Photographer, manager and producer Cherie Nutting talks about Paul Bowles, and Master Musicians of Jajouka

“The image stops time. It is the first primordial thought. We are here. Music is pre - image...It’s vibrations form both the image and all parallel realities...”

Cherie Nutting: The Perfume of Morocco

Cherie Nutting was born under the Taurus sign in Massachusetts, USA. She is a photographer and musical artist manager, known for her photographs of expatriate author and composer Paul Bowles. Bowles and Nutting collaborated on the book "Yesterday’s Perfume: An Intimate Memoir of Paul Bowles" (2000). The book, an impressionistic collage of many of Nutting's photographs and reminiscences of her close 13-year friendship with Bowles, and which also includes some of Bowles' journal entries, new essays and previously unpublished writings. She studied photography at the New England School of Photography and at the New York School of Visual Arts. In February 1989, Nutting married the Moroccan musician Bachir Attar, and she became manager for both the Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar. Nutting also helped to arrange logistics and Tangier location for the June 1989 recording sessions of the 'Master Musicians of Jajouka Featuring Bachir Attar', and the Rolling Stones, for the song "Continental Drift" on the Stones' Steel Wheels album.

Photo: Cherie Nutting & Paul Bowles

Cherie Nutting was an additional music coordinator for Bernardo Bertolucci's film adaptation of The Sheltering Sky and David Cronenberg's film adaptation of William S. Burroughs' novel the Naked Lunch. As official photographer for her husband's Master Musicians of Jajouka group, she contributed photos to the album booklets and covers for the group's album releases during the 1990s. Nutting also contributed photographs to Bachir Attar's '92 solo album. Her photos were included in a 1998 book about life in Tangier called The Tangier Diaries 1962 - 1979, by John Hopkins. Nutting continues to manage the Master Musicians, helping to arranging tours and performances for the group, as well as her photography.


Interview by Michael Limnios                             Photos © by Cherie Nutting

Cherie, when was your first desire to become involved in the photography?

I first became interested in photography as a small child. Both my father and grandfather were amateur photographers and they gave me cameras when I was very young. My parents and grandfather documented everything so I have over 100 yrs of photographs of our family history in slides and b&w photos.

I also have many of the Ad Men years in the 1950s as my Dad worked with Holiday Magazine...these were the real “Madmen” unlike the TV series we now see on the USA. When my Mother and I sailed on the SS Constitution in 1960 to live in Barcelona, I took my Brownie camera with me and she took the bigger camera which I also used. We both photographed our trips through N. Africa and Europe. Pictures were always the possessions that meant the most to me as a child.

How has the literature and counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The literature of the counterculture did not affect my life much. I am an avid reader but in youth it was travel and adventure that I sought. I went to a boarding school in Virgina and before that I was in Spain so the counter culture in books did not really arrive to my life until later. I think my adventuresome spirit was affected more by my mother and father regarding travel and freedom. My father worked for Holiday Magazine, so I was aware of the Beats as a child... but my parents were part of the martini set of advertising men, artists and businessmen where transactions were made over drinks at various parties and travel was part of my parents' lives. When I graduated from Highschool I saw the hippy days in the north but never really became a hippy (though I wore my bell bottom jeans). Travel was my main attraction. Later I read Paul Bowles'"The Sheltering Sky" and felt the book was written for me and so I sent " the story of my life" in a long letter to the author asking to photograph him in Tangier. He replied immediately inviting me to his home.

When I finally arrived mid Feb 1986, I fell in love with the author straight away. I stayed for a month and was asked to return in summertime and so I did and never left. I spent 17 years photographing Paul Bowles and his intimate circle in Tangier…In one night in 1988 I met Bachir in Paul's apartment and then another adventure began. The 2 loves of my life are Bachir and Paul.

"From travel I understand and accept many points of view. I also am addicted to the adventure and the story I find in each trip and I love the feeling of freedom while on the road. From Photography I see my way and hold on to memories that are important for the story to be told. From some music I find my passion either to dance the night away or slip into a slow moving trance." (Photo: Cherie Nutting, Paul Bowles and Bachir Attar, Tangier Morocco)

Happiness is… TRUE LOVE, Peace of Mind is… CREATIVITY; ADAPTABILITY; SELF RESPECT, Travel is… INTOXICATING, Life is… PASSION, Image is… THE FIRST TRUTH, Music is…THE SOURCE

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?

Better? Most everything. Avoid? Unnecessary Heartbreak.

