National Geographic feature on the Master Musicians of Joujouka and Music in Morocco


Master Musicians of Joujouka Live At The Beat Hotel – photo Justin Gardner (courtesy @beat_hotel)

The Master Musicians of Joujouka are featured in the August/September 2019 edition of National Geographic Traveller.

The article Music in Morocco: The ultimate sonic journey is a major feature on trance music by Mickey Rapkin.

The article explores different kinds of traditional music from across Morocco and how “the past very much informs the present, with a new generation of artists emerging in thrilling ways”.

The Master Musicians of Joujouka and Manager Frank Rynne were interviewed for the article at the Beat Hotel Festival in Marrakesh earlier this year.

Read an from the article extract here:

“This story begins like all good ones do, with a 66-year-old man standing on stage, dressed as a goat.

It is late March, and I’ve come to Morocco, in part, to see a rare public performance by the Master Musicians of Joujouka, a group of traditional Sufi trance artists from a remote corner south of the Rif Mountains who have nevertheless captivated the world. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones recorded the Masters in their village in the late ’60s. William S. Burroughs and Timothy Leary famously dubbed them “the 4,000-year-old rock band.” More recently, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins spent a week just observing them.

The Masters’ brand of ancient trance isn’t simply entertaining. It’s also said to have healing powers. The half man, half goat who is part of their act is called Bou Jeloud, and according to folklore, if he hits you with a stick during a performance, you will get pregnant. More on that soon.

I return to Marrakech just in time to see the Master Musicians of Joujouka perform at the Beat Hotel festival, held on the grounds of a chic 27-acre boutique hotel outside of town. In addition to the Masters, the lineup includes upstart DJs from Casablanca, pop-up restaurants, and a spa tent offering yoga. The transition is jarring. British party kids with sunburned skin and vape pens sit around a pool. The Wi-Fi password is MOONLIGHT. This isn’t what Burroughs or the Beat poets imagined. But it is a bold mash-up of genres and experiences come to life.

The Masters—who range in age from late 40s to 86—take the stage after ten o’clock, under a white tent with a top-tier sound system and a serious light rig. The 13 men are dressed in jellabas. They carry drums and reed instruments and sit in a single row of chairs facing the crowd. The music is visceral, the high-pitch whir of the lira flutes like a snake worming its way through my earholes and taking hold of my brain stem. Historically, this brand of Sufi trance had been used to entertain the court of the sultan. It was also performed to inspire soldiers prior to battle. Which makes sense. It is that loud from the first drumbeat.

The Masters play nonstop for two hours, with more energy than men half their age. An hour into the show, Bou Jeloud—the half man, half goat—finally appears. The man under all that goatskin is called Mohamed El Hatmi. He’s 66 years old, and he’s been dressing up as this furry icon for more than 35 years. He measures a hair under five feet tall. But he is superhuman, climbing down into the crowd and running back and forth among the people, shaking his sticks in the air.”

Read the full article at National Geographic Traveller here