Burroughs.
"I need to hear this music every day," was Gysin's instant response.
"The world needs more of this diabolical music" was what Burroughs had to say.
Primordial and relentless, the Master Musicians' sound pulsates Africa and shrieks the Maghreb.
Onto the rolling simplicity of primal beat comes the ghiata sound, the wailing of of a psychic souk.
Whining and droning,  the pipes ensare you in loops and ever decreasing circles while bass bewilders and beat hypnotises.
Then suddenly you are there.
At the centre of the souk, in the eye of a storm of madness.

The Master Musicians of Joujouka at their spectral best. Pic Herman Vanaershcot

Here is where western rock n roll takes you for a fleeting finale - the subversive edges of the Velvet Underground's white noise, the nail biting frenzy of Radiohead's symphonic shrieks, the junk like rush of the Jesus and Mary Chain.
But this is no finale.
What is a crescendo for western rock n roll is a mere point of departure for this crew.
The Masters, who range in age from 40 to 80,  are just kicking off.
And when it all gets too much,  when you think you can't take any more, that's precisely what you get.
Then more and more and more.
Until you are lifted up and carried on a wave of screaming nerve-end shredding, strobe flashing ecstasy.

This is the oldest sound you have ever heard. This is most modern sound you have heard.
This is rock and roll. This is religion. This is political. This is freedom. This is ecstasy.
This is sonic jewelry forged in front of your blinking eyes
Nerve ends alight. Limbs tremble.
It's trance time.
Your mind screams 'stop, stop, enough' and yet some unknown voice inside screams 'more, more, faster, faster'.
This is fucking psychiatric. This is orgasmic.
Karen, bug eyed, the patron of Listons on Camden Street turns to me and says:
"This is madness"

Blessed with sacred powers, the music has actually been touted for centuries as a cure for madness.
Needless to say, there's a whiff of Kif to this whole affair
But there's also a perfect integrity which is very rarely seen in events that head this far north of avant-garde.

Madness indeed.

Welcome to Joujouka.
The tiny village in the Rif mountains that is home to the worlds oldest rock n roll band.

Boujeloud. Half goat, half man. Half Bez, half Pan.

Ramones? Kid stuff
Pick any tempo lifting, air punching DJ sonic ruse from Chicago to the Balearics and you'll find these boys have been beating the out same groove for centuries.
As Jarvis would say "this is hardcore."
Timothy Leary callesd these geezers a 4,000 year old rock n roll band.
Anyhow, one thing is for sure; they well and truly rock the fucking Casbah.

(Nice to see Lonely Planet picking up on the review of the festival that appeared in the Irish Times)


  1. Dear Kevin,

    I am going to Morocco on early October and as I really love the music of Joujouka, I want to go there too. However, firstly - I don't really know yet how will I get there and secondly - I have no contacts there (suprisingly ;) ) and I don't know if I'll be able to hear any music there. I'll be very glad if you could share some traveler experiences with me on how do you travel to such a small village. I got a map - I know where it is, but are they playing that Pan flutes everyday there? I hope so ;).


  2. Pawel,
    They are professional musicians who like all others need to eat. One can be lucky. But one cannot go up expecting the boys to put on a performance for you. If you have done any travelling, it is easy to get to. Basic but beautiful. The man to talk to is their manager Frank Rynne. See their website. Why not come to the festival next year? Good luck.