Are there any memories from Master Musicians of Jajouka, Rolling Stones and Ornette Coleman which you’d like to share with us?

The day The Rolling Stones arrived in Tangier Bachir and I were exhausted because they would not let the equipment into the country, and we hadn't slept in weeks. I lost 10 pounds. Finally, Paul Bowles called Princess Lalla Fatima Zohra and in a few days the Stones recording equipment was admitted to the country. Then the Tangier hustlers took over and it was unsettling after so much work getting The Stones to Tangier. But the recording went well and I think "Continental Drift" was one of The Stones best songs. We will always be thankful to The Stones. I will always remember Ron Wood approaching me while offering me a Marlborogh saying "So you and Bachir are the people who wrote that great letter. Do you know how few letters get through to us? My wife Jo came out of the hospital just to meet you and Bachir." I took the Marlboro cigarette and said "Oh a cigarette from a Rolling Stone...I’ll take it and we laughed. Then the recordings started.

With Ornette all was always easy once we had our visas and arrived at the various venues where Jajouka and Ornette collaborated. Ornette was soft spoken and humble and treated everyone with great respect. My favorite time with Ornette was in 2009 when we all went to his apartment in NYC and recorded with him and other musicians throughout a long long night.  When I think of Jajouka music I love to remember my first tour with the 18 Musicians and how innocent they were at that time. At the airport everyone in Tangier was asking "who was this girl leading all these county men through customs?" I was trying to make them stand in line one by one.

Now they are pros regarding travel but in those days all was new. One-night Berdous went out of his 5* hotel room to look for Bachir having become lost and still wearing his nightgown he knocked on the wrong door 3x. He scared 2 ladies who called the desk and later they escorted him to his room. Another musician Abdellah became lost too and so sat up all night in the dining room hoping one of us would come in and find him. I have had many laughs with the musicians. One day the late Taher Bokhzar told the musicians " Aida (Cherie) is not like a woman she is like a friend!"...They all accepted my Western World behaviour. I was 1 woman surrounded by great men and feel so fortunate to have been able to experience life with these Masters.

"When I finally arrived mid Feb 1986, I fell in love with the author straight away.  I stayed for a month and was asked to return in summertime and so I did and never left. I spent 17 years photographing Paul Bowles and his intimate circle in Tangier…In one night in 1988 I met Bachir in Paul's apartment and then another adventure began. The 2 loves of my life are Bachir and Paul." (Cherie's mother with Mick Jagger and Paul Bowles. Bachir and Cherie wrote to The Rolling Stones and they recorded with Bachir Attar and Master Musicians of Jajouka, Tangier 1989 / Photo by Cherie Nutting

What do you learn about yourself from the travels, photography and music?

From travel I understand and accept many points of view. I also am addicted to the adventure and the story I find in each trip and I love the feeling of freedom while on the road. From Photography I see my way and hold on to memories that are important for the story to be told. From some music I find my passion either to dance the night away or slip into a slow moving trance.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the image, music …and life?

Firstly I learned about image and music and life, from my mother who was a dancer and model. I also learned much from my father who as I said worked in the Advertising world. Artists and ad men and writers were always around drinking martinis as I grew up. Dad also taught me about being competent and safe living in the wild forests of Maine where he was born and where we had a cottage. My grandfather was a well-known political writer in Boston and both he and my Dad always took photos. My grand dad had his own darkroom. Pictures and writing and dance were part of my daily life in early childhood but Davey Crockett was my first hero and influenced my outlook on life. As an only child, fantasy was my playmate and adventures my youthful goal. Until I was about 12 years old, I was sure that I was a boy and so my heroes were often men.

Traveling with my mother was an important influence in my life. We lived like well-off vagabonds for yrs. Later travel became a way of life. I needed to do it to be happy. I attended Marymount School in Barcelona Spain. The RSHM nuns taught me about the magic in life and of having a passion for what I did as I lived. One nun, who was also a painter, taught me to be an artist and told me that creativity was the key to living with real happiness. She left the convent in the 60s and died in a train crash however. But she believed in me at age 11 and that was important for me at the time. But as an adult it was Paul Bowles and Bachir Attar who most influenced me as an artist.

"In 1978 A friend gave me a book with a message inside. “This book was written for you” it read. The book was “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. My friend had been right. This book meant everything to me and I carried it on all of my future journeys... A few years later I had re occurring crazy dreams of birds smashing into my right forehead with fire all around me and knives. For some reason I decided to write to Paul Bowles about these dreams and how I felt it was in my destiny that we should meet." (Paul Bowles with Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Morocco / Photo by Cherie Nutting)

How do you describe your philosophy about the image, music and life?

