Saturday, July 5, 2014

Back to Jajouka

Last post is here.

Moroccans claim that full participation in life demands the regular contemplation of death.
I agree without reserve.
                                             - Paul Bowles, Without Stopping.

12/19/13  Jajouka, Morocco

It's about a 2 hour drive from the hotel to Jajouka, we arrive at 9:30 am.  It feels incredibly good to be back, senses heightened, the magic in the atmosphere still feels very much present.  It's an atmosphere and environs compounded by hundreds of years of filling these mountains with music and dancing the rites of Pan. Mild euphoria informs my view perhaps from restimulated memories of the epochal recording/filming expedition  Bill and I and about 28 others made to Jajouka in November of 1991, just over 22 years ago.   Bachir told me in Tangier a few of days ago that he considered Apocalypse Across the Sky the definitive recording of the Master Musicians of Jajouka.  We are trying to figure out a way to get the film released.  It's also an important document.

Jajouka hasn't changed much in the intervening years to this reporter's eye.  Electricity and a road up the mountain into the village make up the two prominent differences.  The day is brisk but milder than the winter weather at Ketama.  Bill is given a knock-off copy of a Fender Precision bass with the idea that he will play with the Master Musicians the next day in Volubilis.  He examines the bass then starts setting it up to play in tune.  Unsurprisingly, it needs a lot of work.  Jay had been requesting a bass for Laswell since the beginning of the trip, but they had been focusing their efforts on procuring him an acoustic Warwick Alien fretless bass, the same kind he used for his recent solo album Means of Deliverance.  Since the Warwick has no electronics, it would be difficult to hear over the amplitude of  Jajouka's horns and drums much less record.  Bill agrees that the electric bass, even this one that needs much adjustment, is far more appropriate in this context saying the Warwick wouldn't have worked.

Meanwhile the film crew gets all their gear ready for the hike to Boujeloud's cave.  The famous oversize Jajouka guest book is taken out and passed around, evidence of the many luminaries who have passed through.  I laugh at the naïve idealism of my entry from November of 1991.  It seems I felt on top of the world here in Jajouka at that time.  Some of the film people add entries to he book.  Dave, the art director, contributes a beautiful full page illustration, a storyboard-like drawing of the mise-en-scène.

The filming today starts at the fabled cave which local legend has it as the location where Boujeloud was born. Boujeloud, the trickster god, half goat, half man gets invoked whenever they perform the special rites for him which they did for Brian Jones when he visited and recorded the Master Musicians in 1968 at that time led by Bachir's father, Hadj Abdessalem Attar.  They also performed it for us in 1991 when we recorded Apocalypse Across the Sky, a name which describes the ritual and it's wake quite accurately.  

Brion Gysin has this to say about the ritual:

Westermark, in his book on pagan survivals in Morocco forty years ago, recognized their patron: Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, to be Pan the little goat god with his pipes. - See more at:
"Westermark, in his book on pagan survival skills in Morocco 40 years ago, recognized their patron Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, to be Pan the little goat god with his pipes."
Westermark, in his book on pagan survivals in Morocco forty years ago, recognized their patron: Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, to be Pan the little goat god with his pipes. - See more at:
Westermark, in his book on pagan survivals in Morocco forty years ago, recognized their patron: Bou Jeloud, the Father of Skins, to be Pan the little goat god with his pipes. - See more at:

Boujeloud does make a physical appearance.  A youth of about 18 or 19 whose job it is to take on this role until he gets too old dresses up in a goat skin and goes into a trance with the music assuming the Boujeloud godform, and indeed becoming him for all practical purposes.  The magic works, as anyone whose seen it will agree.

His cave is about a half hour to forty minute hike on a narrow, sometimes non-existent path across the lush greenery and shrubs of this peaceful (for the moment) mountain.  No climbing is involved until arriving at the cave where a rope has been strung to help people up over the sheerest stretch.

Catering is already there much to my disbelief.  Here I thought this some remote, exclusive hard to reach corner of the world and there I see a full-fledged portable kitchen with big pots of various hot food set up under tents.  They hauled everything in on mules, probably camped out the night before, and all the while looking as sharp and casual as any chef at Café de la Paix in Paris.  Once again, they earned my respect going far and beyond the call of duty to bring us good food we could eat.  

It initially felt great to be back in this cave working again, the cave where it All (Pan = All) began, where Boujeloud sprang out of the endless void into manifest existence - Boujeloud, the Moroccan expression of Pan.  I had recorded myself reciting Aleister Crowley's Hymn to Pan onto a DAT 22 years ago in this cave, a recording still in reserve.  My rig, boom stand, boom mic and 2 track recorder, was set up and ready to go.  Bachir began playing the rhaita in the cave while we waited and I got a good, close recording of it.

