A Fable of Gods and Heroes
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 Ostensibly a novel about the legendary Moroccan tribe of musicians, this awkward narrative by the rock critic Davis (Hammer of the Gods, 1985) reads more like a work of pop ethnomusicology. One suspects that lawyers had more to do with its classification than any generic considerations by the author. In any case, Davis's tale of ``Roman gods and Muslim saints, Rolling Stones and Moroccan tribes'' is a fine travelogue of modern Africa, with walk-on speaking roles by such real-life figures as William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Bernardo Bertolucci. What they all share is a fascination with the Master Musicians of Jajouka, a tribal group from a remote Moroccan hill town who preserve an Islamic type of music brought from medieval Spain when the Moors were expelled in the 15th century. Central to their musical celebrations is a Greco- Roman Arcadian ritual in which a local young man plays the role of Bou Jeloud, a half-man, half-goat flutist with mystical powers of fertility. Davis' narrative takes its shape from the narrator's journalistic efforts to make the musicians' way of life known throughout the world, inspired by the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones, who first recorded their sound in the late 60's. Throughout the 70's, the unnamed narrator tries to sell various editors on the story of this magical group, but their commercial appeal remains limited, their legend obscure. Finally, in the 80's, an ambitious entrepreneur brings Jajouka to Europe, and this tour is the beginning of the end. No longer a premodern band of folk musicians, the group is split by bickering over money and leadership. Amazingly, though, the narrator never once considers what is a basic notion among contemporary anthropologists: his own role as participant-observer and how it inevitably alters the history of this once-unsullied music. The trite observations about cultures clashing and the wide- eyed acceptance of Jajouka's mystical power make this weak social science. And Davis's lumpy narration, with its perfunctory dialogue, hardly redeems itself as fiction.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-42119-X
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993


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