Saoud l’Oranais – Gheniet U.S.M.O. – Polyphon, 1934

Sports, like music, matters. In many ways, historians, like other scholars, are still playing catch-up to “the people,” who have long understood this. And as with music, sports has a deep history. Still, it sometimes takes the present to remind us of that past. For those following the 2019 protests in Algeria, music and sports have come together in a manner that is difficult to ignore. Indeed, the ubiquity of the soccer chant in marches across the country and the mobilization efforts led by ultra fans demand attention. So too do their antecedents across the Maghrib.

As journalist Aida Alami noted in a May 2018 article for the New York Review of Books on Algeria’s neighbor to the west: “soccer protest is not a new phenomenon in Morocco.”[1] Drawing upon the work of Moroccan sociologist Abderrahim Bourkia, she writes “as far back as the 1920s, when the country was under the rule of the French Protectorate from 1912 to 1956, soccer stadiums offered a place to display resistance to the colonial power—and this tradition has persisted since independence.” As historian Omar Carlier has demonstrated, the same was true in Algeria.[2] In the aftermath of the reform-minded Jonnart Law of 1919, indigenous associations in Algeria, including soccer clubs, proliferated. As Carlier notes, most of these sports associations invoked Islamic symbols or holidays in their names, flags, and bylaws as forms of both national identification and anti-colonial resistance. Much like in Morocco, Algerian soccer matches provided a rare interwar outlet for large numbers of young men to gather, spectate, cheer, and chant.

Presented here is what is almost certainly the first soccer chant ever captured on 78 rpm record in North Africa. It dates to 1934. That it was written, performed, and recorded by Saoud l’Oranais, with accompaniment by the violinist Doudane, intrigues. In part, this is because Saoud l’Oranais, the Algerian Jewish musician born Messaoud Medioni in 1886, was among the most important twentieth century practitioners of the high art repertoire of Andalusian music and someone not immediately identified as having sung of topics beyond the poetic song-texts of al-Andalus and its related traditions.[3] But here it is: Saoud l’Oranais with a rollicking ode to his hometown team l’Union Sportive Musulmane d’Oran (or U.S.M.O. for short).

On Gheniet U.S.M.O (the Song of U.S.M.O.), Saoud l’Oranais invites the listener to celebrate the soccer club’s triumph in the Oran Cup of 1933. As the “Champion d’Oranie”––the phrase l’Oranais invokes again and again on the 1934 recording––the U.S.M.O was catapulted into the North African championship, where it would face and ultimately lose to the rather fierce l’Union Sportive Marocaine de Casablanca. Nonetheless, traces in the archives and in popular memory make clear that Saoud l’Oranais Arabic-language panegyric to U.S.M.O hardly disappeared­­––being sung or hummed for years to come. The six minute song also serves as sonic reminder that in the years between the First and Second World War and more than half a century after the 1870 Crémieux Decree, which bequeathed French citizenship to most Algerian Jews and often cleaved them from their indigenous milieu, prominent members of the Jewish community––like Saoud l’Oranais––expressed their deepest joys in Arabic and continued to root for the local Muslim team.

Notes
Label: Polyphon
Title: Gheniet U.S.M.O.
Artist: Saoud l’Oranais with Doudane
Issue Number: 45.729
Date of Pressing: 1934

[1] Aida Alami, “The Soccer Politics of Morocco,” the New York Review of Books, December 20, 2018. https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/12/20/the-soccer-politics-of-morocco/.

[2] Omar Carlier, “Medina and Modernity: the Emergence of Muslim Civil Society in Algiers between the Two World Wars,” in Walls of Algiers: Narratives of the City through Text and Image, ed. Zeynep Çelik, Julia Clancy-Smith, and Frances Terpak, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles in association with the University of Washington Press, 2009.

[3] Presciently, Hadj Miliani made reference to Saoud l’Oranais’ Gheniet U.S.M.O. in “Crosscurrents: Trajectories of Algerian Jewish Artists and Men of Culture since the End of the Nineteenth Century,” in Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa, ed. Emily Benichou Gottreich and Daniel J. Schroeter, Indiana University Press, 2011.

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