Mohamed El Hatmi. Photo by Stn Lens.

The Master Musicians of Joujouka

"In 1970, I found my way up into the Rif Mountains of Morocco where I encountered a tribe of musicians. I was so blown away by what I found there that I tore up my return ticket and stayed for a couple of years."

Music industry executive and longtime Fela Kuti manager, Rikki Stein, recollects his nearly five-decade-old history with the Master Musicians of Joujouka—from his first encounter with them in the 1970s, to them opening Glastonbury Festival in 2011, up until their recent performance at this year's Dior Defilé in Marrakech.

I've been very lucky. Over the past 50 years I've enjoyed the privilege of being around and working with some of the world's most gifted musicians, mostly as friends. I often hear it said that you should never work with friends. Rubbish! I only want to work with friends! Why? Because you can say more or less anything to your friends. It was on that basis that my friendship with Fela developed in the early eighties into a 15 year working relationship.

But much earlier, in 1970, I found my way up into the Rif Mountains of Morocco where I encountered a tribe of musicians. I was so blown away by what I found there that I tore up my return ticket and stayed for a couple of years. I'm talking about the Master Musicians of Joujouka.


Mohamed Mokhchan, Rhiata Master. Photo By Stn Lens.

I left school when I was 15 and consider my time in Joujouka as my 'formal education.' My university. Since the fifties, world travelers, deep thinkers and cultural icons have been finding their way to up to this idyllic mountain village: Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Randy Weston, Brian Jones, followed by the rest of the Rolling Stones, Ornette Coleman and Timothy Leary, who wrote a piece about what he found there, entitled "The Four Thousand Year Rock 'n Roll Band."

The Master Musicians of Joujouka play the rhaita, a strident double-reed instrument, and drums, as well as flutes and a variety of hand drums and other instruments. But the meat and potatoes of Joujouka's music are the rhaita and drums, which create an extraordinary wall of sound, enhanced by their circular breathing and musical mastery. For centuries their music has nourished the population of the surrounding mountains and valleys, receiving a tenth of the crop in return for their musical services.

In 1980, I carried 35 of the Master Musicians around Europe for three months. A decade ago, I met Frank Rynne, a young Irish guy who was doing exactly the same job with the same musicians (or their offspring) that I was doing almost 50 years ago. In 2011 we joined forces and brought them to Glastonbury Festival where they opened the festival on the main stage and subsequently took them to the Villa Medici in Rome, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and, last year, sent them to the Festival de Frue in Japan. Many of them are elderly now but they still blow up a storm!

Drummers Mohamed Majdobi and Abdelslam Bata before the Marrakech show. Photo By Stn Lens.

Two weeks ago, on Monday, April 29, The Master Musicians of Joujouka were invited to animate the Dior Defilé in Marrakech, a lavish affair in the grounds of the ancient El Badi palace where 100 of the world's top models displayed Dior's new collection. The musicians shared this task with The Orb, a renowned electronic music group. Musical Director for the show, Michel Gaubert, conceived and directed this visionary collaboration between these artists for Dior and Bureau Betak, working closely with both groups. Here's the official Dior broadcast of the event.

Browse through photos taken by Stn Lens (my daughter, Chantal) documenting the Master Musicians during their time in Marrakech.

Abdelah Ziyat, Rhiata Player. Photo By Stn Lens

Abdeslam Bata , Ahmed El Attar, Mohamed El Attar and Mohamed Majdobi. Photo By Stn Lens

Abdeslam Bata, Rhiata Player. Photo By Stn Lens

Abdeslam Rtoubi, Lead rhiata player

Ahmed El Attar before the show. Photo By Stn Lens

Alex Paterson founder and leader of The Orb and Mohamed El Hatmi. Photo By Stn Lens

Arriving at El Badi Palace. Shot by Stn Lens

Dior Cruise 2020. Photo By Stn Lens

Drummers Ahmed Talha and El Khalil Radi backstage. Photo By Stn Lens

El Ayachi Guennouni, Drummer. Photo By Stn Lens

El Ayachi Guennouni, Moustapha Selmouni, Ahmed Talha, El Khalil Radi, Mohamed El Hatmi. Photo By Stn Lens

El Khalil Radi, Drummer. Photo By Stn Lens

El Touhami Talha, plays Lead rhiata and Ahmed Talha. Photo by Stn Lens

Model Faretta walking for the Dior Cruise 2020 show. Photo By Stn Lens

Mohamed El Attar and Abellah Ziyat. Photo By Stn Lens

Mohamed El Attar Rhiata player. Photo By Stn Lens

Mohamed El Attar. Photo By Stn LensMohamed El Hatmi (Boujeloud). Photo By Stn Lens

Mohamed El Hatmi (Boujeloud). Photo By Stn Lens

Portrait of Mohamed Mokhchan the 87 year old rhiata Master. Photo By Stn Lens

Shailene Woodley and Lupita Nyongo Dior Cruise 2020. Photo By Stn Lens

Soundcheck, El Badi Palace. Photo By Stn Lens

The Maste Musicians Of Joujouka heading to soundcheck. Photo By Stn Lens

The Master Musicians Of Joujouka collaborating with The Orb for Dior Cruise 2020. Photo By Stn Lens

Dior 2020 Cruise Musical Director, Michel Gaubert, meets Master Musicians Of Joujouka group leader Ahmed El Attar. Photo by Stn Lens

The Master Musicians of Joujouka soundcheck at El Badi palace. Photo by Stn Lens

The Master Musicians of Joujouka soundcheck. Photo by Stn Lens

The Master Musicians Of Joujouka. Photo By Stn Lens

Music

Listen to Samthing Soweto’s Album ‘Isiphithiphithi’

Samthing Soweto's highly anticipated album is finally here.

