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An Evening with Jauk

By Eric Petzoldt


On February 27, 2020, I was able to contribute to a special event dedicated to one of Morocco’s most prominent jazzmen, Jauk Armand Elmaleh-Lemal or better known just as Jauk. The workshop-lecture, which he and I organised together with Mohamed Rachdi, took place at the H2.61|26 art space at Rue Hassan II right in the heart of Casablanca’s city centre. Rachdi, a visual artist, curator, art critic and scholar has recently created the series Les Doigts dans l’Oreille (the fingers in the ear), which we were delighted to open with our event entitled Jaukadakka Promesses Afromed: Jazz au Maroc et Jazz du Maroc (Jaukadakka promises Afromed: Jazz in Morocco and Moroccan Jazz).

The event included a 1-hour workshop-lecture by Jauk, live music, a 15-minute presentation on my research project, a discussion and lively conversations during a dinner generously provided by H2. One of our main objectives was to discuss both jazz in Morocco, understood as the result of musical migrations from the USA and Europe, and the Moroccanisation of jazz. Although the evening paid homage to relatively well-known musical encounters between Moroccans and African-American jazz musicians such as Randy Weston, Pharoah Sanders, Ornette Coleman and Archie Shepp, the prime focus of this conference lied in tracing Jauk’s own musical journey, philosophy and methodological framework of Dakkajazz, Afro-Med and choréo-musique.

We arrive at H2|61.26 with Jauk’s trailer full of percussion


His Dakkajazz is a product of migration. As Jauk stated during the conference, he does not only draw from the many crossings of the Atlantic by Africans to North America (and back to Africa), but equally considers jazz in France and how it moved and moves in between North Africa and Europe (hence, Afro-Med). The fundamental element, dakka, which means ‘beating’ or ‘knocking’ in Darija (Moroccan Arabic), refers to different Berber musics from Morocco – for example, the dakka roudaniafrom Taroudant, which is performed at religious, festive and life cycle events by the Tashelhit-speaking Chleuh populations of the Souss Valley. From there, according to Jauk, this music migrated to Marrakesh, where it is known as dakka marrakchia formulated its own particularities over time. It shares much with the ahwash community dances from the High and Anti-Atlas mountains. While nowadays a common tourist attraction in cities such as Marrakesh, dakka is also heard during ‘Āshūrā (the 10th of Muharram, which is the first month of the Muslim calendar). Usually, a variety of percussion instruments are used (darbuka, taarija, daf, tbel, qraqeb) and, occasionally, trumpets (nfir) are added.

The beating of the drum, clapping of hands, accelerating tempo and repeated, interwoven one syllable calls of the dakkaensembles creates an intense bodily experience. In order to reach this state, polyrhythms are beaten. As Schuyler (2001) describes:

‘The ahwash drum choir includes from three to over 30 drummers, organized into parts. The largest group, usually comprising the least experienced musicians, lays down the basic beat, a second group plays a counter rhythm and a third (usually only one drummer) improvises against both on the tightest, sharpest drum.’

During the conference, Jauk made the audience clap and feel the superimposition of different rhythms to a basic beat. Very much in line with Schuyler’s description of the ahwash drum choirs, Jauk reported on his own experiences of playing with ahwash groups.

‘Sans le rythme, rien n’est possible’: Jauk demonstrating how to superimpose a rhythmic figure on top of others (Photos: Mohammed Rachdi/Chafik Aaziz)


The second part of his talk included a biographical account of his life and encounters with music. He was born in Casablanca in 1944 as Amram Elmaleh to a Jewish-Sephardic mother and a Jewish-Amazigh father, who passed away when Jauk was two. Later, his mother married Émile Poissonier, a Christian retired senior civil servant and co-founder of the electricity sector in Morocco at the start of the French protectorate. While growing up in a multifaith (Jewish-Muslim-Christian) and multilingual (French, Moroccan Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Berber) community, he developed a deep interest in music and dance. He formed his first group Les Anges Bleues (The Blue Angels Band), which later became Les Jaguars, with whom he began recording in the early 1960s. At the time, he and his band were coached by veterinarian, crooner, guitarist and jazz aficionado Flore Artheny, who lived and worked at the slaughterhouses of Casablanca, situated in the quarter Hay Mohammadi. They played waltzes, tangos and paso dobles, but also tunes reminiscent of The Shadows. Artheny gave workshops on jazz and together with him Jauk and his peers learned how to play pieces by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, such as Take Five and Blue Rondo à la Turk. Soon after, they performed in clubs, restaurants, hotels and music-halls in Casablanca’s coastal area La Corniche (Ain Diab) and, occasionally, in Marbella in Spain. In the beginning of the 1960s, Jauk formed the ensemble Jaukadakka, which presented a mixture of Berber musics with an electric guitar and a drum set. Jaukadakka, which roughly translates to ‘rhythm band’ (‘jauk’ means ‘group’ in Moroccan Arabic), represented a first attempt to fuse jazz and US-American popular music aesthetics and playing styles with dakka. In 1962, he composed his original Dakka, which he plays until this very day.

