A Labor Of Love For Mid-Century Moroccan Musical Diversity In 1959, Paul Bowles traveled around Morocco to record as much traditional music as he could. A new box set of those recordings tells almost as much about Bowles as it does Morocco half a century ago.
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'Music Of Morocco': A Labor Of Love For Mid-Century Moroccan Musical Diversity

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'Music Of Morocco': A Labor Of Love For Mid-Century Moroccan Musical Diversity

'Music Of Morocco': A Labor Of Love For Mid-Century Moroccan Musical Diversity

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In the 1930s, the American composer and author Paul Bowles went to Morocco. He fell in love with the country, especially its music. He eventually moved there and took it upon himself to record as much of Morocco's traditional music as he could.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAIS MAHAMAD BEN MOHAMMED AND ENSEMBLE SONG, "AOUADA TRIO - TAMANAR")

SHAPIRO: This comes from a four-CD box set called "Music Of Morocco" reviewer Banning Eyre says the recordings tell us almost as much about Bowles as they do about the Morocco he knew.

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Paul Bowles made these recordings for the Library of Congress during an intensive five-month period in 1959. He traveled far and wide by Volkswagen Beetle with a large reel-to-reel tape recorder. Often musicians had to come to locations where there was electricity, and Bowles would do his best to arrange them around his microphone to get the sound he desired.

In the northern city of Fes, he recorded an entire Andalusian orchestra, music with ties to medieval Moorish Spain.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABDELKRIM RAIS AND ENSEMBLE SONG, "EL HGAZ EL MCHARQI ANDALUZ CHORUS - FEZ")

EYRE: Now, Bowles was not a scholar out to study and survey. This was a labor of love. This four-CD set comes with 120-page booklet full of Bowles's colorful field notes and commentary, all compiled by ethnomusicologist Philip Schuyler. Schuyler points out that Bowles was willing to resort to surprising, even questionable tactics to get what he wanted.

One flute player insisted his instrument had to be accompanied by a drum. Bowles demanded that he play it alone, proclaiming the American government wished it.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHIKH HAMED BEL HADJ HAMADI BEN ALLAL AND ENSEMBLE SONG, "REH DIAL BENI BOUHIYA QSBAH SOLO - SEGANGAN")

EYRE: There's a fascinating contradiction here. Bowles always wants to record the most authentic, archaic, traditional version of everything except when something about that sound offends him personally like the buzzing metallic resonator on this traditional bass lute.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FULANI IRESA - MARRAKECH")

SI MOHAMMED BEL HASSAN SOUDANI: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Hearing that buzz as distortion, Bowles insists the resonator be removed and records this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GNAOUI SOLO SONG - MARRAKECH")

SI MOHAMMED BEL HASSAN SOUDANI: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: To listen through these diverse recordings and read Bowles's urgent, revelatory notes is to enter a realm of his psyche. Paul Bowles does not render these sometimes strident sounds safe or friendly, but he makes them his. And this collection has the power to lure us into his own deep hypnosis, his gut-level obsession with a North African land he's chosen to call home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALBAZAOUA WOMEN'S CHORUS - AIT OURIR")

MAALLEM AHMED GACHA AND ENSEMBLE: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Banning Eyre is a producer for Afropop Worldwide. He reviewed "Music Of Morocco" recorded by Paul Bowles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALBAZAOUA WOMEN'S CHORUS - AIT OURIR")

MAALLEM AHMED GACHA AND ENSEMBLE: (Singing in foreign language).

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