Judah Sebag – Elmella and Adon Olam [Sides 1-2], Disques Tam Tam, c. 1955

Yehuda “Judah” Sebag was born in 1925 in Safi as the eldest son of Shimon and Saada Sebag.[1] Six years later, Shimon moved the family to Marrakesh. There, Judah began attending the Alliance israélite universelle school. When he was not in class, he also learned how to cut hair in his uncle’s barbershop in the mellah (Jewish quarter), across from which sat the office of a musician and music promoter named David Zrihan. The regular rehearsals in Zrihan’s space entranced Judah. In exchange for a daily pot of tea, the local impresario offered to teach Judah the ud. The young apprentice quickly obliged.

By the mid- to late-1940s, Judah had made a name for himself as a musician and regularly performed in and around Marrakesh for both the Jewish community and mixed Jewish-Muslim audiences. He apparently was so well regarded that he served as music teacher to one of the daughters of Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakesh. In 1950, however, Judah made the difficult decision to leave Morocco for Israel. He joined a growing number of Moroccan Jews who would do the same. But after two years there, he returned to Marrakesh. Roughly 2,500 of his compatriots, in fact, made the reverse journey from Israel to Morocco around this time.[2]

In 1955, Judah departed for Israel once more. While transiting in Marseille, he headed to Jacques Derderian’s Disques Tam Tam store and recording studio on 9 rue des Dominicains. He would be among the many North and West African artists who passed through its doors, including fellow Moroccans Jo Amar and Zohra El Fassia. In the course of a morning or possibly an afternoon, Judah recorded four songs over two records for Derderian’s label (whose discs were pressed by Philips). The first record, presented here, features Elmella, a piyyut (Hebrew paraliturgical poetry) for the circumcision ceremony (Brit Milah), and Adon Olam, the Hebrew prayer which closes the Sabbath morning service. As for Adon Olam, the ethnomusicologist Edwin Seroussi has identified the tune invoked by Judah and his small orchestra, which included accompaniment on the spoons in lieu of the tar (frame drum), as that of Qaduk almayas, a qudud from Aleppo which became quite popular among the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire (and even made its way into klezmer music in Palestine).[3] How and when the qudud first made its way to Morocco is not clear.

Judah Sebag - Adon Olam 2

Over the next four decades, Judah continued to delight Moroccan audiences in Israel with his music. While by day he served as a barber, at night he performed in concert alongside his compatriots David Nidam (ud), Yehoshua Azoulay (kamanja), Haim Dayan (tar), Emil Dayan (darbuka), and Shlomo Nissim (qanun). He would make one last trip to Morocco in 1995, which left a strong impression on him and his son. After a difficult illness, Yehuda “Judah” Sebag died on August 31, 2004 in Jerusalem.

Label: Disques Tam Tam
Title: Elmella; Adon Olam
Artist: Judah Sebag
Issue Number: TAM 155-1; TAM 155-2
Matrix Number: ACP 3876; ACP 3877
Date of Pressing: c. 1955

[1] My sincerest thanks to Avi Sabbag for his invaluable assistance in filling out his father’s biography.

[2] Michael Laskier, North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 126.

[3] Written correspondence with Professor Edwin Seroussi, June 2016.