Jauk’s group Jaukadakka in Marrakesh at the Parc du Casino in 1961

(Archive Elmaleh-Lemal)


In 1968, Jauk moved to France, where he worked for ballets and dance theaters, played free jazz and taught choréosophie, his own pedagogy on how to study rhythm. By then, he introduced his own ensemble as Jauk Armal (Armal being derived from his newly chosen name Armand Lemal). Jauk in Jauk Armal, which meant Armal’s ‘group’, was taken for his prename. He liked the idea and has used it as another prename ever since. You can find this playfulness with names, actually a very ‘jazzy thing’, in all of Jauk’s musical and pedagogical works.

In the 1970s, he founded the first dance course at the Université à la Sorbonne in Paris, which he presided for twelve consecutive years. He gave workshops for dancers and children at schools, conservatories, universities and festivals. In 1983, he created his Opera Dakka at Le Printemps de Bourges. In 1994, he moved from Paris to Marseille and began to travel to Morocco more often. There, he founded the association l’Avie (Art Vie Initiative Education) and co-chaired the first competition for young musicians of the Boulevard Festival in Casablanca in 1999. He has been active in the Moroccan music scene ever since and has partnered with Le Boultek, Atlas Electronic, L’Boulvard, the La Fabrique Culturelle de Casablanca and the Théâtre Nomade. A significant meeting took place at the Fabrique Culturelle in 2010, when Jauk jammed with African-American percussionist Don Moye, member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, whom Jauk had met in the 1970s in Paris. The evening at H2 was full of stories and anecdotes like these spanning his 60-year long career, from which he does not make any attempt to retire. For a more nuanced biography in French, see Jauk’s website.


After his presentation, the Casablanca-born trumpeter Mohammed Bakkar, the Italian and Berklee School of Music-trained pianist Guiseppe di Gregorio and I joined Jauk to play extracts from his compositions. In addition, we tuned into Blue Monk, a Thelonious Monk original, as Jauk demonstrated putting different rhythms under the melody and harmonies of this 12-bar blues form.

The role of jazz workshops in present-day Morocco (Photo: Chafik Aaziz)


I continued to give a short overview of my ongoing research on jazz in Morocco, intercultural dialogue and music diplomacy. In addition, di Gregorio and Bakkar introduced themselves, sketched their own musical path and thus concluded the ‘concerference’ (concert plus conference), as Bakkar had coined it earlier this evening. Di Gregorio spoke of his 15-year long musical, spiritual and philosophical journey, which jazz has offered him, and how mentors like Danilo Perez had encouraged him on following his own way. Since 2009 primarily based in Casablanca and never having really felt ‘only Italian’, he underlined that he would truly identify himself as an Afro-Mediterranean. In his music-making in Morocco and because of the meeting with Jauk, he added, he would have come closer to his personal roots.

Left: Pianist Guiseppe di Gregorio. Right: Trumpeter Mohammed Bakkar

(Photo: Chafik Aaziz)


Bakkar told the audience about his family background and that only his uncle would have played an instrument. Music would have been always a passion for him, but he had never considered it a way to earn a living. Then all of a sudden in 2015, he bought a trumpet and started playing. Jauk met him at the Fabrique Culturelle at the Old Slaughterhouses of Casablanca, where Bakkar ‘had a beautiful tone, but always played the same melody’. They started working together and Jauk integrated Bakkar in the first Moroccan marching band, which – joined by artists of Mohammed El Hassouni’s Théâtre Nomade – played on the streets of Casablanca during the 2016 edition of Jazzablanca.

‘Jauk à dakkaiser les standards du jazz’, Bakkar ended his talk. And right after, Jauk started to sing the melody of My Favorite Things, the 1959 Rodgers and Hammerstein tune from their musical The Sound of Music. Jauk immediately added to the melody, which, John Coltrane has explored in his elongated improvisations in the 1960s, his ‘takztakatak – takztakatak – takztakatak …’ implying the rhythmic components of dakka. And here we were at the end of our presentation, left for intimate discussions on the effects of the many crossings of the Atlantic, as My Favorite Things, once set to the story of Maria von Trapp, her escape from Nazi Europe and her emigration to the United States, became ‘dakkaised’ by one of Morocco’s original Afro-Mediterranean jazzmen.


The Atlantic Ocean next to the Mosque Hassan II: The view from the balcony of the H2 art space


The online magazine Femmes du Maroc has published a short article on the event. In Englisch, see https://moroccanladies.com/breaking-news/unconventional-music-workshop-jauk-casablanca-31701. In French, see https://femmesdumaroc.com/actualite/jauk-fait-son-show-a-casablanca-58257.

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