One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Isiphithiphithi by Samthing Soweto is finally here.

The South African artist's project consists of 12 songs and features Makhafula Vilakazi, Shasha, Kabza De Small, DJ Maphorisa and Mlindo The Vocalist.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Gallo Images/Getty Images

South African Telenovela 'The River' has Been Nominated for an International Emmy

This is the popular telenovela's first International Emmy nomination.

One of South Africa's beloved telenovelas, The River, has received its first ever International Emmy nomination in the category of "Best Telenovela", according to IOL. The River will go up against other telenovelas from Columbia, Argentina as well as Portugal. The 47th installment of the International Emmy Awards will take place on November 25th of this year and will be held at the Hilton in New York.

Keep reading... Show less
Culture
Photo (c) John Liebenberg

'Stolen Moments' Uncovers the Namibian Music That Apartheid Tried to Erase

The photo exhibition, showing at the Brunei Gallery in London, highlights artists from Namibia's underground scene between 1950-1980, a time of immense musical suppression prior to its independence.

Before its independence in 1990, a whole generation of Namibians were made to believe that their county had no real musical legacy. Popular productions by Namibian artists from previous eras were systematically concealed from the masses for nearly 30 years, under the apartheid regime—which extended to the country from South Africa following German colonization—depriving many Namibians of the opportunity to connect with their own musical heritage.

"Stolen Moments: Namibian Music Untold," a new exhibit currently showing at London's Brunei Museum at SOAS University of London, seeks to revive the musical Namibian musical traditions that the apartheid regime attempted to erase.

"Imagine you had never known about the musical riches of your country," said the exhibit's curator Aino Moongo in a statement of purpose on SOAS' site. "Your ears had been used to nothing but the dull sounds of country's former occupants and the blaring church and propaganda songs that were sold to you as your country's musical legacy. Until all at once, a magnitude of unknown sounds, melodies and songs appear. This sound, that roots your culture to the musical influences of jazz, blues and pop from around the world, is unique, yet familiar. It revives memories of bygone days, recites the history of your homeland and enables you for the first time to experience the emotions, joys and pains of your ancestors."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs

The 'Stolen Moments" project began in 2010 in an effort to champion Namibia's unsung musical innovators. For the collection, Moongo and Assistant Curator, Siegrun Salmanian—along with a group of international scholars, artists, photographers and filmmakers—curated a large-scale photo exhibit that also features a 120-minute video projection, focusing on the dance styles of the era, along with listening stations, a sound installation that features "100-hours of interviews with musicians and contemporary witnesses," and displays of record covers and memorabilia from the period between 1950-1980.

The musicians highlighted, produced work that spanned a number of genres—a marker of the country's vast and eclectic underground scene. Artists like the saxophonist Leyden Naftali who led a band inspired by the sounds of ragtime, and the psychedelic rock and funk of the Ugly Creatures are explored through the exhibition, which also centers bands and artists such as The Dead Wood, The Rocking Kwela Boys, Children of Pluto and more.

"There are many reasons why you've never heard this music before," Moongo continues. "It was censored, suppressed, prohibited and made almost impossible to listen to. Its creators are either long gone or have given up on music making, by reasons of adversity, death and despair. And yet this beautiful music exists with a liveliness, as if it had never stopped playing. It is still in the minds of the few who can remember, with the ones who played it, and on those rare recordings that have survived in archives and record collections scattered around the globe. Allow me to share these stolen moments with you."

Photo (c) Dieter Hinrichs


Photo (c) John Liebenberg

***

"Stolen Moments" is now showing at the Brunei Gallery in London and runs through Sept 21.

popular

Foul Language and Depictions of Rape Spur a Book Recall Campaign in Kenya

Kenya's Top Book seller pulls a South African book for youth due to foul language.

A main book supplier in Kenya, Text Book Centre, has announced that they would not stock a book due to its "vulgar and foul language." The book, Blood Ties, was written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlanzeli. The banning comes just after a video went viral in Kenya of a school child having a verbal outburst peppered with strong language. As reported by BBC, the removal was sparked by parents showing outrage after excerpts from the book were shared on twitter. These excerpts contained use of the f-word as well as a description of a rape scene.

As per their statement, the Text Book Centre claims they believe in "upholding high moral standards and raising generations of responsible citizens who are not only educated but ethical." The Kenyan publisher, StoryMoja, has defended the book in a statement of their own. They argue that the book is part of a new series showcasing books that deal with "contemporary societal issues" and that this particular book is a fictional story that grapples with the negative repercussions of peer pressure. "In actual fact, the book guides readers on the steps to take should they find themselves in a similar situation and underscores the sensitivity with which victims of sexual abuse should be treated." The statement also highlights the fact that the publishers had listed Blood Ties for readers in high school or above.


The discrepancy is that some schools have recommended the book as a reader – meaning for younger children aged 12 or 13 – though it has not been approved by the Kenyan Institute of Curricular Development (KICD), the entity in charge of managing texts used in schools. In a tweet, the KICD claimed that the book was not approved and that some teachers may be recommending texts without ensuring they were endorsed by the KICD. The dispute is sparking debate as to what should be taught in Kenyan schools.

As of late this morning, StoryMoja is in the process of recalling all copies of the book from stores and schools across Kenya. In a tweet they claim that it is because they have determined the language used in the book is the issue and not the subject matter.

Censorship is always a contested topic, just last month we reported on Nigerian authorities censoring a music video for "threatening security." Also, Kenya's censorship tactics have been in the global eye since a refusal to screen the film Rafiki for its homosexual heroines despite being lauded at international film festivals.

Here are some reactions from Kenyans on Twitter:





get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.