On the 1st October 2019, in the historic surroundings of Peterhouse, Cambridge University's oldest college, the ‘Past and Present Musical Encounters across the Strait of Gibraltar’ project was delighted to welcome the French musician, Marc Loopuyt, who lead a workshop and lecture-recital entitled ‘Mirroring Musical Traditions of the Two Andalusias’. Born in France in 1947, Marc Loopuyt is well-respected as a master of various musical traditions from Spain, North Africa and the Middle East, with specialisms in flamenco guitar and Moroccan Arab-Andalusian music. His life story is one of travel, musical encounter and cultural immersion. “When I was 15, I met two immigrant workers from Córdoba [in Spain], a guitarist and a singer, and by studying with them I came into the Mediterranean world”, Marc explained. After this initial immersion in the flamenco tradition, he spent three years living and travelling in Spain learning to perform flamenco, before, in his own words, “the Moroccan mountains called me and I crossed the channel”. Intrigued by the musical connections and intertwined cultural histories between Spain and Morocco, Marc settled in Morocco for nine years where he learned to play the oud from great masters of the Arab-Andalusian tradition. Following his time in Morocco and attracted by the art of the Turkish master Cinuçen Tanrıkorur, Marc travelled to Turkey where he learnt Turkish art and folk music traditions, before studying for a year in Azerbaijan with the singer Agha Karim Bey.
Marc’s visit to Cambridge gave the participants a glimpse into this vast and varied musical background. The event started with a workshop in the wonderful, acoustically-rich space of Peterhouse chapel that sought to explore some of the musical connections in terms of rhythm and modality between the two shores of the Strait of Gibraltar. We had a varied group of participants from highly-trained classical musicians, amateur musicians and those with no musical ability whatsoever. The workshop began with an exploration of rhythmic patterns germane to both flamenco and Moroccan Arab-Andalusian and popular music. Using just our hands and body, Marc illustrated the points of connection between Moroccan rhythmic structures such as haddari and sha’abi and flamenco forms such as tango, tanguillos and soleares. Particularly challenging for the group was a Moroccan children’s rhythmic game in which we needed to combine three separate rhythmic patterns (performed with hands and feet) into a complex polyrhythmic structure.
Throughout the workshop, Marc shifted between oud and flamenco guitar performance, providing the musical context to these rhythmic patterns. Marc explains that while “each instrument has got a very different language, both use melodic and rhythmic modes that enable improvisation”, and it is this threading together of modality and improvisation that for him forms the foundation of his musical explorations across the Strait. In this vein, the workshop ended with an instrumental improvisation around modes unique to flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music. What became clear throughout the workshop was Marc’s strong belief in the power of oral transmission, a style of musical learning that characterises many musical traditions across the Mediterranean basin – even so-called ‘art’ or ‘classical’ musics (such as Arab-Andalusain musica and taqsim). Marc explained: “The point of traditional music is that it receives the heritage of the past through oral transmission, which enables vivid recreation in the very moment. The traditional artist, in Arabic is said to be ‘the son of the moment’”.