Fritna Darmon – Ouh alia el hachmia [Sides 1-2], Columbia, c. 1930

The Tunisian Jewish vocalist Fritna Darmon was a force. She was also a pioneer. Born sometime toward the end of the nineteenth century, she was among the first cohort of artists to record in Tunisia. She and her music were integral, for example, to Gramophone’s 1907 sessions, one of the label’s first such recording expeditions in the region. Over the next few decades, in addition to appearing regularly in concert, she would release dozens of records for Gramophone, Pathé, Odeon, Anker-record, Orient Record, and the Tunisia-based Bembarophone. Darmon’s voice carried well beyond the bounds of Tunisia as well. On March 12, 1930, for example, international music critic Irving Schwerke happened upon one of her records at the shop of the Padova brothers in Paris. Writing in the European edition of the Chicago Daily Tribute, he remarked of one of her Odeon releases that it, “consists of ditties from the land of Tunis, interpreted and sung in Arabian, and in conformity with the best vocal traditions of the country.”[1] The following year, her records could likewise be heard at the Tunisian pavilion of the Colonial Exposition of 1931 at Vincennes.

Her staggering output was split three ways between Egyptian song, ma’luf and especially the related ʿarubi genre, and an emerging repertoire of popular song which began to hold sway during the interwar period. Indeed, Jewish female artists like Darmon served as the driving force behind what became known as ughniyya, which while dismissed by contemporary and later critics as “decadent,” served as an important vehicle to challenge a wide variety of social norms, including gender roles and the place of women.[2]

“Ouh alia el hachmia” (اوه علي الحشمية) recorded by Fritna Darmon for Columbia c. 1930, was very much part and parcel of the ever-expanding and ever-popular ughniyya tradition. The song concerns a very modern relationship about a young man and woman who have suddenly laid eyes on each other: “From the moment I saw him (ritu),” Darmon sings around minute 2.10, “he loved me and I loved him (habitu).”[3] Immediately afterward, she proclaims, “He asked for a kiss and I gave him a hundred.” But, of course, her parents find out. And the lover turns out to have been less than sincere. She promises that such a transgression will not happen again and that she will never leave her room, but the listener assumes otherwise. If “Ouh alia el hachmia” is performed by Fritna Darmon with a wink and a smile, the two brief but stirring instrumental solos at beginning and end are rather serious. Just before she sings “Ya layl” (O night), for example, we are introduced to an improvisation by Khailou Esseghir on the violin and one by Messaoud Habib on the harmonium. Both were considered among the greatest instrumentalists of their generation.

By my estimate, this is only the third Fritna Darmon record––out of the dozens released by her over her lifetime––to be made available again to the public. The route it traced to arrive at my doorstep and now on Gharamophone was a circuitous one. Its improbable preservation, carried, as it was, across seas and oceans in hurried circumstances, speaks to the importance such sound objects held for so many and for so long. We are fortunate to listen to it again thanks to Marco Soria of Milan. His mother Suzette (Perez) Soria, first purchased this record, alongside those of Um Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, and their French counterparts, from her native Tunis before transporting her collection to Italy. Some two years ago, I was fortunate enough to have had Mr. Soria contact me and well, the rest is history.

As for the final chapters of Fritna Darmon’s life, that story is being pieced together at present. Thanks to an initial conversation with her great grandson Jesse Emsalem, we now know that while she settled in Paris at mid-twentieth century, she also spent some years living in Sydney, Australia.


Label: Columbia

Title: “Ouh alia el hachmia” (اوه علي الحشمية) [Sides 1-2]

Artist: Fritna Darmon

Issue Number: GF 427, W.L.T. 55; V 45.572 B

Matrix Number: 57418; 5254 BK

Date of Pressing: c. 1930

[1] Irving Schwerke, “Notes of the Music World,” Chicago Daily Tribute (European edition), March 12, 1930, p. 4.

[2] For more on Tunisian Jewish women and ughniyya, see Christopher Silver, Recording History: Jews, Muslims, and Music across Twentieth-Century North Africa (Stanford University Press, 2022), Chap. 2; and Ruth F. Davis, “Jews, Women and the Power to be Heard: Charting the Early Tunisian Ughniyya to the Present Day,” in Music and the Play of Power in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, ed. Laudan Nooshin (Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2009), 187-206.

[3] This translation is indebted to the careful listening of Leila Ben-Gacem and the extended Ben-Gacem family.

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.

