Flifla Chamia – Moute Habiba Messika – Gramophone, c. 1930

There was near-consensus during the interwar period that Flifla Chamia was the greatest dancer of her generation. The Tunisian Jewish artist’s brilliant performances in both Tunisia and Algeria were widely covered in the press at the time. Her fame even garnered her mention in the literature of the period, including in Vitalis Danon’s Ninette of Sin Street (1937), recently released in English with an introduction by Lia Brozgal and Sarah Abrevaya Stein. By 1937, Flifla Chamia could also lay claim to the Tunisian silver screen. That year she starred in Le Fou de Kairouan (The Madman of Kairouan), Tunisia’s first talkie and a landmark of North African cinema.[1]

But Flifla was also an accomplished singer. In fact, nearly the entirety of her family was. Her sister Bahia Chamia recorded for Pathé, as did her niece Ratiba Chamia, who also lent her voice to the Baidaphon and Rsaissi labels. Flifla’s daughter was the famed mid-century artist Hana Rached.

Despite her success, Flifla’s records—like her archival trail—are difficult to locate. This is all the more surprising given that one of her records, “Moute Habiba Messika,” produced for Gramophone in December 1930, circulated widely across the Maghrib. The disc, presented here and which translates to “the Death of Habiba Messika,” was one of quite a few like it at the time. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the twenty-seven year old superstar’s murder, a flurry of Arabic poetry, printed Judeo-Arabic dirges, and commercial recordings expressed a very national grief that attended Messika’s death. That grief, palpable and excruciating on Flifla’s recording, in which she exhorts people “to listen” to the strange (ghriba) and unprecedented (ʿajiba) set of circumstances that were visited upon (Habiba), still resonates some ninety years later.

Update: Upon further listening, two details emerge that need be mentioned. First, Flifla’s song is narrated from the perspective of Habiba Messika herself. So, for example, in her third line, Flifla sings, “Elli jara li ana Habiba (“What has befallen me—Habiba”)—making this recording all the more heart-wrenching. Second, it appears that Flifla is drawing directly on a lament (qina) written (and likely recorded) by the Palestine-born, Tunisian recording artist and hazzan (cantor) Acher Mizrahi. Those words are reproduced below. The sources for this text are Mizrahi’s grandchildren Yaacov Assal and Acher Mizrahi. More information on Acher Mizrahi, recording artist and hazzan, explore here.

Quina ala Hbiba Msika by Acher Mizrahi

“Ya ness essmeou el ghriba
Eli gara li ana Hbiba
Zit men el khedma farhana
Tkhelt el farchi nassanna
Tkel aliya ouahad rhadar
Rma aliya el nar
Ma tkelouch el denia nassiana
Tkel aliya ouahad rhadar
Rma aliya el nar
Ma tkhelouch el denia nassiana
Eli ameli ma khalitouch
I kamel el shar”

Notes
Label: Gramophone
Title: Moute Habiba Messika
Artist: Flifla (Flifla Chamia)
Issue Number: K-4355
Face Number: 25-213161
Matrix Number: BG1228
Date of Pressing: c. 1930

[1] Le Fou de Kairouan was lost after 1939 and recovered in 1989 thanks to the work of Tunisian researcher Hichem Ben Ammar.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s