The image stops time. It is the first primordial thought. We are here. Music is pre - image...It’s vibrations form both the image and all parallel realities... Life is a result of all these interactions... Maybe this does not make sense the way I describe it...I am not a scientist but it is how I see the Universe.

Do you consider the "Jajouka Music" a state of mind? Why this music was popular to Beat Generation, and Jazz & Rock musicians?

(NB I had some trouble with this question so I asked Stephen Davis the author of "Jajouka Rolling Stone" what he thought. I agree with what he said. He sums up what I think as well.)

Jajouka's music is not a state of mind. It is a form of trance music that is meant to aid and heal people with psychological and spiritual problems. The Beat generation discovered Jajouka through one of its founders, Brion Gysin. Writers like Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, and Gysin thought Jajouka's music to be a portal to expanded consciousness and ecstasy without drugs, as well as a magical passage back in time to the ancient world.

How did the idea of book "Yesterday's Perfume" come about?

In 1978 A friend gave me a book with a message inside. “This book was written for you” it read. The book was “The Sheltering Sky” by Paul Bowles. My friend had been right. This book meant everything to me and I carried it on all of my future journeys... A few years later I had re occurring crazy dreams of birds smashing into my right forehead with fire all around me and knives. For some reason I decided to write to Paul Bowles about these dreams and how I felt it was in my destiny that we should meet. I sent him 2 self-portraits. One of my feminine side named “Alma” and the other of my tom boy masculine nature named “Scout” (Paul later named me “Jerez de La Frontera”).

He wrote back right away suggesting that I visit him in Tangier. This was the beginning of a time of friendship that continued until his death in 1999. So this is where the story started. I followed the trail of dreams and visual signs and omens which led to my photographing and writing everything down. This became “Yesterday’s Perfume” published in 2000. However that is not the end of the story... From that distant episode the story continues in the present time. The sequel of “Yesterday’s Perfume” one might say, is still going on. This story overlaps as I have spent 24 years with Bachir Attar and The Master Musicians of Jajouka. 1988 to 2012... and onward... Bachir and I spent many years with Paul but we also collaborated on many projects and continue to do so now.

"The literature of the counterculture did not affect my life much. I am an avid reader but in youth it was travel and adventure that I sought. I went to a boarding school in Virgina and before that I was in Spain so the counter culture in books did not really arrive to my life until later. I think my adventuresome spirit was affected more by my mother and father regarding travel and freedom." (Paul Bowles at his apartment in Tangier, 1986 / Photo by Cherie Nutting)

How do you describe Paul Bowles’ philosophy of life? What characterize Paul Bowles bohemian way of life?

Paul was a very complicated person. Gore Vidal sent me a letter concerning my book “Yesterday’s Perfume”. He wrote “You got what wascatchable” about my book with Paul. Bowles normally hid his emotions. 1 tear from Paul’s eye meant a flood of crying for most people. He did not speak directly but one had to listen very carefully to the spaces - in - between his words or actions. He was not always easy to read, especially if you did not know him very very well. His philosophy? Well he did always say as I said above “Everything just gets worse”. He was an atheist yet he believed in the “Other”...so I would say that he was spiritual.

He was an artist and does a true artist have a special philosophy? Or does an artist watch and reflect what he observes without judgment? Paul was fearless in his approach to life. He could be very kind. He had empathy for humanity and gave a lot of his time to others. I know that he hated to be labeled as “this way” or “that”... “I am here” he would often say when asked about his own philosophy. As a bohemian? I am not sure what that means. He did not associate himself with the BEAT Generation. He did not live inside any system. He was a rebel. He was completely authentic yet undefinable.

Which memory from Paul Bowles makes you smile?

When he placed an ancient mask in front of his face, lowered it, and then kissed me for the first time.

What is the impact of Master Musicians of Jajouka on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Well as said above I would like Jajouka music to heal those who listen deeply. One can go back in time and feel the primordial vibrations of ancient times which calm the soul...  spiritually culturally and psychologically and bring peace to all nations… My hope is that it should last until the end of the world and influence every culture in a positive way and help to end discord between countries of this world.