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

Aroun Haouzi El Baidi – Ya Moulat El Khana [Sides 1-2], Polyphon, 1932

Readers of Gharamophone first encountered the powerful voice of the Constantinois Jewish artist Aroun Haouzi El Baidi in a January 2021 post. In that entry, I attempted to sketch out his biography, albeit in broad and sometimes tentative strokes. Since then––and thanks to the intervention of his descendants, a number of other details have surfaced. We now know, for example, that Haouzi was born in Aïn Beïda in 1889 but lived most of his life in Constantine. In addition to his recording activities for Polyphon and Pathé, he owned a record store on rue Caraman (today: Didouche Mourad), the principle street of Constantine’s city center. That the Haouzi home was a musical one is borne out not just be the activities of Aroun but by the fact that he taught the Andalusian and hawzi repertoires to his daughter Edith Khalifa (née Haouzi), of which she was known to sing late into her life. Aroun Haouzi “El Baidi” and his family departed Algeria in March 1962. He died in Paris four years later.

This recording of “Ya Moulat El Khana” comes from a rather prodigious 1932 Polyphon session. Part of the hawzi repertoire, it is a powerful lament, especially when performed by a powerful vocalist. “Today, my dearest ones left,” Haouzi intones at the 2:04 mark, “Only I remained.”

Title: Ya Moulat El Khana (يا مولاة الخانة) [Sides 1-2]
Artist: Aroun Haouzi el Baidi
Issue Number: V 45.570 A; V 45.570 B
Matrix Number: 5249 BK; 5250 BK
Date of Pressing: 1932

Blond Blond – Chekchouka – Pathé, 1952

At first listen, this record by Algerian Jewish ambianceur Blond Blond catches you off guard. To be sure, it begins as all North African 78 rpm records did in the first half of the twentieth century: with a spoken introduction. But while the label announced here is the correct one––Istwanat Pathé––the performer’s name invoked in what follows is that of his compatriot and coreligionist Salim Halali! Hence the confusion.

As far as I know, this 1952 release is unique in the history of early recorded North African music. Blond Blond, aided by the legendary banjoist Kaddour Cherchali (né Abdelkader Bouheraoua, 1911-1968) and his orchestra, provides us with four rather faithful impressions of four of the most important Algerian musicians of his era: the aforementioned Halali, Mahieddine Bachetarzi (the father of modern Algerian theater and inheritor of Edmond Nathan Yafil’s mantel), his master and close friend Lili Labassi (né Elie Moyal), and finally, Cheikh Zouzou (né Joseph Guenoun). In doing so, he testifies to the ubiquity of certain records and the particular formula employed therein across the Algerian soundscape at least until mid-twentieth century.

He labels all of this, “Chekchouka,” a dish of cooked and stewed tomatoes, peppers, and onions, to conjure the mixing or getting mixed up that is his series of impressions. Like shakshuka itself, the result is delicious.

Label: Pathé
Title: Chekchouka
Artist: Blond Blond
Issue Number: PA 2895
Matrix Number: CPT 9040-21
Date of Pressing: 1952

Lili Boniche – Marché Noir [Sides 1-2], Pacific, c. 1947

The following was originally published under the title, “A Forgotten Song Surfaces About World War II in North Africa,” Reboot, November 30, 2022.

As far as historians go, I look at the past in a very particular way: I listen for its sounds. And as a collector of music, I have long believed that every song tells a story. Such is certainly the case with this phonograph record by the Algerian Jewish recording artist Lili Boniche – drawn from my personal collection – which reminds that the history of World War II encompassed a far wider geography than is often remembered.

Eighty years ago this November, in the midst of World War II, over one hundred thousand American and British troops splashed down on the beaches of Morocco and Algeria to launch Operation Torch. It was a stunning success. Within a few short days, the largest amphibian landing in human history led to the surrender of the authoritarian, accommodationist, and antisemitic Vichy regime in North Africa. It also laid the groundwork for the Allied invasion of Europe. But there were dire consequences, too. Eighty years ago this month, Nazi Germany began its six-month occupation of Tunisia.

