Abraham Arzouane – Eliyahu Hanavi (E’erokh mahalal nivi) [Sides 1 – 2], (Olympia, 1950s)

Whether he knew it or not, Abraham Arzouane was engaged in a monumental archival project at mid-twentieth century to record and preserve the liturgy of Moroccan Jews. Over a series of 78 rpm records made for the Casablanca-based Olympia label, Arzouane captured the sacred sounds of what was then the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. This archive was not constructed alone, of course. Alongside Arzouane, Slomo Souiri, Isaac Loeb, Jo Abergel, Albert Suissa, and a cast of uncredited instrumentalists etched the sonic contours of the synagogue, Sabbath, and festival holidays onto a format then fading into oblivion. Their effort, in fact, extended beyond shellac alone. Arzouane’s mission, for example, was also carried out on and ornamented the musical portion of “La Voix des Communautés,” Radio Maroc’s Jewish broadcast, which ran more or less weekly from 1950 through 1965.

Arzouane likely recorded what is transliterated in French as, “Elia Hou Habani” (“Eliyahu hanavi”) at the same session where he performed “Midam Bessari”  in the early- to mid-1950s. What can be heard on this recording of “Eliyahu hanavi”––captured on reel-to-reel tape before being transferred to disc––is a stirring rendition of the 18th century piyyut (liturgical poem) “Likhvod hemdat levavi” (לכבוד חמדת לבבי), also known as “E’erokh mahalal nivi” (אערוך מהלל ניבי). Like so much of the Moroccan Jewish liturgical repertoire, it was composed by the towering song poet Rabbi David ben Aaron ben Hassin (1727-1797), author of the compilation (diwan) Tehilah le-David (Amsterdam, 1807). In “Likhvod hemdat levavi” (“E’erokh mahalal nivi”), Hassin narrates the story of the Prophet Elijah in an evocative Hebrew. As was typical of such compositions, the lines of the song text are formed from an acrostic which, in this case, spells out: “I am Rabbi David ben Aaron ben Hassin.” In North Africa, as across many places in Middle East, the piyyut heard here was chanted at the close of the Sabbath (Havdalah) and on the occasion of ritual circumcision (Brit milah) for the last two hundred plus years.[1] On this mid-twentieth century recording, then, furnished by Abraham Arzouane in Casablanca, is an echo not only of a particular person and place but of multiple meaningful moments in time which stretch back to the end of the 18th century.

[1] On Rabbi David ben Hassin, see André E. Elbaz and Ephraim Hazan, “Three Unknown ‘Piyyutim’ by David Ben Ḥasin,” AJS Review, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1995), pp. 87-97.

Label: Olympia
Title: Eliyahu hanavi (Likhvod hemdat levavi, E’erokh mahalal nivi)
Artist: Abraham Arzouane
Issue Number(s): 1071 and 1072
Matrix Number(s): LSP 5441 and LSP 5442
Date of Pressing:
c. 1950s

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