Brian Jones wandered into the Moroccan village of Jajouka in July 1968, just as the Rolling Stones were putting the finishing touches to Beggar’s Banquet back at Olympic studios in Barnes. By this time, Jones had become a peripheral figure in the band, his attendance at sessions sporadic and rarely productive. Jean-Luc Godard’s movie Sympathy For The Devil (One Plus One), shot a few months earlier, shows him a disconsolate, shambling figure strumming an inaudible guitar, an irrelevance in the band he’d formed and had once led.
The strain on Jones was one thing, but while his flight to Morocco might have been an escape from a painful situation, going in search of the exotic was an industry standard for leisured rock stars of the time (earlier in 1968 The Beatles had decamped to Rishikesh, in northern India, to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). Legend has Jones walking into Jajouka (often spelt Joujouka, confusingly) wearing a long Afghan coat, the first ‘hippy’ to visit the village, bringing a touch of the mystery he was himself seeking. Such was the impression he made, decades later villagers would talk about his arrival as a mythic event. Legend and myth are the operative words, as verifiable details about the episode are scarce. Perhaps that’s why Stones biographer Stephen Davis wrote his account – Jajouka Rolling Stone – as a novel, not a history.
With that in mind, this is what (probably) happened. Morocco had long attracted European and American artists, rogue intellectuals and Beats. Jones himself had visited North Africa before, most recently at the end of a misbegotten road trip with Keith Richards and Jones’ then-girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg, who transferred her loyalties to Richards during the course of the escapade. Tangiers in particular – cosmopolitan, cheap – seemed to hold out an enticing hand, offering the promise of freedom. The American writer/composer Paul Bowles had made his home there in 1947, and served as a guide to many visitors over the years, including Canadian artist/writer Brion Gysin. In 1950, Bowles took Gysin to a festival in Sidi-Kacem, where a hereditary group of Jbala Sufi trance musicians that we now know as the Master Musicians of Joujouka were performing. Later, Gysin visited the musicians in their home village, in the Ahl-Srif range of the southern Rif Mountains, accompanied by Moroccan painter Mohamed Hamri.
It was Gysin who led Jones to Jajouka in 1968. With them were Hamri, Jones’ girlfriend Suki Potier and a recording engineer, George Chkiantz, carrying a portable tape recorder. The group stayed for a short time – maybe just one night – to hear and record the Master Musicians of Joujouka in their home environment. Jones left with 90 minutes of music on tape, which he took back to England. He died on July 3, 1969, just under a year later. The tapes were finally released, on Rolling Stones Records, over two years after Jones’ demise as Brian Jones Presents The Pipes Of Pan at Joujouka. A painting by Hamri adorns the cover, including a representation of Jones. The album attracted some critical curiosity, sold modestly and was soon deleted. In 1995 it was reissued on CD with a photograph replacing Hamri’s painting, and the music, originally two side-long tracks, broken down into six titled pieces. By this time there were rival factions of master musicians doing the rounds at world music festivals, and for related contractual reasons the reissue was retitled Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan At Jajouka.
The album begins with polyrhythms beaten on tebels and tarijas – goatskin drums – accompanying reed instruments, rhai-tas. Later, call and response chants lead into solo improvisations on the flute-like lira, overlaid onto drones. The appeal of the repetitive, trance-like music to stoned explorers in pursuit of transcendence is easy to grasp. The album is not an unadorned document of Jajouka music, however. It is, effectively, a Brian Jones remix. In the months after returning from Morocco he re-tooled the tapes for the psychedelic age, adding phasing, stereo panning, echo, re-verb and loops, and edited them down to album length. The rhaita section that commences the album sounds in places like a squalling flock of birds, but this is attributable more to Jones’ phasing and reverb than to the performances themselves.
In his liner notes Jones called the tracks “a specially chosen representation” of the villagers’ music. It is as much a representation of Jones: a musical hybrid born as he superimposed his own cultural perspective onto the source material. In doing this he joined a Western bohemian lineage fascinated by Jajouka, including Gysin, William Burroughs and Timothy Leary. It was Gysin who connected the music’s accompaniment of a village ritual, when a boy is dressed in a goatskin in deference to the pagan god Pan (thus the subsequent reference to Pan in the album title). To Leary, the master musicians were “a 4,000 year old rock’n’roll band”.
In his middle years as a Stone, Jones demonstrated a questing interest in many instruments and genres. Pipes of Pan is a late example of this. Those same years indicate that Jones was not a composer of depth or originality – his soundtrack to Degree of Murder being little more than a competent run through period tropes. Might a curatorial role, championing music unfamiliar to Western ears, have beckoned instead? Maybe, but with bare facts so scarce, interpretation of the significance to Jones of this recording must remain speculative.
Premature death conferred on Jones a posthumous status that led to inflated assertions, of which Pan is sometimes a victim. In reality, it was not the first ‘world music’ album, as is often stated – Elektra, for example, had been issuing music from around the globe since the ’50s. By editing and processing the tapes, Jones placed what started as a field recording into limbo; it was neither a post-colonial cultural land-grab nor an authentic ethnographic document. It lodged somewhere between George Harrison’s (and others, including Jones’) genuine but limited interest in the Indian sitar and the 1971 novelty hit ‘Burundi Black’, which featured a sample of Burundi drummers looped and overlaid with a rock arrangement by French record producer Michel Bernholc.
Had it been issued in 1968, even in its manipulated form, Pan would have been an anomaly, but at least in keeping with the spirit of the age. As it is, released three years after the Stones, and most of the rest of rock’s privileged class, had abandoned drones, mysticism and psychedelia, it is just an anomaly, albeit an intriguing one.