The roughly half a million Jews of North Africa who found themselves under fascist rule during the Second World War were subject to a number of mechanisms intended to silence and subjugate. Perhaps that is why their story has taken so long to surface. As with their coreligionists in Europe, Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian Jews were confronted with antisemitic legislation, quotas, Aryanization, ghettoization, and the specter of a sprawling camp system. To reconstruct this forgotten wartime history, historians have been laboring with great clarity of purpose for more than a decade to produce accounts both new and definitive. But for me the question still remains: what does music remember that history might not? In other words, whose voices could be raised during the war? And how might we attend for the silences? For the many Jewish musicians of North Africa, who since the rise of the recording industry at the turn of the twentieth century had played an outsized role in crafting the region’s popular sounds, that silencing took on a quite literal form. Pushed off of radio and off the stage, some of the most important cultural figures of their time could no longer be heard at a particularly dire moment in history. Such was the case with the Algerian Jewish recording artist Lili Boniche, whose rising star was forced into retreat as the World War II reached his side of the Mediterranean with the fall of France in summer 1940.

Born in 1922 to a family of humble origins in the Casbah of Algiers, the young Boniche learned music from his father and from his milieu. As a teenager, he apprenticed to some of the other legendary Arabophone Jewish musicians of the years between the two World Wars. By the end of the 1930s, he was welcomed into the pantheon of virtuosos that was El Moutribia, Algeria’s premier orchestra, where he was quickly promoted as their “new star”––including at the troupe’s annual Ramadan spectacles. Just before the outbreak of war, he became a staple of Radio Alger’s “Arab broadcast,” sharing its sound stage alongside Muslim performers emerging and established. But with the installation of the French State’s Marshal Philippe Pétain and the promulgation of anti-Jewish legislation in metropolitan France and in North Africa, Boniche was prohibited from public performance. He was also removed from the French citizenship that he and the vast majority of Algerian Jews had held since the Crémieux Decree of 1870.

But with Operation Torch, Boniche made sure his voice was heard once again. He intimates that he may have even participated directly in the resistance that allowed for the Allied landing in the first place. As soon as was possible, he resumed touring. He also headed to the recording studio. Among his initial postwar releases was “Marché Noir” (Black Market), a song that spoke directly to the experiences of Jews and Muslims in wartime North Africa. Released in 1947, it is now being made available here for the first time in more than seventy years.

As you will hear, piano and violin set the mood as Boniche arrives at his prolonged lament.

“Oh, the good old days, I wonder if they will return

Their lightness became darkness

Time lost its meaning.”

The twenty-five year old, quieted under Vichy, was invoking the prewar moment at full volume. For much of the rest of the six minute dirge, split on two sides of a 78 rpm record, he narrates the deprivations of the Vichy years, of survival despite all odds, of food rations, and of the emergence of a notorious and devastating black market.

With Operation Torch, the tide had turned. With this record, Boniche made clear that this history need by passed on to subsequent generations.

“Now that goods are available,                       

The situation is settled, thank God.               

We can tell our sons and daughters             

this story of the Black Market.”

Despite the real-time testimony of Boniche and others, the silence surrounding World War II and North Africa has endured for decades. To begin to remedy that, we need to listen for and amplify a range of voices, including those etched between the aging grooves of records. Music indeed remembers what history so often forgets.

Label: Pacific
Title: Marché Noir
Artist: Lili Boniche
Issue Number: CO 7010
Matrix Number: ST-1480
Date of Pressing: c. 1947

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.


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,

[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,

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

[4] Silver, Recording History, 43.

Laho Seror – “Kam wa-kam ya ʿayni” – Pathé, c. 1907-1912

Eliaou “Laho” Seror was among the first cohort of Algerians to record for the phonograph at the turn of the twentieth century. That his recording career lasted decades, from his first appearance on a set of cylinders made in Algiers in 1905 through sessions which brought him to Berlin in the 1930s, makes it all the more surprising that to date, so few of his records have surfaced. What this means is that while his name has long been invoked among aficionados of Algerian music, his voice itself has been harder to come by since his passing in 1940.

Laho Seror was born in the lower Casbah of Algiers on September 8, 1860 to Moïse Seror and Bellara Seror (née Bensimon). Like all Algerian Jews at the time, Laho, the youngest of the Seror’s three children, was a subject of France rather than a citizen (that would change with the promulgation of the Crémieux Decree a decade later). The young Seror grew up in both an arabophone and Ladino- (or as it was known in Algeria, Tetouani-) speaking family. At some point in the 1880s, or possibly earlier, he apprenticed himself to Shaykh Mohammed Ben Ali Sfindja, the doyen of Andalusian masters in the Algerian capital. Although Sfindja was sixteen years Seror’s senior, the two had much in common. Both were cobblers by trade. Both spent much time in and around a greasy spoon by the name of Maklouf Loubia. And both formed an important relationship with Maklouf’s son Edmond Nathan Yafil, the pioneering figure behind the North African recording industry.[1]

In the earliest years of the twentieth century, Yafil (who we will learn more about in a follow up post) began collaborating with Sfindja, Seror, and an emerging European musicologist by the name of Jules Rouanet in order to render the Andalusian repertoire onto the printed page in the form of sheet music. By 1905, Yafil turned to the technology of the phonograph cylinder to make a series of commercial recordings as part of what he called “Collection Yafil.” Among those featured on the “Collection Yafil” cylinders was Seror.

