Slomo Souiri – Kssidat Farha – Olympia, c. 1950s

Salomon Souiri was born in Morocco (possibly Essaouira, as his family name indicates) in the early part of the twentieth century. Like other Moroccan musicians, including Samy Elmaghribi and Salim Azra, he would eventually find himself in Montreal.

Souiri was a prolific recording artist and one of the great countertenors (if not, in fact, a vocalist of an even higher range). By the 1920s, he was already recording for the Pathé label under the names “Chloumou” and “Cheloumou” Souiri. In the 1930s, he added Baidaphon and Columbia to his roster. As for the latter, the label claimed that the public “could not remain indifferent” to Souiri’s popular repertoire, to which they may have been referring to malhun ––  an Andalusian-related genre whose song texts are of a slightly later vintage and written in Arabic dialect.

By the 1950s, when he recorded “Kssidat Farha” –– part of the malhun repertoire –– Souiri had relocated to Casablanca. The latest spelling of his name –– “Slomo” –– reflects a certain fidelity to the Jewish variant of Moroccan Arabic. Backed by a small orchestra of violin and percussion, a chorus joins Souiri throughout “Kssidat Farha,” the lyrics of which are based on an eighteenth century poem originally written by the Moroccan Cheikh Elmaghraoui. Where exactly this recording was made is unknown but something makes me think it may have been in a synagogue. Whatever the case, Souiri’s version of “Kssidat Farha” is among the most moving records in my collection.

The Olympia label, run by a certain Mr. Azoulay-Elmaleh, was one of a number of small, Jewish-owned recording outfits that appeared in mid-century Morocco. It may be the case that Olympia’s records were pressed by the Philips company, although I cannot be for certain. As for the history of the label, I can only gesture. To be sure, Olympia had a short lifespan –– emerging in the final years of the 78 rpm era, only to disappear soon after. Nonetheless, Olympia recorded an impressive range of Casablanca-based Jewish artists, including those who not only sang in Arabic but so too Hebrew from the paraliturgical tradition.

Thank you to Ouail Labassi and Kawther Bentdjipas for their assistance in researching the provenance of “Kssidat Farha.”

Notes
Label: Olympia
Title: Kassidat Farha
Artist: Slomo Souiri (Cheloumou Souiri)
Issue Number: 1025
Matrix Number: LSP 5357
Date of Pressing: c. 1950s

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