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Elie Teboul dit Pinhas El Saidi – Istikhbar Zidane + Ya saki ou s’ki habibi – Columbia – c. 1928

The early-to-mid twentieth century Algerian recording artist Elie Teboul (either 1894 – ? or 1904-1980) and his music illuminate in more ways than one. To begin with, Teboul, who was also known as Pinhas El Saidi[1] and most commonly as Cheikh Pinhas, hailed not from one of the major urban centers that scholars of music and aficionados tend to focus on––but from Mostaganem, a medium-sized city some 100 kilometers east of Oran. In this way, Cheikh Pinhas’s voice serves to remind of the vast and sometimes little-known universe of Algerian music-making that existed outside of Algiers and other principal locales.

What little is known of Cheikh Pinhas has mostly been surfaced by Hadj Miliani in his chapter on Algerian Jewish musicians and stage actors in the volume Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa (ed. Emily Gottreich and Daniel J. Schroeter, 2011). Miliani, drawing on Rashid Muhammad Ibn Tunis’ critical study of history and culture in Mostaganem (1998), demonstrates that far from elusive, Cheikh Pinhas was among his city’s most celebrated musicians during the interwar years (along with his co-religionists Meyer Reboah and Isaac Benghozi).[2] As devoted as the people of Mostaganem were to Cheikh Pinhas, he was to them. After the city suffered a devastating flood in 1927, the musician composed and then recorded a song on the Columbia label to commemorate the tragedy and honor the victims.[3] The recording of “Ya saki ou s’ki habibi” featured in this post appears to hail from those 1928 sessions. Here, again, Cheikh Pinhas and this particular record of his prove revelatory.

Elie Touboul-1.jpg

“Ya saki ou s’ki habibi,” as Algerian musician and mélomane Ouail Laabassi explained to me in brilliant detail, represents a song-text from the core of the Andalusian nuba and is specifically associated with the modes of raml maya and maya. What makes this recording of “Ya saki ou s’ki habibi” so striking––in addition to the vocals and the exquisite piano––is that it is performed not in raml maya or maya but in the mode of zidane. And while the technique of employing a single song-text across multiple melodies was known in Cheikh Pinhas’ time, it largely fell out of favor after the Second World War. In other words, for those familiar with “Ya saki ou s’ki habibi,” this 1928 recording by a Mostaganemi musician likely represents the first time they have heard it sound like this. Indeed, Laabassi quickly matched the melody employed by Cheikh Pinhas in his performance of “Ya saki ou s’ki habibi” to that which is usually paired with another Andalusian song-text: “Ya nas djarat li gharayeb.”

In order to begin to fill out his biography, it need be noted that Cheikh Pinhas continued to record in the postwar period. In addition to his own sides made for Odéon, he also recorded in duet on the label with the famed Tlemcani musician Elie Bensaid (1880-1972).

Notes
Label: Columbia
Titles: Istikhbar Zidane [استخبار زيدان] and Ya saki ou s’ki habibi [يا ساقي واسقي حبيبي]
Artist: Elie Teboul dit Pinhas El Saidi
Issue numbers: 17083 [both sides]
Matrix numbers: W-N 38287 and W-N 38288; 39297 and 39298
Date of Pressing: c. 1928

[1] The name Saidi might point to his family’s origins in Saida, Algeria.
[2] Miliani, “Crosscurrents: Trajectories of Algerian Jewish Artists and Men of Culture since the End of the Nineteenth Century,” in Jewish Society and Culture in North Africa, Indiana University Press, 183.
[3] Ibid.

Abraham Arzouane – Midam Bessari (מדם בשרי) – Olympia – c. 1950s

Little is known of the Moroccan Jewish musician Abraham Arzouane other than the fact that he recorded for the Casablanca-based Olympia label in the 1950s. Part of the difficulty in properly identifying him is that his name was once so common in Morocco. Despite the scant archival material, there is just enough to work with in order to erect a historical scaffolding of Arzouane, the label, and the recording itself.

