Algerian Jewish recording artist Lili Boniche (1922-2008) was born to a family of humble origins in the lower Casbah of Algiers. Raised in a musical family, the young Boniche picked up his father’s mandole early and soon developed a talent for the instrument. By the early 1930s, Saoud l’Oranais recognized that talent and brought Boniche under his wing alongside Reinette l’Oranaise. Just a few years later, Boniche joined El Moutribia, the Andalusian association and orchestra first established by Edmond Nathan Yafil and long presided over by Mahieddine Bachetarzi, where he was quickly promoted as their “new star”––including at the troupe’s many Ramadan galas. It was at this time that the Jewish musician also became a fixture on Radio Alger, backed on piano by his contemporary Mustapha Skandrani. During World War II, Boniche, like all Algerian Jews, was denaturalized by the Vichy regime. His own website suggests that he participated in the Resistance. To be sure, the archives make clear that he certainly sang of the war and of Allied victory. Just a few years later, he recorded a song for the French Pacific label’s Collection musique orientale series entitled, “Marché Noir” (Black Market).
Beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the early 1950s, Boniche recorded exclusively for Pacific. Released circa 1950, “علاش ما تحبنيش/Pourquoi tu ne m’aimes pas” (Why don’t you love me), a tango which blended French with Arabic, is emblematic of his signature Franco-Arabe sound, which won him fans from Algeria to Morocco (where he toured regularly) and from Morocco to metropolitan France. While a much later version of this song was recorded in the 1990s and released on Boniche’s “Alger Alger,” on the A.P.C. label, this is the first time that the original has been reissued after more than seventy years.
It is perhaps telling that Boniche and other Algerian Jewish artists, French citizens again since 1943, were still assigned to the label’s “oriental” imprint even at mid-century and even as they recorded some songs that were mostly in French. While scholars assume that the Frenchness of Algerian Jews was a settled mattered in the postwar period, if not earlier, it seems that questions still remained given the steadfastness of those like Boniche to indigenous culture and language.
Title: Pourquoi Tu Ne M’aimes Pas / علاش ما تحبنيش
Artist: Lili Boniche
Issue Number: CO 7012
Matrix Number: ST-1482-2
Date of Pressing: c. 1950