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No Stone unturned

It's a place. Brian Jones went there in the Sixties. It's also a type of music. Now Joujouka is back, in more ways than one. It's all very confusing. By Philip Sweeney
Did Brian Jones ever guess at what he had started when he made his way from the Minzeh hotel in Tangier some time in 1968 to a village in the Rif mountains, 100 kilometres to the south, to undertake what turned out to be his last recording project? Judging by contemporary accounts of Jones - stoned semi-comatose in Chelsea apartments, or playing non- existent basses on Covent Garden nightclub stages - the extent to which his imagination, and other aspects of cerebral activity, functioned was highly debatable.

The story of Brian Jones and Joujouka, and indeed of the phenomenon of Joujouka music itself, tends to rely heavily on extracts from a small bibliography: in the first place, a handful of pieces by Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and, to a lesser extent, Timothy Leary, and the unreliable but prolific newcomer Steven Davis, author of a 1993 novelisation Joujouka Rolling Stone. Tangier pioneer Bowles, composer and musicologist before writer, probably "discovered" the hermetic, hereditary Joujouka musician caste in the late 1940s, and introduced their sound to the painter and writer Brion Gysin when Gysin came over from Paris looking for a new direction to his life. Gysin was so knocked out by the musicians that he engaged a group of them as house band at the restaurant he opened in an old Tangier palace, the 1001 Knights. It was here that Burroughs, Leary, Joe Orton and countless other members of the beat generation, the ensuing rock generation, and assorted seekers after Tangier's drugs, homosexual liaisons and general eroticism encountered them.

It was Gysin who took Brian Jones to Joujouka to record the album released in 1971 as Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka, and an account by Gysin novelised by Steven Davis has the Rolling Stone in Afghan coat, spending one night at the guest house in Joujouka, where he gasped in stoned premonition at the resemblance of a long-haired blond goat slaughtered for supper to himself, recorded a hasty approximation of the Joujouka's ceremonial music and left ecstatic to pore over the tapes and add electronic effects.

Evidently Jones's visit made an impression on the 400 or so villagers. William Burroughs's account of his visit five years later with the next celebrity recorder, the jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, features the refrain of a drummer named Berdouz: "Very good. Very good everything. Out of sight."

And here is the very same Berdouz, now a sprightly 80, sitting two musicians away from me in the circle of djellaba-clad figures in a Cotswold farmhouse, chuckling "very good" and doing Brian Jones in headphones impressions when I ask him for his recollection of the 1968 visit. Berdouz's real name, it transpires, is Mohamed Attar, and there are three more Mohamed Attars among the 13 musicians here, as well as a Mustapha Attar and a Bachir Attar. The latter, now leader of the group, but an eight-year-old apprentice drummer in 1968, is telling me how the Attar family inherited the gift of their unique music from an ancestor who emigrated from Persia centuries ago, and how impostors will stoop to changing their names to Attar to claim the status of a Joujouka musician. Bachir makes it very clear, in response to my questions on how to contact master musicians of Joujouka, that, whether I ask at the Hotel Central in Tangier or make my way up the track to the village itself, I must always specify in my enquiries the master musicians of Bachir Attar.

We are in the house of the film composer John du Pre, and the musicians are temporarily headquartered on an assortment of camp beds upstairs, partly because Du Pre is planning to use extracts of their music in his soundtrack for Fierce Creatures, the sequel to A Fish Called Wanda. In addition, they are touring Europe - Womad this weekend and the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday. And they have a new record out, but this is where things start to get confusing, not least for the British music press. Joujouka Black Eyes, just released, is, according to July's Mojo magazine, the new record from Bachir's group. But mention of this record to Bachir Attar brings snorts of indignation and much use of terms like "impostor" "rip off" and "hustler". Bachir Attar's Master Musicians of Jajouka's (sic, Bachir Attar claims the change of spelling is irrelevant) record is the re-release by Point Music of the original Joujouka record Brian Jones Presents etc. Of course, mention this project to people associated with Joujouka Black Eyes, and you'll get symmetrically indignant accusations of sharp dealing and skulduggery.

The two recordings feature the same instruments - ghita flutes and assorted drums - but are rather different in feel. Joujouka Black Eyes, recorded by an Irish musician named Frank Rynne in Joujouka during a lengthy stay this winter, is relatively restrained, with gentle solo passages, whereas The Pipes of Pan recording captures the wild blast of the full-spate Boujouloudia goat-god rituals which inspired so much purple prose from the beats. "Women... scream with throats open to the gullet, lolling tongues around their empty heads... More and No more and No! More! Pipes crack in your head," wrote Brion Gysin, and it's true Joujouka at times resembles nothing so much as a Scottish regimental pipe band running amok on a mixture of amphetamine sulphate, Special Brew and helium. ("How did you play at the 1001 Knights?" I asked Berdouz, trying to imagine Tangier socialites nibbling pastela aux pigeonneaux against such fiendish muzak. "After they'd finished eating," was the reply.)

What is the schism that has apparently divided Joujouka? From the morass of unverifiable claims and counter-claims, it would appear to centre around a shift of the external leadership of the Joujouka musicians towards Bachir Attar over the past decade, coupled with an argument over who may be counted a "master musician of Joujouka [or Jajouka]". "Only 19 practising musicians connected to my family," says Bachir Attar, who claims leadership was conferred on him by his father, the master Hadj Abdesalam Attar, before his death in 1981. "A much larger number, belonging to the regional Serifya Folklore Association, which signed the original recording contract with Brian Jones," claims Frank Rynne, co-producer of Black Eyes. "These are not real musicians, and many are not from the village, and anyway, I'm the president of the Folklore Association, if it exists," ripostes Bachir. "No, the president is Mohamed Hamri, who signed the original Brian Jones contract and painted the cover artwork, which is now dropped from the re-release sleeve," says Rynne. "We dropped Hamri's art because we don't want anything more to do with him," says Bachir. "We've got a new contract now, and he's a hustler." And so on. In the Cotswold farmhouse Boujeloud the goat-god sips his mint tea and lights another Marlboro. To be continued.

n Womad Festival, Rivermead, Reading (01734 591591) to Sunday; Monday, QEH (0171-928 8800); 'Brian Jones Presents' by the Master Musicians of Jajouka (Point Music) and 'Joujouka Black Eyes' by the Master Musicians of Joujouka (Le Coeur du Monde) on release