Olympia was one of a half-dozen independent 78 rpm record labels established in Morocco just before independence in 1956. The label was run out of Olympia-Radio, a radio distributor and recording outfit located in Casablanca at 66 Rue de Mazagan and run by a Mr. Azoulay-Elmaleh. While Olympia discs were recorded locally (likely on reel-to-reel tape), they were pressed in Paris by the Radium label. As can be seen on the printed label and on the dead wax at the center of their records, Olympia carried the same matrix number prefix––LSP––that Radium did.

Abraham Arzouane - Midam Bessari - 2

Olympia seemed to serve as a hub for Moroccan Jewish artists specializing in the popular repertoire. Their catalogue included a great number of records by Albert Suissa and so too, Sam Fhima (sometimes spelled Fhimat). It is very likely that Arzouane also recorded popular music for the label. Given the label’s profile, Arzouane’s recording of religious music––of a Hebrew-language piyyut (liturgical poetry) on the subject of circumcision––feels like a departure. Of course, that Olympia and its artists were keen to cater to diverse audiences tempers any such confusion.

To get a better understanding of what exactly was happening on this recording, I turned to the master Andalusian violinist Elad Levi for help. He had much to say. For example, Levi quickly identified Arzouane’s mawwal (vocal improvisation) at the outset as belonging to the Moroccan Andalusian mode of hijaz al-kbir. He also recognized the song-text on the first side of the disc (which lasts until 2:51) as part of the Yom Kippur service while noting that it was usually sung to a different melody. In addition, he pointed to a certain warmth in the quality of both the vocalist and the instrumentalists, even if some faults of accuracy can be detected in their performance. That warmth is especially apparent on Midam Bessari (מדם בשרי ארים תרומה, on the second side of the recording), which picks up just after 2:51.

To be sure, Mr. Arzouane is deserving of a much fuller biography than the one provided. But while we await more information, his only known recording will no doubt help us pass the time.

Thank you again to Elad Levi for all of his brilliant insight. Thank you as well to Yossi Ohana who provided early and invaluable insight.

Notes
Label: Olympia
Title: Midam Bessari (מדם בשרי)
Artist: Abraham Arzouane
Issue Number(s): 1083 and 1084
Matrix Number: LSP 5456 and LSP 5457
Date of Pressing: c. 1950s

Alice Fitoussi – Ya msalmin kalbi – Polyphon – 1933

Alice Fitoussi (1916-1978?) was one of a handful of Algerian Jewish musicians to remain in Algeria after independence in 1962. In many ways, the continued presence of a highly visible and audible Algerian Jew in independent Algeria reminds that music can complicate periodization schemes. At the same time, Fitoussi serves as yet another potent symbol of the ways in which Algerian Jews remained deeply attached to their Arabic-language musical heritage––one shared with their Muslim compatriots––after more than a century of French colonization.

Of course, Fitoussi was much more than an emblem. She was a gifted vocalist and masterful ʿud player. She served as a prominent member of the Radio Alger orchestra and was among the first musicians to appear on Algerian television. And like her father Maʿallim Rahmim Fitoussi, she was also a respected recording artist.

Alice Fitoussi first started recording as a teenager: initially for Gramophone and then for Polyphon. Even at that early juncture, she was already crowned a maʿallima (master musician) by her peers. She earned that honorific, in part, thanks to her skillful interpretation of the hawzi repertoire. On this Polyphon recording from 1933, for example, a 17-year-old Fitoussi deftly performs “Ya msalmin qalbi,” an eighteenth-century poem written by the famed Tlemcani shaykh Bensahla.

Notes
Label: Polyphon
Title: Ya msalmin kalbi[1]
Artist: El Malma Alice Fitouci [Alice Fitoussi]
Issue Number: B 45.972 V
Matrix Number: 281 WPA
Date of Pressing: 1933

[1] Correct transliteration into English should render “kalbi” as “qalbi” (of my heart) but I am following the French orthography printed on the label here. In future posts, I will add titles in Arabic to avoid confusion.

