In 1959, noted American author and composer Paul Bowles made several trips around Morocco recording as many strains of Moroccan traditional music as he could capture. Bowles curated some of these recordings for release on a 1972 2-LP set "Music of Morocco" issued by the Library of Congress.
Bowles recounts some of the experiences of the 1959 recording project in the essay "The Rif, to Music" in his essay collection "Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue". For a deep dive into Bowles' musical upbringing and aesthetics and how these inform his recording project, it's well worth seeking out Philip Schuyler's essay "Music of Morocco: The Paul Bowles Collection", included in the 4-CD reissue and expansion of the Library of Congress album, released in 2016 by Dust to Digital. This release is one of the most beautiful artifacts in my own stash - from the ornate box to the leatherette-bound booklet down to the track selection, sequencing, and notes, everything was done with great care, thought, and taste.
If you can't find the box set, the album is available to purchase digitally at Bandcamp, including a pdf of the booklet. The album is also available to stream online through various platforms, though of course without the reading materials:
I had meant to post something about this back in 2016, but did not manage to do so. While scrolling through Twitter last week, I stumbled across a YouTube clip of a Gnawa recording I'd not heard before, originating from the Bowles' collection, but not issued as part of the LP or CD sets. The video was uploaded by Archnet, a digital resource sponsored by MIT and the Agha Khan Trust for Culture.
It turns out that Archnet has made the entire collection available online in YouTube form! 60 reels of tape! As Michael Toler of Archnet explains on his blog, these clips are raw transfers of the original tapes, so do not expect them to sound like the versions on Dust to Digital's release, which were nicely mastered to improve sound quality.
Still, what an amazing gift to be able to hear these tapes! As an additional gift, Archnet has uploaded a scan of Bowles' own typed notes on the recordings, which accompanied their submission to the Library of Congress: http://archnet.org/publications/10093. Excerpts from these notes appear in the Dust to Digital booklet, but you can now see the whole set.
I found the Archnet website difficult to navigate, and the way they have named the YouTube videoclips is inconsistent and often incomplete. So for my own benefit and yours, I have grouped the clips into YouTube playlists, which I hope are easier to navigate. The playlists are linked below. I generally named them by recording date, artist name/style and location. A small number of things listed by Archnet or in Bowles' notes are missing or mislabeled, but the links below will get you to nearly everything he recorded for the Library of Congress from August to December of 1959:
- 1956-08 Gnawa Tangier - This recording was submitted by Bowles to the LOC as a supplement to the 1959 recordings. It was made with "inferior equipment", but he deemed it to be important enough to submit.
- 1959-08-01 & 02 Cheikha Fatoma Bent Kaddour (Beni Mguild), Aïn Diab
- 1959-08-01 Moha ben Driss and Ensemble (Beni Mtir), Aïn Diab
- 1959-08-01 & 02 - Various Groups at the Moussem of Sidi Abderrahmane, Aïn Diab
- 1959-08-06 Hazan Semtob Knafo, Synagogue Elkahal, Essaouira
- 1959-08-06 Gnawa of Tamanar - Miloud Ben Barka Ensemble, Essaouira - Bowles lists 2 tracks for this group: 2B.1 and 2B.2. On YouTube I could only find 2B.2, but 2B.1 exists on Archnet's site here.
- 1959-08-08 Raïs Mahamed Ben Mohammed Ensemble (Beni Haha), Essaouira - Bowles recorded 3 reels of this group: 3B, 4B, and 7A. Archnet uploaded a video for 4B, but it contains the audio for 5B (Moha ben Driss Ensemble), so this playlist contains only 2 clips.
