Khailou Esseghir et Sion – Gheita – Columbia, c. 1930

According to Prosper Ricard, the interwar head of the Department of Native Arts in Morocco, Columbia entered the Moroccan market in 1929 at his direction. By 1931, Columbia’s record catalogues in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia each boasted hundreds of individual records on offer. Their recordings were professional, polished, and wide-ranging. In Tunisia, for example Columbia was among the earliest labels to record the mizwid genre, whose principal instrument, of course, was the mizwid or the Tunisian bagpipes. Among those who would record mizwid for Columbia in the company’s earliest years of operation was its greatest exponent: the Tunisian Jewish artist by the name of Khailou Esseghir.

Little is known about Khailou Esseghir but here is what can be pieced together. By the early 1920s, he was very much a known entity in Tunisia as both a mizwid player and violinist. During that time, he recorded for Pathé, and slightly later, he would record for Columbia and then Odéon. Throughout the 1920s, he performed alongside Habiba Messika and recorded frequently with the pianist Messaoud Habib and the percussionist Sion Bissana (who appears on this recording) into the 1930s. He was also one of the few Jewish members of La Rachidia, Tunisia’s first modern Andalusian orchestra, formed in 1934.

Intriguingly, this recording of the 6/8 ghīta (ghayta) rhythm by Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana, features neither the mizwid nor the bendir, the Tunisian frame-drum, which serves as percussive counterpart to the bagpipes. Instead, as Richard Jankowsky, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Music at Tufts University, discussed by personal correspondence, Khailou Esseghir here mimics the sound of the mizwid on the violin. He explained, “that it was probably not uncommon for Tunisian musicians to play mizwid at popular celebrations but then also work in radio orchestras or at the Rachidia, where the more formal scene would lend itself to the violin.” In similar fashion, Sion Bissana has swapped the bendir for the darbuka on this record, although here the change is far less subtle but certainly still expert. Indeed, far from staid, this Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana recording of mizwid for Columbia, stays true to what Jankowsky has described as the mizwid’s “piercing, continuous sound,” producing a pulsating triumph of a genre that also happened to once be a staple of Jewish celebrations in Tunisia.

Notes
Label: Columbia
Title: Gheita
Artists: Khailou Esseghir and Sion [Bissana]
Issue Number: GF 450 (W.L.T. 101)
Matrix Number: WLT101; 57401
Date of Pressing: c. 1930

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