Unknown – Bar Yohaï – Pacific, c. mid-1950s

Until well into the twentieth century, Tlemcen, Algeria was known as “the Jerusalem of the West.”[1] That appellation derived from the robustness of the city’s Jewish community––both in terms of its size and piety––and so too from the fact that Tlemcen was home to the sainted tomb of Rabbi Ephraim Enkaoua (al-Naqawa), also known as the Rabb.

Enkaoua, born in Toledo in 1359 and who fled Spanish persecution there in 1391, is considered a foundational figure in Algerian Jewish history. He is not only credited with re-establishing the Jewish presence in Tlemcen in the 1400s following his settlement there but so too, with performing all manner of miracle in the process (including riding into town seated on a lion and soon thereafter healing the ailing daughter of Sultan Abu Tashfin). All of that miracle-making earned him moniker of the Rabb, which translates to something akin to “master.”

Since at least the nineteenth century and through the twentieth, reverence for the Rabb culminated in the annual pilgrimage (known as both a ziyara and hillula) to his burial site in Tlemcen. For centuries, thousands of Jewish pilgrims ascended to the Rabb’s tomb on the holiday of Lag BaOmer, a date which corresponds to the thirty-third day after Passover and which marks the death of the second century Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. In this way, the ziyara or hillula to the grave of the Rabb has long been imbued with an intense mystical quality. That mysticism is palpable in the kabbalistic, Hebrew-language piyyut (hymn) of “Bar Yohai,” written by the sixteenth century Rabbi Shimon Lavi and which was performed to great fanfare at the tomb of the Rabb at least through Algerian independence in 1962 and in more sober fashion in the decades that followed.[2]

In the first half of the twentieth century, a number of North African Jewish artists recorded the piyyut to 78 rpm disc. This version of “Bar Yohaï”[3]––of an uncredited singer on the Pacific label––comes from about the mid-1950s and was certainly the last ever recorded in Algeria.

Notes
Label: Pacific
Title: Bar Yohaï
Artist: Unknown and uncredited
Issue Number: CO 9009
Matrix Number: BY 2
Date of Pressing: c. mid-1950s

[1] Susan Slyomovics, “Geographies of Jewish Tlemcen,” Journal of North African Studies, 5:4, 2000, 81.
[2] North African Jews also sing “Bar Yohai” on Sabbath evenings before the start of the meal.
[3] “Bar Yohaï” is misspelled in the Arabic on the label as “Dar Yohaï,” which unintentionally means “the House of Yohaï.”

Saoud l’Oranais – Gheniet U.S.M.O. – Polyphon, 1934

Sports, like music, matters. In many ways, historians, like other scholars, are still playing catch-up to “the people,” who have long understood this. And as with music, sports has a deep history. Still, it sometimes takes the present to remind us of that past. For those following the 2019 protests in Algeria, music and sports have come together in a manner that is difficult to ignore. Indeed, the ubiquity of the soccer chant in marches across the country and the mobilization efforts led by ultra fans demand attention. So too do their antecedents across the Maghrib.

As journalist Aida Alami noted in a May 2018 article for the New York Review of Books on Algeria’s neighbor to the west: “soccer protest is not a new phenomenon in Morocco.”[1] Drawing upon the work of Moroccan sociologist Abderrahim Bourkia, she writes “as far back as the 1920s, when the country was under the rule of the French Protectorate from 1912 to 1956, soccer stadiums offered a place to display resistance to the colonial power—and this tradition has persisted since independence.” As historian Omar Carlier has demonstrated, the same was true in Algeria.[2] In the aftermath of the reform-minded Jonnart Law of 1919, indigenous associations in Algeria, including soccer clubs, proliferated. As Carlier notes, most of these sports associations invoked Islamic symbols or holidays in their names, flags, and bylaws as forms of both national identification and anti-colonial resistance. Much like in Morocco, Algerian soccer matches provided a rare interwar outlet for large numbers of young men to gather, spectate, cheer, and chant.