"The most important lesson I have learned is that through all the hardships an artist must hold on to the passion for life and the work. Bachir Attar gave me this advice and still does so when I am sad. I rely on him for emotional support. Paul Bowles rarely gave advice unless asked. He liked to watch people rather than advise. He loved to watch a story unfold without interfering in the natural process. "One must always have leverage and a support system" in Morocco was the only advice I remember him giving to me." (Paul Bowles / Photo by Cherie Nutting)

What do you miss most nowadays from Paul Bowles? What advice Bowles has given to you?

As I sit in his apartment right now, I still feel his presence. I can’t process that he is gone but it seems that he is only out of town. Some of his things are still here. I guess that he will always be in my heart and may always feel him there. But is different. I no longer have someone to write long letters to when I am away and no one to confide in or laugh with about Moroccan and American ways which always gave us great entertainment. I miss playing tricks on him with Mrabet and laughing til my stomach hurt. But I still feel him. In my memory he is here. Sadly though, I can no longer put my arms around him and kiss him good night. I miss that a lot.

What MOTTO of Paul Bowles you would like to stay forever?

“Everything just gets worse”

What's the legacy of all these Paul Bowles’ legendary bohemian adventures?

Mostly spiritually. I don’t know how to answer that question. I hope that his work will continue to excite people for many generations. I think that his observations about European, Moroccan and Islamic cultures are valuable to all of us both in Paul’s era and also in modern times.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from your experiences in life? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The most important lesson I have learned is that through all the hardships an artist must hold on to the passion for life and the work. Bachir Attar gave me this advice and still does so when I am sad. I rely on him for emotional support. Paul Bowles rarely gave advice unless asked. He liked to watch people rather than advise. He loved to watch a story unfold without interfering in the natural process.

"One must always have leverage and a support system" in Morocco was the only advice I remember him giving to me.

"I first became interested in photography as a small child. Both my father and grandfather were amateur photographers and they gave me cameras when I was very young. My parents and grandfather documented everything so I have over 100 yrs of photographs of our family history in slides and b & w photos." (Mick Jagger and Bachir Attar with The Master Musicians of Jajouka recording "Continental Drift" 1989 in Tangier / Photo by Cherie Nutting)

Where do you think the Master Musicians of Jajouka’s music comes from? What characterize the life in Jajouka village?

I think the music of The Master Musicians of Jajouka began before history but some say it came in the time of Mohammed. William Burroughs called Jajouka “The 4000 yr old Rock and Roll band”...So I would simply say that it is ancient music. 

There is a myth a describing the birth of the music. It was brought to the shepherd Attar while sleeping in the Cave in Jajouka...It is the story of Boujeloud or Bujelud...The Father of Skins and Aisha Quandisha. It is the celebration of ancient rites of fertility. This is a long story but you can see it in Marc Hurtado's new film “Jajouka - Something good comes to you” which will appear in the Marseille FID film Festival July 5 and 7th 2012. Bachir plays the star “Attar”.  (I will make this exact re info) Jajouka is a small village, though many outsiders have moved in so they are not all original Attars. In 1980 they started to have Government records so many newcomers used the name Attar even if they were not a part of the original Attar family.

Many families live there but still it is not a very big village yet. Recently we have a road so now cars can easily climb the hill. When I first lived in Jajouka we had to take donkeys loaded with our gear and food and ourselves up to the village. I always remember riding up at night with a boy holding a lantern and the shadows of the mules’ ears on the earth in front of me going back and forth as we trotted towards the village. We; the Attars, eat at around 11P.M and go to sleep in the early A.M if the musicians decide to jam all night. Some nights are like that. Others are quiet and everyone is with their families. In the old days it was a constant party and all the villagers arrived for food and music and laughter. When Bachir could no longer financially support food for all the villagers’ things became quieter. Bachir, now not quite so young, has an heir to the music. His son Salahadin Attar will both go to school and study the music from his father. Daily life consists of farming for most families. The Master Musicians of Jajouka do not normally farm much.

The women rise at dawn so they can make bread before the children arise. The men and women tend the sheep and plow the land. Most women collect firewood and they often look like rows of moving trees marching home framed by the red horizon.

"I think the music of The Master Musicians of Jajouka began before history but some say it came in the time of Mohammed. William Burroughs called Jajouka “The 4000 yr old Rock and Roll band”...So I would simply say that it is ancient music." (The Master Musicians of Jajouka and Ornette Coleman, 1992 / Photo by Cherie Nutting)

Why did you think that Master Musicians of Jajouka continued to generate such a devoted following?

