The oldest and most exclusive dance party in the world, takes part in Morocco

Written by Souad El Mghari

In a recent article, the reputable music magazine Rolling Stones narrated about the Master Musicians of Joujouka music festival; the oldest and most sought after dance party in the whole, and that takes place in Morocco.

Held in the isolated Ahl Srif region of Morocco's Rif Mountains, the annual Master Musicians of Joujouka music festival is a long holding musical event, that is so select and exclusive that most of us are just hearing about it for the first time through the magazine Rolling Stones. This year attracting over 40 attendees, the festival welcomed filmmakers, writers, musicians, teachers, students, social workers, artists, designers, academics, people who work for insurance companies and mines, two professional belly dancers and one herpetologist. Often described as an “anti-music” festival, the event takes a free-flow, improvising nature, where nothing is announced or even planned, just pure musical bliss.

Musically active since the 1950’s, the “now” protagonists of the festival; the Master Musicians of Joujouka got more popular once noticed by writer Paul Bowles and Canadian artist Brion Gysin who were based in Tangier, at a Sufi festival. As the two expats fell in love with the music, they then befriended the Masters, through their painter friend Mohamed Hamri, who had familial ties to Joukouka.

Becoming later the house band of Gysin and Hamri’s Tangier restaurant, the Master Musicians of Joujouka got more noticed and introduced to the likes of Timothy Leary, William Burroughs and other American beats, as well as the Rolling Stones, whose guitarist Brian Jones went on to produce the Masters’ first album, “Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan” in 1969. Shortly after that, jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman arrived to record with the Masters, and later all played at England's Glastonbury Festival and elsewhere on a three-month tour.

Through all of those recordings and performances, the music masters built slowly an international following, which included Frank Rynne from Dublin, who first visited the village in 1994 to produce a record “Joujouka Black Eyes” and has been their manager ever since, producing more albums, organizing tours and, for the past eight years, the festival. Describing it as "The festival began to give the Master Musicians of Joujouka a voice and a place where they could show people that they were truly the masters of their village and their music. For their own community, it shows the younger generation that there is a future in the music, as each year people come from across the world and show devotion to their parents' playing, culture and hospitality. And they want it to continue. They feel this music in their hearts; it's in their blood", the proud manager went on to add: “Once it started it can't be stopped. Each year is unique, a different set of people, a new energy, and the Masters feed off that. By organizing the festival, I get to hear three days of the greatest trance music played live, and no two performances are the same. The only thing each year guarantees is that the Master Musicians of Joujouka will push it a notch more intense than the one before".