Presented here is what is almost certainly the first soccer chant ever captured on 78 rpm record in North Africa. It dates to 1934. That it was written, performed, and recorded by Saoud l’Oranais, with accompaniment by the violinist Doudane, intrigues. In part, this is because Saoud l’Oranais, the Algerian Jewish musician born Messaoud Medioni in 1886, was among the most important twentieth century practitioners of the high art repertoire of Andalusian music and someone not immediately identified as having sung of topics beyond the poetic song-texts of al-Andalus and its related traditions.[3] But here it is: Saoud l’Oranais with a rollicking ode to his hometown team l’Union Sportive Musulmane d’Oran (or U.S.M.O. for short).

On Gheniet U.S.M.O (the Song of U.S.M.O.), Saoud l’Oranais invites the listener to celebrate the soccer club’s triumph in the Oran Cup of 1933. As the “Champion d’Oranie”––the phrase l’Oranais invokes again and again on the 1934 recording––the U.S.M.O was catapulted into the North African championship, where it would face and ultimately lose to the rather fierce l’Union Sportive Marocaine de Casablanca. Nonetheless, traces in the archives and in popular memory make clear that Saoud l’Oranais Arabic-language panegyric to U.S.M.O hardly disappeared­­––being sung or hummed for years to come. The six minute song also serves as sonic reminder that in the years between the First and Second World War and more than half a century after the 1870 Crémieux Decree, which bequeathed French citizenship to most Algerian Jews and often cleaved them from their indigenous milieu, prominent members of the Jewish community––like Saoud l’Oranais––expressed their deepest joys in Arabic and continued to root for the local Muslim team.

Notes
Label: Polyphon
Title: Gheniet U.S.M.O.
Artist: Saoud l’Oranais with Doudane
Issue Number: 45.729
Date of Pressing: 1934

[1] Aida Alami, “The Soccer Politics of Morocco,” the New York Review of Books, December 20, 2018. https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/12/20/the-soccer-politics-of-morocco/.

[2] Omar Carlier, “Medina and Modernity: the Emergence of Muslim Civil Society in Algiers between the Two World Wars,” in Walls of Algiers: Narratives of the City through Text and Image, ed. Zeynep Çelik, Julia Clancy-Smith, and Frances Terpak, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles in association with the University of Washington Press, 2009.

[3] Presciently, Hadj Miliani made reference to Saoud l’Oranais’ Gheniet U.S.M.O. in “Crosscurrents: Trajectories of Algerian Jewish Artists and Men of Culture since the End of the Nineteenth Century,” in Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa, ed. Emily Benichou Gottreich and Daniel J. Schroeter, Indiana University Press, 2011.

Line Monty – Ouine houa? – Pathé, c. 1952

Algerian Paris in 1952 must have been quite the scene. In and out of the Pathé recording studio that year, for example, was a who’s who of Algerian artists including the rising star Line Monty. In Paris that year, the twenty-six year old Line Monty, born Eliane Serfaty and sometimes dubbed “the Algerian Edith Piaf,” recorded six sides in Arabic. On all of those sides, she was backed by Youcef Hedjaj, the Tunisian Jewish orchestral and bandleader, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist who was so adept at setting the mood. While four of those sides would be re-released on a single Pathé EP by the end of the decade––including her iconic rendition of l’Orientale––two were never re-released. Now, for the first time in over six decades, Ouine houa? (Where is he?) is available again in all of its mid-century sultry splendor.

