In the Moroccan mountains, village musicians gather each year to worship the goat-man Boujeloud ... and Brian Jones. Mark Paytress joins in the wild party
Joujouka Brian Jones Festival 2008 Joiner Image by Jill Furmanovsky/Rock Archives
Joujouka, a village nestled in the foothills of the Rif mountains in northern Morocco, has been attracting enlightenment-chasing subversives and sonic novelty-seekers for decades. They are drawn by its Sufi trance music, played by the Master Musicians of Joujouka on a pipe called the rhaita and a drum called the tebel. In the 50s, Paul Bowles and William Burroughs visited, and the latter concluded: "We need more diabolic music everywhere." Timothy Leary proclaimed the Master Musicians to be "a 4,000-year-old rock'n'roll band". And in July 1968, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones dropped in to record the village's Boujeloud - or Rites of Pan - festival.
That gruellingly intense annual night of music, magic and fertility still takes place every year, though the village has changed since Jones's visit: it now has electricity and a mobile phone mast that dwarfs the minaret of the mosque. Much, however, remains medieval: there is no running water, and the climate and landscape still dictate how life is lived.
When Jones's recordings were released posthumously in 1971, as The Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, the village gained a new level of fame - the guitarist was followed by more musicians, including Ornette Coleman - and Jones himself gained a new status in the village as a near-saint. Last July, I was among 40 or so westerners who went to Joujouka to mark the 40th anniversary of his visit. I often heard the Master Musicians chanting "Ah, Brahim Jones, really stones" as they worked through a rhythm.
The idea to commemorate Jones's trip came from Frank Rynne, a frequent visitor to Joujouka since he stumbled on its music at a Burroughs-related event in Dublin in 1992. "Brian Jones is so revered here that I felt the anniversary of his visit should be marked," Rynne says.
However, the festival long predates Jones. Its origins lie in the legend of the goat-man Boujeloud bestowing the gift of music on the village in return for the hand of one of its women. Every year, the festival pays homage to Boujeloud in order to guarantee the village healthy crops and purposeful procreation. Much has been made of the magic and transcendence associated with this ancient fertility rite, but its real purpose is to heal. "Yes, the music makes people go into a trance," Master Musician Mohamed el Attar tells me, "but it also heals souls. Psychopaths get better when they hear it. That is the secret of this place."
As the ceremony begins, I follow the nine magnificently attired Masters - resplendent in yellow hats, white collarless shirts and dark, one-shoulder robes - as they make their way down a long, dusty track to a gently lit corner of the village square, where some 120 villagers and visitors are gathered. Without realising it, I perch upon the same rock Jones sat on 40 years ago, as the Masters hit their transcendent stride.
A group of watching youths, some dressed in baseball caps and logo-emblazoned T-shirts, bounce boisterously in front of the bonfire. Women huddle in the shadows. When the rhaitas, sounding something like a herd of aroused elephants, nudge up a semitone, the tingle factor really kicks in. A trick long favoured by a generation of superstar DJs is, it seems, as old as time itself.
Then out hops the sprite-like Boujeloud. Hours ago, he was the soberly attired master of the house where I slept. Now, this apparition in a straw hat and goat-skin is mad-eyed and rubber-necked; he thrashes me with a pair of olive branches. My fertility apparently secured, at least for another year, I leap to my feet and join in this primal scream of a party. For five long hours, these rhythms and rituals play out against a backdrop of spitting bonfires, screams and the endless high-jinks of Boujeloud. At about five in the morning, it winds down. "Boujeloud" is back in his bum-freezer jacket and handing out cups of mint tea to the small handful of us who have survived this exhilarating, extraordinary but exhausting musical endurance test.
When Brian Jones returned to London in August 1968, he spent hours in the studio doctoring his tapes with psychedelic effects (mainly phasing), in an attempt to accentuate the far-outness of an experience he likened to "an incantation to those of another plane". Many later sonic adventurers, working in jazz or rock or experimental music, have drawn inspiration from the music of Joujouka. Even the Stones milked what Mick Jagger admitted was "a tenuous musical connection" by using the Master Musicians on their 1989 Steel Wheels album.
Since that time, artists from the village have travelled to the west - drawn as much by the financial as the spiritual rewards - to perform music from Joujouka and the surrounding region. As we drive off at dawn the following morning, the first of the day's five calls to prayer ringing in our ears, I wonder whether I have just witnessed a long, loud, final blast of a tradition that's now staring extinction in the face. But Rynne is more optimistic. He says the event has brought enough money and supplies to the village to keep the place thriving until the winter - and that's before the cash from a planned CD/DVD release rolls in.
"You saw the young men last night," he smiles, referring to the mass outbreak of Boujeloud-inspired mayhem. "It's impossible to my mind that those boys, growing up in the houses of musicians, won't one day be picking up drums themselves."
Maybe so. But whether they'll stay put in Joujouka rather than try their luck on the international stage is, of course, another matter.
• The 2009 Master Musicians of Joujouka festival runs from 5-7 June. Details: joujouka.net