Mouzino – Neklab ssika (Elked eladi ssabani) – Odeon, c. 1906

Over a recording career that spanned three decades––from the tail end of the nineteenth century until his death in 1928––the Algerian Jewish musical pioneer Saül “Mouzino” Durand released hundreds of records and quite a few cylinders as well. As far as we know, the entirety of his recorded output drew upon the multi-modal suite music (nuba) of the Andalusian tradition and its associated repertoires. But some of it, like this c. 1906 recording of “Elked eladi ssabani” (al-Qad al-ladhi sabani, القد الذي سباني), a lighter inqilab in the mode of sika, was of far more recent vintage than al-Andalus or even the centuries afterward, at least compositionally. This is but part of the reason why the surfacing of this particular recording has so excited aficionados of Algerian music. The other is that this Odeon release is one of the few records yet to be recovered of what was the prodigious career of one of Algeria’s most consequential artists of the last two hundred years.

Born on December 29, 1865, the young Mouzino­––whose nickname of “little Moïse” must have derived from a likeness or similar disposition to his father Moïse––began appearing in private concerts in his teens in his native Constantine and then more public venues as a twenty-something when he and his family moved to the capital Algiers.[1] Early in his career, Mouzino achieved the status of virtuoso and despite his new surroundings, soon appeared alongside Shaykh Mohamed Ben Ali Sfindja, the doyen of Algerian musicians at the turn of the twentieth century, on stages large and intimate. “He mastered virtually all of the instruments,” music historian Ouaïl Labassi has written of Mouzino, “he excelled as much as with the violin as with the kouitra, but his preferred instrument for the execution of the nuba was the rebab [a bowed string instrument].”[2]

No later than 1900, a certain “Mouzino of Hammam Bou Hadjar,” recorded thirty cylinders of the Andalusian repertoire for the Pathé label.[3] That this artist was associated with Hammam Bou Hadjar, a hamlet close to Ain Temouchent in the Oran region, rather than Algiers or even Constantine, raises questions about his true identity. Whatever the case, we can conclude that the Mouzino brand already had cachet. And that Algeria was a flurry with various efforts to record––whether through transcription or through the phonograph itself––meant the thirty-something was in the right place, at the right time.

The figure that stood at the center of all recording endeavors in Algeria (and across North Africa) was Mouzino’s coreligionist Edmond Nathan Yafil, himself a disciple and close collaborator of the above-mentioned Sfindja. Among Yafil’s multiple monumental releases in 1904 was a sheet music collection for piano entitled the Répertoire de Musique Arabe et Maure, transcribed in the presence of private performances by Sfindja, Laho Seror, and Mouzino. Number 16 in a published series that stretched to more than two dozen was “El Ked El Ladi Sabani” (al-Qad al-ladhi sabani, The figure that seduced me), the very record presented here and recorded by Mouzino two short years later. Yafil and his collaborator on the sheet music project Jules Rouanet noted that it was Sfindja who had provided the composition for the much older song text. As Labassi has pointed out to me, it is therefore through the voice of Mouzino that we can hear what was perhaps Sfindja’s last musical innovation before his death in 1908.

With Sfindja’s passing in 1908, the torch was passed to Mouzino. In due time, the press hailed the Jewish artist as the “undisputed leader” of “professional Arab musicians” in Algiers. This feat was accomplished through his virtuosity but also through his extensive recording activities, as well as his teaching. In addition to the Odeon sessions, Mouzino recorded prolifically for companies including Gramophone, Zonophone, and Pathé. Mouzino also sold records, including his own, from a storefront on rue de la Lyre, a stone’s throw away from Yafil’s home-office.[4] Alongside the commercial side of the music business, he provided free training to generations of young Muslim and Jewish musicians in the capital through Yafil’s association El Moutribia. By the 1920s, his celebrity continued to rise. Audiences considered him, as well as a young Mahieddine Bachetarzi and the veteran Yamina, to be one of the three greats of Algerian music. Ever in demand, he animated concerts for every occasion––from thousand plus person Ramadan gatherings to benefits for Jewish charities held in hotel ballrooms.

Mouzino died at the age of 62 on February 2, 1928. It was a difficult year for Algerian music. Within months, both Edmond Nathan Yafil and “Muhammed Boukandoura, the Hanafi mufti of Algiers who oversaw Quranic recitation in the capital’s mosques,” would pass from the scene as well. One is tempted to speak of silences but a turn to records and radio reveals that such was not exactly the case.

In the decade after Mouzino’s death, his records continued to sell well and circulate widely. And until the outbreak of World War II, his recordings could be heard constantly on Radio Alger. In fact, through the late 1940s and 1950s, his records were played regularly on Radio Alger on segments appropriately titled, the “voice of the past.” On March 26, 1949, for example, more than two decades after his passing, Algerian radio dedicated fifteen uninterrupted minutes to Mouzino’s music. What this means, of course, is that Mouzino’s records did not disappear suddenly in 1928 but were still heard and found in Algeria at mid-twentieth century and later. The question that remains is what happened in the far more recent, intervening years. That is something I am trying to figure out. In the meantime, I am adding one more Mouzino record to the archive and will continue to surface others.

Notes

Label: Odeon

Title: Neklab ssika (Elked eladi ssabani) [al-Qad al-ladhi sabani, القد الذي سباني]

Artist: Mouzino

Issue Number: 36924

Matrix number xp1391

Date of Pressing: c. 1906


[1] On one particular and prominent concert featuring Mouzino, see Jonathan Glasser, “Breaking the Colonial Spell: A Musical Perspective From Algiers via Paris,” The Spain-North Africa Project, May 2, 2020, http://www.spainnorthafricaproject.org/bulletin/1889-world-exposition.

[2] For the first and most thorough biography of Mouzino, see Ouaïl Labassi, “Chaouel (Saül) DURAND (1865-1928)

dit MOUZINO,” Le Groupe YAFIL Association, February 21, 2018, http://yafil.free.fr/album_mouzino.htm.

[3] Christopher Silver, Recording History: Jews, Muslims, and Music across Twentieth-Century North Africa (Stanford University Press, 2022), 37.

[4] Silver, Recording History, 43.

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