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Ouine houa?
Artist: Line Monty
Issue Number: PA 2834
Matrix Number: CPT 8691 / M3-135633
Date of Pressing: c. 1952

 

Simon Amiel – Mine Cahlat Landar – Polyphon, c. 1934

Simon Amiel appears suddenly on the Tunisian scene around 1930 although he must have been a known entity before he started recording. Unfortunately, precious few details can be gleaned from formal and informal archives alike. Despite that fact, we can connect a few dots. Amiel, for example, like so many of the musicians of the era, was cosmopolitan in his repertoire. Throughout the 1930s, he recorded Tunisian popular and traditional music, songs mixed in Arabic and French, and Egyptian pieces for labels like Polyphon, Pathé, and Columbia. Mine cahlat landar, recorded for Polyphon c. 1934, which starts with a beautiful vocal improvisation (“ya layl”) and then moves on to piano by Messaoud Habib, was typical of how Amiel could make the music of his preferred composers Maurice Benaïs and Maurice Attoun move. By the late 1940s, Amiel began recording exclusively with Pathé, where he was backed by Salim Halali’s orchestra. In independent Tunisia (post-1956), he seemed to have recorded at least one disc for the En Nour label. While the year of his birth remains a mystery, one estimate puts his death in or around 1966.

Notes
Label: Polyphon
Title: Mine Cahlat Landar
Artist: Simon Amiel
Issue Number: 45.681
Matrix Number: 1071 WPP and 1072 WPP
Date of Pressing: c. 1934

Cheikh El Afrite – Lamodate Lamodate – Gramophone, c. 1932

On a great number of his records, the Tunisian Jewish artist known as Cheikh El Afrite (1897-1939) narrated a changing world around him. Indeed, the musician born Israel Rozio (and who was sometimes referred to as Isserine El-Âafrite, as on this disc) was the popular bard par excellence of the interwar Maghrib. To be sure, his music captured a moment. It did so with biting satire and salaciousness. Thus derived his stage name, meaning something like “the shaykh of the devilish,” which (almost certainly) owed to the mischievous manner in which he narrated subject matters that dealt with unhappy marriages and disappointed parents. In other words, Cheikh El Afrite sang about the Tunisian modern experience and its attendant pitfalls. And he did so prolifically for a host of labels until his untimely death in 1939 at the age of forty-two.

On Lamodate Lamodate (the Arabic plural for the French “la mode”), recorded for the Gramophone Company c. 1932, Cheikh El Afrite addresses his daughter (binti), a comely beauty with black eyes (ʿayunik sawda) who he fears is being seduced by “la mode”––that which is current and fashionable. Backed by Messaoud Habib on the piano, Albert Abitbol on the violin, and El Malih on the darbuka, El Afrite implores her to listen to her father and mother lest she think of doing the unthinkable: cutting her hair short, for example, or donning make-up. Of course, the unthinkable was what many young Tunisian women were already doing. It is in this way––in inveighing against the bob and lipstick––that Cheikh El Afrite and his music provide us with Arabic-language insight into the potency, power, and pull of what we might think of as the age of the modern girl in the Maghrib.

I wish to thank Rim Temimi for taking an early listen to the record in question and offering assistance in translation.

Notes
Label: Gramophone
Title: Lamodate Lamodate
Artist: Isserine El-Aafrite (Cheikh El Afrite)
Issue Number: K-4625
Face Number: 50-2102
Matrix Numbers: OW 895-1 [Side 1] and OW 896-1 [Side 2]
Date of Pressing: c. 1932

Khailou Esseghir et Sion – Gheita – Columbia, c. 1930

According to Prosper Ricard, the interwar head of the Department of Native Arts in Morocco, Columbia entered the Moroccan market in 1929 at his direction. By 1931, Columbia’s record catalogues in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia each boasted hundreds of individual records on offer. Their recordings were professional, polished, and wide-ranging. In Tunisia, for example Columbia was among the earliest labels to record the mizwid genre, whose principal instrument, of course, was the mizwid or the Tunisian bagpipes. Among those who would record mizwid for Columbia in the company’s earliest years of operation was its greatest exponent: the Tunisian Jewish artist by the name of Khailou Esseghir.