- 1959-08-12 El Ferqa dial Guedra Goulimine
- 1959-08-13 Amarg Tiznit - Rais Ahmed ben Bakrim and Group, Essaouira
- 1959-08-15 Ahouache Tafraoute - Maalem Ahmed and Ensemble, Tafraoute
- 1959-08-21, 08-24, and 06-XX - Muezzins, Tangier, Ain el Hayani
- 1959-08-27 Music of the Jbala - Maalem Abdeslam Sarsri el Mahet Arzila and Ensemble, Asilah
- 1959-09-04 Café Music of Tetuan - Bachir bel Hadj Hassan Bacali and group, Qahoua d’l Nadjah, Tetouan
- 1959-09-05 - Rais Mohammed el Khemissi and Ensemble (Rhmara Tribe), Tetouan - 7 tracks are listed on Archnet's site, but the YouTube link for the 4th clip is broken. However, it can be accessed via the download link at http://archnet.org/media_contents/116862
- 1959-09-09/10 Music of the Beni Ouriaghel Tribe, Einzoren, Rif
- 1959-09-15 Cheikh Hamed bel Hadj Hamadi ben Allal and Ensemble (Beni Bouifrour Tribe), Segangan
- 1959-09-20 Festival Music of Taza - Allal ben Mohammed Kaaoui and Ensemble, Taza
- 1959-09-21 Cheikh Ayyad ou Haddou and Ensemble (Beni Ouaraine Tribe, Middle Atlas), Tahala
- 1959-09-25 Andaluz Music of Fez - Abdelkrim·Rais, director (and rebab), Fez, Musée du Batha - Bowles' notes indicate that 2 reels of music were captured from the group: 26B and 27A. However, Archnet's link to 26B is broken, and their video for 27A contains the music from 27B (Taqtoqa Jabaliya).
- 1959-09-25 Taqtoqa Jabaliya - Maalem Mohammed Rhiati and Ensemble, Fez
- 1959-09-29 Andaluz and Melhoun - Members of the Family of the Chorfa of Ouezzane, Ouezzane
- 1959-10-18 Melhoun - Maalem El Hocein and Ensemble, Meknes - The third clip is labeled on YouTube as "32B", but the video itself contains the music and contextual information from "31A".
- 1959-10-19 Music of the Hamatcha - Valley of the Oued Boufekrane (near Meknes)
- 1959-10-20 Cheikha Haddouj bent Fatma Rohou and Ensemble (Zaiane Tribe, Middle Atlas), Khenifra
- 1959-10-24 Mohammed bel Hassan and group (Ait Bou Guemmaz Tribe), Ait Mohammed
- 1959-10-27 & 10-31 Guennaoua - Si Mohammed Bel Hassan Soudani, Marrakech
- 1959-10-28 & 10-31 Haouziya without and with cheikhat - Maalem Taieb ben Mbarek and Ensemble, Marrakech - Archet's site lists 7 clips. The 1st clip "39B" does exist on YouTube, but contains no audio. so I have omitted it from this playlist.
- 1959-10-28 Unknown Aouada player, Marrakech, Djemaa el Fna
- 1959-11-01 Embarek ben Mohammed (guinbri & voice), Melhoun and more, Marrakech
- 1959-11-04 Ahouache Misfioua - Maalem Ahmed Gacha (leader), Ait Ourir
- 1959-11-05 Ahouache Guidmioua - Larbi bel Hocein Nait ou Nasr (Moqaddem), Amizmiz
- 1959-11-25 Ahouache Ait Ouaouzguite - Maalem Hma M'barek (leader), Ouarzazate
- 1959-11-27 Music of the Draaoua - Moqaddem Mohammed ben Salem (leader), Zagora
- 1959-12-10 Muezzins, Fez, Bab Jamai
- 1959-12-12, 12-13, and 12-14 Jewish Devotional and Religious songs - ft. Hazan Isaac Ouanounou, Meknes, Synagogue Benamara and Talmud Thora School
- 1959-12-13 Chanson Moderne - Mohammed Mohiyeddine and his Orchestra, Meknes - Bowles calls this "chaabiya" in his liner notes. Perhaps it was described to him as "chaabi" or "popular", but it's not what we would call chaabi today, but rather âsri or chanson moderne. Also, Archnet has mislabeled 57A as 57B, and vice versa.
- 1959-12-18 Music of the Souassa - Rais el Hussein and his Ensemble, Marrakech
If time permits, I'll comment on some of the individual tapes in future posts. I'm of course loving the additional Gnawa material, in particular the hour's worth of material from 1956 (the first playlist above). Until then, there's plenty for you to explore!