Music & clubs

“I have the archive in my brain”

Interview: Bachir Attar, the Master Musicians of Jajouka. The music has been as celebrated for being celebrated as they have for their insistent and otherworldly appeal.

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Photo by Cherie Nutting

Based out of Northern Morocco and continuing a tradition that goes back 1300 years, the music of the Master Musicians of Jajouka has been as celebrated for being celebrated – by the likes of Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and Brion Gysin – as they have for their insistent and otherworldly appeal.

Led since the early 1980s by Bachir Attar, a son of their previous leader, the great “El Hadj” Abdesalam Attar, the MMJ have long negotiated the paradoxes of continuing traditional music in the modern world – of maintaining a millennium of rituals while hobnobbing with the cultural greats.

Those traditions have continued under Attar, but the band has been open to collaboration and experimentation as well, collaborating with the Rolling Stones, Ornette Coleman, Jane’s Addiction and, recently, David J. of Bauhaus/Love & Rockets and the electronic world music DJ Dub Gabriel. They’ve been the subject of several films and their latest disc The Source (Le Son du Maquis) is connected to a new one.

Their performance at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt on Saturday, July 2, which will also include Dub Gabriel’s Jajouka Soundsystem, is a 1000-year can’t miss. Bachar spoke to EXBERLINER from Paul Bowles’ old apartment, which was a gift to his father.

The musical bloodline goes back over a millennium. Are you training younger musicians to continue the traditions?

No, at least not in the same way anymore. Because the kids they grow up and go to school and most of the old musicians died. And we are still only the sons of the musicians’ family. Before, it was 50 musicians in their fifties and sixties. Now we are only 10. We’re coming to Germany with only seven musicians, because we can’t afford the plane ticket and the show people won’t pay for it. This is the first time it’s happened to us. It’s very difficult to keep these things going. And too expensive. I have to rehearse with the musicians for the old things and it’s very difficult.

But this couldn’t be the end of the line.

You can learn some, but you can’t learn everything, no you would have to start when you are a child. My two-and-a-half year old son – he shall learn. He is learning now to play flute and drums, watching and drumming. I started to learn this music when I was four-and-a-half. I was playing the drum, because you have to start with the drum, and then I jumped to the flute. Then I play the horn. Then I play these strings called gimbri, like the lute but different, a traditional Moroccan zither. But me! I was taking that differently, not like a school student, no, I was deep in, all my life with this, with my family music, day and night. I didn’t go to school, only my school in this and my family music, this kind of music.

I presume he’ll be attending school, though.

He will do both, to go to school and to keep in music. It is difficult now, life, if you don’t write or read. I was born in 1964, not the same like now.

What has changed in the way that life is lived in Jajouka?

From 1964 till now? People now wear clothes like European, not like before. Now we have TVs, electricity, roads fixed, people know they changed. But! Music, it didn’t change. The main things didn’t change. I live there in the village. Only when I have something to do, I go out to do things, but then I go back to my home in Jajouka. I’m not living anymore in Europe or in America or in these cities.

Did you ever want to go to school, to be like a regular kid growing up in Morocco?

No, no. I wasn’t thinking of that. I was thinking only how to save this, my family music, and now the music maybe is going to disappear. Without me the music would disappear! Everybody, my father died, all are dead. In my life, I remember all the songs in my head: I have the archive in brain!

In a way your tours are as much an insistence for the survival of your music as they are an aesthetic experience.

This tour for Jajouka is helping us too, to keep music going, you know what I mean? Because this gives us energy to move and we want to share this music with other people, and this in the future is what I have to do. We want to put for the first time a guesthouse in Jajouka. My idea, my next step in what I am thinking is to open a music school for people around the world. People can come from around the world as students if they want to learn Jajouka music and get lessons, because who knows in the future? Maybe this music is disappeared. We want to open an international guesthouse school for Europeans, Americans and Asians. A lot of people they want to come to get lessons of the music of Jajouka. This is my next idea for everybody around the world.

One would think the Moroccan government would take a greater interest in trying to preserve the music.

Our King, Mohammed VI, he has interest. He asked us about to do some shows in Morocco – he paid us good money, you know, and I love our king. But it’s too early to ask in Morocco for this help. You know, we are always behind the time with Europe and America. It is difficult to connect in Morocco, to get the way through to get to make this school. But this is the first time in a newspaper, the first time that I am talking about it.

I would think a lot of people around the world, not just in Morocco, would want in.

I didn’t ask anybody to help us, but maybe some people now that I open my mouth about this, for the world, anybody that want to be involved with it, for Jajouka, for this great dream, for this great idea. Maybe somebody show us luck: there’s some beautiful things, they can be involved with us, they can be with us.  

The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar w/ Jajouka Soundsystem, Sat, July 7, 20:00 | Haus der Kulturen der Welt, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, Tiergarten, U-Bhf Bundestag,