A meeting in the mountains with some of Morocco’s finest musicians
Photographs courtesy the author
Joujouka, the magical village at the end of the world that has played muse to some of the most influential writers, artists, and musicians of the 20th century, recently held its eighth annual music festival this June. In this small village, located in the blue foothills of the Rif Mountains in northern Morocco, the Master Musicians continue to pass down their lineage of trans-global Sufi music and folklore spanning back generations.
Artist Mohamed Hamri is largely responsible for the recognition of Joujouka and the Master Musicians in the West today. A catalyst to the Beat poets in many ways, it was Hamri who brought Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, Brian Jones, and many others to his village in the 50s and 60s. In Tangier’s notorious International Zone, the prolific painter and Gysin opened the legendary 1,001 Nights restaurant, where the Master Musicians played as the house band, entertaining Europeans, Americans, and Africans alike. Boualem, Hamri’s brother and a now-retired weaver, also worked alongside them at the restaurant, and can still be spotted in Tangier’s cafés.
Since 2008, during a three-day period around the summer solstice, a privileged few – never more than 50 each year – have gathered each year in the Ahl Serif to experience Joujouka. Frank Rynne, the festival’s organiser and manager of the Master Musicians continues Hamri’s work, sharing the music with a wider audience and ensuring its survival.
When I arrived, this boy refused to let me take his picture. One day, I was watching the sunset, and he appeared jumping up on a rock, facing me without saying a word, allowing me to finally photograph him.
Although this photo was taken in Tangier, and not in Joujouka, Boualem Hamri is a part of the history of both cities. You fall for him instantly.
Mohamed El Hatmi in 2014.
Boujeloud is an essential part of the legend of Joujouka. The Pan-like half-goat-half-man is also integral to each festival. His story is too long to recount here, but Mohamed Hamri and his wife Blanca published a book containing all the tales of the village. Tales of Joujouka is worth a read – if you can find it.
Sulieman descends from the Attar family, which has a long history with the Master Musicians in Joujouka. His spirit is singular; he is part of the next generation of the Masters.
This portrait of Mohamed Hamri was hung in the madrassa by the Masters to honour his memory last year.
Each afternoon, an informal jam session is held with rotating musicians, violins, and singing.
The 2015 Master Musicians of Joujouka Festival ran between the 5th and 7th of June. More information can be found here, and ‘Into the Ahl Serif’ – their latest album and first recording since 1978 – can be downloaded here. To view more of Sunny’s photographs, visit her website.