Little is known about Khailou Esseghir but here is what can be pieced together. By the early 1920s, he was very much a known entity in Tunisia as both a mizwid player and violinist. During that time, he recorded for Pathé, and slightly later, he would record for Columbia and then Odéon. Throughout the 1920s, he performed alongside Habiba Messika and recorded frequently with the pianist Messaoud Habib and the percussionist Sion Bissana (who appears on this recording) into the 1930s. He was also one of the few Jewish members of La Rachidia, Tunisia’s first modern Andalusian orchestra, formed in 1934.

Intriguingly, this recording of the 6/8 ghīta (ghayta) rhythm by Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana, features neither the mizwid nor the bendir, the Tunisian frame-drum, which serves as percussive counterpart to the bagpipes. Instead, as Richard Jankowsky, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Music at Tufts University, discussed by personal correspondence, Khailou Esseghir here mimics the sound of the mizwid on the violin. He explained, “that it was probably not uncommon for Tunisian musicians to play mizwid at popular celebrations but then also work in radio orchestras or at the Rachidia, where the more formal scene would lend itself to the violin.” In similar fashion, Sion Bissana has swapped the bendir for the darbuka on this record, although here the change is far less subtle but certainly still expert. Indeed, far from staid, this Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana recording of mizwid for Columbia, stays true to what Jankowsky has described as the mizwid’s “piercing, continuous sound,” producing a pulsating triumph of a genre that also happened to once be a staple of Jewish celebrations in Tunisia.

Notes
Label: Columbia
Title: Gheita
Artists: Khailou Esseghir and Sion [Bissana]
Issue Number: GF 450 (W.L.T. 101)
Matrix Number: WLT101; 57401
Date of Pressing: c. 1930

Louisa – Ya Manna – Parlophone, c. 1930

In 1931, Gramophone described Louisa al-Israïliyya (Louisa the Jewess) as “the most famous ‘méââlma’ in Algeria.”[1] Given her fame, Parlophone could refer to her in their catalogue simply as Louisa. Her mononym provided more than enough recognition to sell their records. That Louisa, sometimes also known as Louisa al-Dziriyya (Louisa the Algeroise), was among the biggest names of her era is clear from what can be pieced together from the historical record. Given her renown, it is all the more curious that Louisa has been almost completely forgotten.

Beginning as early as the mid-1920s, Louisa appeared alongside Mahieddine Bachetarzi, Sassi, the pianist Mimoun, and Yamina bint al-Hajj al-Mahdi (the other great muʿalima) in concert and on radio. Among those giants, she could hold her own. Algerian newspapers reported as much about Louisa, who was, in addition, one of the few artists of the era to be explicitly referred to as Jewish. At the same time, reporters never neglected to mention that despite her French citizenship, “the Jewish star” (la vedette israélite), as she was called, was nonetheless “a native.” That indigeneity was evidenced by the fact that Louisa performed (almost) exclusively in Arabic and so too, that she was a staple of the largest Ramadan celebrations of the interwar period.

Louisa recorded the song Ya Manna (O object of my desires) in 1930 for Lili Labassi’s Parlophone label. In fact, the voice introducing the record is none other than that of Labassi himself. The Parlophone catalogue declared that, “her ‘Ya Manna’ will be a triumph.” Indeed, it was. The Tunisian song, part of the wedding repertoire, would henceforth be covered by Meriam Fekkaï, another major Algerian artist, while near contemporaneous versions by Tunisian musicians Bichi Slama and Fadhila Khetmi were released as well. Decades later, its most famous version would be performed by Naâma, one of the greats to emerge right around Tunisian independence in 1956.

Notes
Label: Parlophone
Title: Ya Manna
Artist: Louisa
Issue Number: 46.764
Matrix Number: 114521 [Side 1] and 114522 [Side 2]
Date of Pressing: c. 1930

[1] Or muʿalima, meaning “master” and in this case, “master musician.”