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’”.
Following a short break for refreshments, we moved over to the Master’s lodge to watch Marc’s lecture-recital, with more audience members joining us. Building on the workshop, Marc gave the audience a descriptive, visual and musical tour through some of the musical lineages and connections that, for him, tie together styles from Spain and Morocco. As some of my own research focuses on fusion projects between flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music, I was pleasantly surprised that Marc didn’t recycle age-old tropes such as Ziryab. Instead, he offered an intricate analysis of some of the poetic and rhythmic similarities between musical traditions of the ‘two Andalusias’ (by which he was referring to flamenco from Andalusia and Arab-Andalusian music of al-Andalus that now exists in Morocco, and related popular styles such as Malhun), while acknowledging the fundamental differences between the two particularly in terms of social status. Marc’s observations come from being deeply engrained in both flamenco and Arab-Andalusian traditions, enabling him to draw comparisons and links between the two.
Marc began by highlighting similarities between popular poetic forms common to both Spain and Morocco, with a particular focus on a shared sensibility for concision in the conveyance of ideas. There was also a shared sense of fatalism in the Spanish and Arabic examples that Marc gave. For him, these poetic sensibilities lay at the base of musical forms, forming important links in terms of ethos and artistic expression between styles that straddle the Strait. He also drew attention to similarities in how musical modes and humours are depicted in Morocco and Spain, focusing particular attention on how Arab-Andalusian modes and flamenco palos are depicted in tree form and are associated with different emotional intentions. Indeed, similar sensibilities are apparent in the aesthetic terms of duende (for flamenco) and tarab (for Arabic music) that both refer to a moment of high emotional and artistic expression in music, moments when there is a tingle down the spine and moments that can’t really be explained in words. From aspects of poetry, aesthetics and ethos, Marc moved to illustrated examples of some of the tangible musical similarities between flamenco and Arab-Andalusian music, focusing on similar rhythmic structures between tango and haddari. Yet, Marc also drew attention to the important differences in musical temperament between the guitar and oud: the guitar’s intervallic range being restricted by frets and the oud’s capacity to enable performers to perform an array of microtonal intervals within the octave. For Marc, the move away from this sort of microtonal freedom in melody is a loss for European musical traditions, but something that is still, in some small way, preserved in the highly melismatic singing style of flamenco song (cante) even if the guitar itself is restricted to equal temperament.
And after a packed afternoon of musical learning, discovery and connection, our time with Marc came to an end. It was wonderful to experience Marc’s diverse musical ability, wisdom, humor and humility. We hope to be able to welcome him to Cambridge again in the future!
By Matthew Machin-Autenrieth
The research team would like to thank the Master, Bridget Kendall, and staff at Peterhouse; The Matheson Trust (in particular, Juan Acevedo); and our project coordinator Claire Letellier for her fantastic organisation.
Conversations with Marc Loopuyt by Vanessa Paloma Duncan-Elbáz
On the second night of Rosh Hashana on September 30th, 2019, the Jewish New Year 5780, Marc Loopuyt and various members of our research team came to celebrate the evening at my home in Cambridge. It is a spiritually significant evening in the Jewish calendar, and this was not lost on Marc, as he followed the rituals and sung prayers with an inquisitive eye. French, English, Moroccan Arabic, Spanish and Hebrew were flying around the table in various simultaneous conversations on music in Morocco, Spain, France and England – or about poetry, mysticism and rhythmic modes. I was reminded of my late Professor Thomas Binkley, whose last seminar before passing away was on rhythm and cycles of time, of nature, of beingness… when I mentioned him to Marc, he immediately flew into a discussion about the importance of Binkley’s contribution and the way in which he, through his connection to ‘Ala from Fez, had really started a musical revolution that had taken place within the academy for some years, but that, to Marc’s eyes, is lost today to the academic early music world. It is the very threading together of the nexus between Morocco, Spain, Islam, Judaism and Christianity through music that Binkley worked on and that Marc’s keen eye has been absorbing, and his voice and body has integrated in the manner of a true performer who is not only there to interpret, but to embody the world-view of the cultures from which the music comes from. He said, ‘I was lucky enough to arrive at precisely the right time to the Conservatory where they were ready for me to teach the music that I had specialized in, and there was nobody else there that could teach it. So, I was able to work with students constantly, teach them the rhythms, the melodies, the concepts, and most importantly, the fact that one must be only in the present moment, it is the key to being a good performer’.
In continued conversations during the tea break in Peterhouse after his workshop the next day and at the after-concert dinner some hours later, I was fascinated to discover how Marc’s knowledge of Arabic mystical texts paralleled images and concepts that have followed my questionings – the most salient one is the image of the enclosed water source from Song of Songs ma’ayan hatum (« A locked up garden is my sister, my bride, a locked up spring, a FOUNTAIN SEALED. A garden spring, a well of living waters »). Marc mumbled ayin masdud in Moroccan Arabic, and piercingly looked at me and said, ‘it will become clear to you one day – keep on thinking about it’. Then he asked me if I had ever studied the writings of Avraham Abulafia, the founder of Jewish ecstatic mysticism from 13th Century Spain. A later google search on ma’ayan hatum gave me a direct reference to Abulafia’s school – did Marc know this? Or was it instinct? Coincidence? He continued with poems about music and fountains, water and rivers, and the flowing nature of time and human experience. In a few short hours this master (maalem) of music, performance and spirituality had shown me a parallel to my own process and given me the impetus to bring together what sometimes seems to be the disparate parts of my life as a researcher, performer and academic.