Daragh McCarthy introduces Film Ireland to the music of the legendary Master Musicians of Joujouka.
I first heard about the legendary Sufi Master Musicians of Joujouka many years ago through the writings of Beat Generation luminaries Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones and various recordings passed around on cassette and later from better CD recordings by Irish man Frank Rynne, who subsequently has become the group’s manager.
They have acquired almost mythic status for their “panic music” and their limitless ability to play for many hours on end, deep into the night. They have understandably been sought out as collaborators by free-jazz pioneers like Ornette Coleman and cult rock and roll stars such as Patti Smith among many others.
The Master Musicians of Joujouka have been comprised of the Attar and other families from a village in the Rif Mountains of Morocco for several thousand years in a continuous tradition, with the music passed from fathers to sons.
William Burroughs called them a 4-thousand year old rock and roll band but even that might understate the genuine transcendence of music said to “heal crazy minds”.
I was invited to the village of Joujouka for the first truly public performance of the Boujeloud ritual in 2008 commemorating the 40th anniversary visit of Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones to the village in 1968 when he recorded his experimental album “The Pipes of Pan” with the Masters.
Flying from Paris, I first spent a few days in Tangier soaking up Beat Generation history staying at the Hotel El Muniria where writers Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac and Gergory Corso famously stayed decades earlier. Then we drove south to the village in jeeps. I lived and ate with the wonderful family of musician Abdeslam Errtoubi shooting continually for three days capturing the intense music, the milestone celebration and daily life of the village.
Boujeloud, corresponding perhaps to the Greek god Pan, is a half-man half-goat, who originally in Joujouka legend, gave the gift of music to a young shepherd from the village called Attar. In tandem with the gift of music came fertility for the crops. In return for these gifts Boujeloud demanded that he be given a wife.
Each year Boujeloud returns to the village coming down from the mountain to steal a girl from the village to be his young bride. Distracted by the wild playing of the musicians and dancing boys who masquerade as girls he returns to his cave empty handed and exhausted next morning. Normality returns to the village again and fertility is assured for another year
As this was the first year of the festival, it was hard to know for certain what would happen over the three days so I resolved to simply shoot what I saw and keep shooting. Using an observational style with a slight nod to ethnography the story that emerged is of a unique village with life suffused with music and still living closely with their myths.
I have to say also that some of my favourite moments in the film are simple intimate family meals even if the music is the “star” of the piece. The music is, however, definitely the star and I was stunned by what an extraordinary experience it is when you are present to hear it performed live. It truly is trance music and I had to catch myself on a couple of occasions as my mind was grabbed by a melody of a rhaita flute or one of the drummers rhythms and bring myself back to the camera job at hand.
The film has been nearly ten years in the making and has its very own rather weird and circuitous post-production story. It certainly didn’t fit in to any funding rubric and I had to put it down a number of times over the years to work on other projects. It undoubtedly fits the definition of a labour of love….
All credit goes to Ronan O’Muirgheasa for doing a superb job editing the project. Ronan is a very talented drummer and percussionist in his own right and I think he definitely brought those skills to his hugely sympathetic editing of the scenes of the Master Musicians performances in the film.
Boujeloud: Father of Skins couldn’t have been finished without the support and generosity of Lawrence Fee at Yard Media. I didn’t think a film could be made with substantial favours anymore! It’s hugely heartening and humbling that so many people from the industry rowed in with help and advice over the years.
I’m delighted to say the film recently won a bronze for short docs at Mexico International Film Festival and next year we plan to take the film to Joujouka for the first time for a public screening for the entire village. In’Sha’Allah.
Boujeloud: Father Of Skins screens at IndieCork in the Three Irish Documentaries selection @ 3pm on Tuesday, 10th October 2017.
IndieCork runs from 8 – 15 October 2017