Can't talk about what we filmed in the cave but can say that it got progressively very intense, uncomfortably so for me.  It felt to me like the spirit of Boujeloud got quite large and strong, but in a wild, chaotic way due to the dynamics of the drama, the live theater that was taking place.  By several accounts,  theater in the ancient world was intended for invocational purposes, ie to draw down energies of a transhuman nature for various purposes - predict the future, reveal unknown information, etc.  It's therefore not surprising that this Boujeloud play, set in his home environment, his crib, succeeded by tuning in and conjuring the deity's sentient particulars. Only instead of being free to dance and prance about in a field, snapping at people with grass stalks, while the whole ritual gets driven by live repetitive trance music (the way he usually gets called down), his sphere of influence was now confined, for the moment, to this cave giving new meaning to the phrase "energy bouncing off of the walls."  Seemed more like ricocheting, jarring, darkside dreamwalking gusts of mood and resonance ramping back and forth in the space.  Stormy weather, right on the edge, maybe just beyond the comfort/safety zone.  I discovered experientially (and painfully) that there are aspects to being upfront and personal with a goat god in a closed environment that seem much like being locked in a cage with a barely domesticated tiger; heavy presence of animal musk and an unpredictable wildness that could break control at any moment.  Of course, much yoga and fiddling with the dials on the nervous system has sensitized my receptors to these textures of mood more than the average human animal - my friend Anton Fier ( Golden Palominos) used to call me "Oz Fritz ... the sensitive engineer." - so probably not everyone experienced it as directly, though in retrospect it appears the Moroccans were aware that something was up.  Even the weather changed from a sunny/overcast and pleasant day to darkening cloud cover then finally pouring torrential rain upon the last shot outdoors in a field, but I get ahead of the story. 

We broke for lunch after filming in the cave was completed.  I had no idea what was scheduled next so after eating I extracted myself from the herd of crew/catering/guides/and locals and hiked back to Bachir's compound in Jajouka where it was quiet and relaxed.  Bill had returned a little early and was seated on the divan continuing to work on his newly acquired electric bass.  Cherie Nutting was the only one else around.

I wasn't there long when a phone call came from Seloua directing me to the next location where sound was required - outdoors, in a pasture about two thirds of the way back to the cave.  We had about an hour of sufficient daylight left and the rain soon began pouring down.  Assistants held sheets of plastic over us and the cameras, filming continued until it was nearly dark.  I kept recording though the interference of the rain pounding into the plastic meant that this could only serve as a scratch track.  If this footage ever got used, new sound would have to get dubbed in.  The subject of the scene became thoroughly soaked but stayed cheerful plugging away at it seemingly mindful that the show must go on despite extreme discomfort.  The temperature had dropped considerably; he appeared visibly chilled.  A final wrap was called, we quickly packed up and bugged out.  Everyone else got soaked trekking back to the village along the narrow, slippery, muddy path.  It got dark quickly.  The rain slowed, but didn't stop.  I could just barely see and keep up with the person ahead of me trusting they knew the way.  The hike through the rain and mud seemed interminably long, another one of those times when I wondered if I was going to make it.  The gate through the fence into the village was a welcome sight indeed.

The day was over, the mood abruptly changed for the better as we came back to some semblance of home, Bachir's home, where he and Cherie's hospitality made it temporarily ours.  The rain stopped as we all staggered in.  Hot corn soup was served followed by barbeque chicken, incredibly delicious and enlivening.  Apologies began flying around like ghosts at a wake.  Erratic contact with bestial energies, a battle against the elements, and whatever else was going on had resulted in cracks of tension to our collective unit now in  the process of diffusion and regeneration. Death and rebirth. Despite the chaos and difficulties, much good footage had been captured, the day was a success by most accounts.

After dinner we made a hasty retreat, getting back on the road going south to make camp by the ancient Roman ruins at Volubilis for a short historic concert the next day.  The drive wasn't too far, the hotel looked a little Roman itself - large, cavernous, lots of dark shadows inside, multi-tiered room units outside ... but accommodating.  Felt great to get out of wet clothes and into a hot shower.  Afterwards I was able to completely relax, and detach from the body except every time I had to move, every muscle and nerve ending in my body registered stiffness and pain, like the body became a burdensome heavy cloak that I'd just as soon take off for the time being.  It had been one of the most physically demanding days of my life.