Because they are MASTERS. The music is primordial. Even very small children are provoked by it and they dance. Babies clap. It is the “4000 year old Rock and Roll band” says Burroughs. It is timeless. And the music is special. It is passed from father to son from the family Attar. Those who become Masters are few. They start at the age of 4 and they did not go to school. Some try to copy this music but they can’t. But times are changing and the children are going to school. We hope to have a new generation of Masters. Salahadin Attar, Bachir’s son will hopefully keep the music going into the next generation. Re followers: There are those who “get it” like those who love Paul Bowles’ writings....They are fans...devout followers...It touches their souls I guess.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Three periods were of special influence in my life: First spending summers with my parents in Maine. We had to go by boat as there were no roads round this lake, nor electricity. We fished and I learned to live in the wilds of Maine in the 1950s.This prepared me for my destiny to be with Bachir Attar in Jajouka. Second was my trip on the S.S. Constitution in 1960 with my mother. We were on our way leaving N.Y. to live in Barcelona Spain. We stopped in Madeira (Paul was there at the same time!) Then we set port in Morocco. Later we lived in Spain under Franco. This prepared me for my travels. But the most important and interesting time of my life of course was the time I spent with Paul Bowles. He was my hero and then became a great love in my heart and influenced my work. I met my second hero in Paul’s apartment. It was Bachir Attar, leader of The Master Musicians of Jajouka. Soon we were married in 1988. Now there is a new story which is actually a continuation of my “Yesterdays Perfume” story with Paul. I guess it goes on without stopping...at least for now. 

Which was the best moment of Cherie’s travels and which was the worst?

The best moment of my travels was coming across the Atlantic in 1960 and photographing my first mountain tipped with the light of a golden sunrise...just off the coast of Madeira on the SS Constitution. The worst...1980 - It was 1 month after John Lennon was killed and I was wearing a pin with his image. It was in a San Francisco phone booth where I was shot at 3x by a sniper. A shot grazed my jacket. The second shot made a hole in the glass. With the 3rd shot shattered the booth and it was demolished. But I was untouched. I ran zig - zag in a 50s cowboy movie fashion, to the awaiting car and we took off. It was not scary but it shocked me. I took it as a sign and indeed it was an omen for things to come. But that is another story.

"I have many wonderful memories and I would love to return to them for a day, but I wonder if it might change my feelings if revisited. However, I would like to stand again in 1960 on the bow of The SS Constitution and watch the line of the African shore appear on the horozon little by little hour by hour during one day. That was my first trip to Morocco and then on to Spain where my mother and I lived for a number of years." (Photo: Cherie Nutting,Self portrait)

What is Cherie Nutting’s DREAM… and what is your nightmare?

My dream - before my demise; is to finish my own personal artwork and help Bachir Attar and The Master Musicians of Jajouka keep their music alive until the world stops. My nightmare... failure to be a warrior when I face the mirror for the last time.

Do you know why the Tangier is connected to the Bohemian life at 50s & what characterize the way of life in Tangier?

Paul Bowles came first in the 1930s. He was intoxicated by Morocco right away and kept returning to Tangier after his travels. This was before the Bohemian trend of the 1950s. However Paul invited many friends and artists during the 1950s and later. Brion Gysin came to visit Paul. Burroughs arrived. Ornette Coleman came as well. Gysin brought in the 60s element re The Rolling Stones in Morocco...it goes on and on...Too many to list in an interview. I think that these artists loved the beauty of the country. They also probably loved the mystery, the magic one feels when being here. The exotic atmosphere tweaks one’s fantasies and creativity. Life is always a novel in Tangier whether one writes about it or not. Mostly however, I think too that they enjoyed the freedom from philosophies and vacant lifestyles of the West… or rather the USA. But maybe that is only my opinion and not theirs.

Which is the similarity between the Bohemian's 50s "BEAT" era, the 60s "HIPPIE" era, and the 80s "avant-garde" era that led to Morocco?

Freedom, magic, ecstasy, creativity, danger, FUN, alternative lifestyle, and more... Morocco is an extraordinarily magical spot even as it becomes more modern. For me, Morocco is my golden treasure chest. My friends in America say that when I am away from Morocco I am like a fish out of water. This is true.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I have many wonderful memories and I would love to return to them for a day, but I wonder if it might change my feelings if revisited. However, I would like to stand again in 1960 on the bow of The SS Constitution and watch the line of the African shore appear on the horozon little by little hour by hour during one day. That was my first trip to Morocco and then on to Spain where my mother and I lived for a number of years.



The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir  Attar - Home

(The Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar / Photo by Cherie Nutting)

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