Monday, February 15, 2021

Paul Bowles' Library of Congress Moroccan Tape Stash Is On YouTube

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: 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:

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!


  1. Please let me know if any of you find any errors in the playlists, or if you have any suggestions to make navigation easier.

  2. The Jewish tracks from Essaouira and Meknes were released as a 2-CD set by Rounder in 2000:

  3. Can't wait to read this, Tim!

  4. WOW--you really have done a great service to Bowles and Moroccan music fans. THANK YOU

  5. Hi Tim, a great post, as always. I was planning to publish the same article but you beat me on time. Then :

  6. Hi, is there a chance to get those tapes as .mp3 downloads instead of YouTube links? Thanks in advance.

    1. Hello Maren Nkrumah - sorry, I do not have copies of these recordings as mp3s.

  7. Sorry brothers, but the link that i've posted above doesn't work ?

  8. thecurtainwith: