Rock’n roll Morocco
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Jajouka, Morocco - Driving through tiny villages set in sunny wheatfields, we’re greeted by waves from friendly locals, many in colourful traditional clothes.
I am heading for Jajouka in Morocco, an easy and safe couple of hours south of Tangier, where the farming community contains fewer than 1 000 souls, as many sheep, and the 8th-century shrine of Sidi Ahmed Sheik, said to have healing powers.
It is also home to the celebrated Master Musicians who inspired the Rolling Stones in the Sixties.
In 1968, the American writer Paul Bowles — author of The Sheltering Sky, who moved to Jajouka in 1947 — took the flaxen-haired founder of the Stones, Brian Jones, here to record his album Pipes Of Pan.
They found that the centuries had scarcely touched the place and happily, it is still the same today.
As we tuck into goat stew, the Master Musicians’ leader Bachir Attar tells me how everyone turned up in the Sixties looking for wisdom. Hippie guru Timothy Leary rented a shack in the village, as did Beat writer William Burroughs.
It was Burroughs who dubbed the musicians here the “4 000-year-old rock and roll band”, as the music dates back to the mists of time when it became the favourite of the Sultan’s court.
Its discovery by the rest of the world should have made the village rich, but scarcely had he finished his album than Jones drowned in an accident, the royalties he promised never materialising. Fast forward to the Eighties, and Bachir and a photographer friend of Bowles’, Cherie Nutting, wrote to Mick Jagger. Bashir recalls he was so surprised when Jagger himself phoned that he hung up, thinking it a prank. Soon the Stones’ astute manager was asking how much the villagers would pay the band to visit.
Cherie’s answer was: “We would love to pay you, but where we are living the children have no shoes.” She remembers the Stones gave the village $4 000 (about R48 000).
The stories keep coming. The Stones were in the middle of one of their perennial spats when Bashir first met them for dinner in Tangier. Jagger ate alone at one table, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood at another.
Later, in the healing atmosphere of Jajouka, they put their differences aside, donned local robes, jammed with the Masters and incorporated the ancient rhythms into their 1989 track Continental Drift.
Cherie’s passion is still keeping the music alive. The village now stages an annual festival, but it could so easily be lost to TVs and Xboxes. Children are happy dancing to the pipes and drums but seem less keen on mastering the ancient instruments themselves.
While Jajoukans live in stark simplicity, walking miles to fetch water when the wells run dry in August, the bustling town of Ksar Kabir is only down the road.
Bachir’s dream is to open a guesthouse for European visitors and start a music school so the children don’t forget their heritage.
Will the Stones themselves visit again? Jagger still goes to Tangier to stay with expat friends on the fashionable Old Mountain and buys ewellery in the souk.
Me? I’ve long had a love affair with this wonderful white city, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic. Today, it is a burgeoning metropolis with golf courses and next year, a fast train which will reach Marrakech in two hours. I spend one evening at the Chellah restaurant on the beach where American playwright Tennessee Williams used to watch the local lads play. Few urchins now, just fresh fish and Frank Sinatra songs.
My farewell dinner is at the trendy El Morocco nightclub in the Kasbah, the area where 17th-century English diarist Samuel Pepys used to live.
All this history, twinned with the comforts of modern living, makes a visit to Tangier irresistible and a detour to unspoilt Jajouka essential.
Stay at the The Royal Tulip Town Centre (royal tulipcity-centertanger.com, 00212 800 358 0846) in Tangier from £69 (about R1 500) per double room B&B. The 2016 Jajouka Festival takes place August 26-28, visit jajouka.com.