Aroun Haouzi El Baidi – Ana nadi bel ghram [Sides 1-2], Polyphon, 1932

“I am the one who is in love,” Aroun Haouzi El Baidi sang majestically into a microphone in a Constantine recording studio in 1932, “O my desired one.” On this ninety year old recording of “Ana al-ladhi bil-gharam ya saʿfaya” (أَنَا الذِي بَالغْرَامْ يَا سَعْفَايَا), the Aïn Beïda-born Algerian Jewish musician expertly executes an integral song-text of the mahjuz repertoire, itself part of the extended family of Constantine’s classical maluf tradition (and sometimes considered to be an antecedent to it). Literally meaning “restrained,” mahjuz is anything but. As the ethnomusicologist Maya Saïdani has noted, mahjuz is marked by its suggestive sexual themes––so much so that throughout the twentieth century, conservative Constantinois families of means disallowed its performance in their presence.[1] Despite its association with the urban and the city, as well as Constantine’s Jewish vocalists and instrumentalists, mahjuz’s origins point to Algeria’s south. In this way, it is usually marked by the presence of the zurna, the distinctively nasal woodwind instrument that ornaments much of the more rural sound throughout the region. On this recording, however, the zurna has been replaced by a flute. Perhaps, it was an attempt to make it more “palatable” to a crowd of a certain class, much as the violin was sometimes swapped for the mizwid on some Tunisian records of the era. In either case, El Baida’s interpretation of “Ana al-ladhi bil-gharam ya saʿfaya” is a revelation. Much as the artist Aroun Haouzi El Baidi sings of sleepless nights and a fire blazing in his liver (the organ represents a classic motif in Arab poetry and song), the hope is that listeners here are awakened to a similar sensation when it comes to a musician who deserves much more by way of recognition.


Label: Polyphon
Title: “Ana al-ladhi bil-gharam ya saʿfaya” (أَنَا الذِي بَالغْرَامْ يَا سَعْفَايَا) [Sides 1-2]
Artist: Aroun Haouzi el Baidi
Issue Number: V 45.572 A; V 45.572 B
Matrix Number: 5253 BK; 5254 BK
Date of Pressing: 1932

[1] Maya Saïdani, La musique du constantinois : contexte, nature, transmission et definition (Casbah éditions, 2006), 122.

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