In addition to his independent recording activities, Yafil represented Pathé, Gramophone, Odeon, and other labels then operating in Algeria. Again, Seror featured prominently. This recording made by Laho Seror for Pathé under the supervision of Yafil is difficult to date but suffice it to say that it has been little heard for a century or so. It appears, for instance, in a 1912 record catalog but its matrix numbers align well with a print publication released by Yafil in 1907. As music historian Ouail Labassi has observed, “Kam wa-kam ʿayni” (How much, my eyes), the side featured here, is a khlas or mkhiles, an integral component of the Andalusian repertoire in that it serves to close a particular suite (in this case, nubat maya).

As with many of the early Pathé releases at the time, there is quite a bit of surface noise on this record. As Jonathan Ward has noted, this owes, in large part, to the labels iconoclasm. Pathé records, for example, were vertically cut, meaning that the music was to be found at the bottom of shallow grooves rather than on the sides of deeper channels (as was more common practice). The label also continued to record initially on cylinders, rather than on master discs, well past the point of their competitors. Still, you might find that if you close your eyes and come to focus on the voice and instrumentation, the surface noise will start to melt away. With a careful ear, you will hear Seror on the kwitra (a type of ʿud), accompanied by Alfred “Sassi” Lebrati on the mandolin. You may also detect Seror repeating the vocables, “ya la la” and “ya la lan,” at once, understood as making reference to al-Andalus itself and at the same time, as a form of copyright. In other words, by omitting some of the words of “Kam wa-kam ʿayni” and replacing them with “ya la la,” the artist could protect a difficult to learn repertoire from imitation by competitors.

From just before the First World War until the eve of the Second World War, Seror also played a foundational role in the ever-expanding world of Algerian musical associations, including Yafil’s El Moutribia (est. 1912) and El Andalousia (est. 1929).[2] In 1914, he also served as artistic director of an early incarnation of the aforementioned El Andalousia, which was then a part of the Young Algerian association El Toufikya.

Seror made his final records in the early 1930s for the Baidaphon label in Berlin. Throughout the end of the interwar period, he remained a regular on stage in Algeria’s principal cities and on Radio Alger. Shaykh Eliaou “Laho” Seror died in 1940 and is buried in Cimetière de St. Eugène in Algiers.


Label: Pathé

Title: Kam wa-kam ya ʿayni (كم وكم يا عيني)

Artist: Laho Seror

Issue Number: 10.409

Transfer number?: 428

Date of Pressing: c. 1907-1912

[1] Much of the detail for this post is adapted from Chapter 1 of Recording History: Jews, Muslims, and Music across Twentieth-Century North Africa (Stanford University Press, 2022): Available here and here for North America and here for Europe, MENA, and beyond.

[2] On Algerian musical associations in the early twentieth century, see Silver (2022), Jonathan Glasser (2016), Malcolm Théoleyre (2016), Hadj Miliani (2011), Omar Carlier (2009), and Nadya Bouzar-Kasbadji (1988).

Sam Fhimat – Hobini ya bneia [Sides 1 – 2] – Olympia, c. 1950s

Presented here is yet another early- to mid-1950s release by the Moroccan independent label Olympia. As becomes clear through the act of gathering records, their catalog was vast––numbering more than eighty releases, among which included Hebrew liturgy (piyyut) and popular music (shaʿbi). Providing some of their output at the time was Sam Fhima (al-Bidawi), one of a handful of rising stars within the Jewish community during the years surrounding Moroccan independence. The exact number of records he made with Olympia is not yet clear but “Hobini ya bneia” (Love me, girl), featured below, was typical of his playful, up-tempo sound. That he was popular is perhaps evidenced by the fact that his 78s traveled beyond Morocco and were re-pressed in Israel as 45 rpm records by the Ron-Ly label, one of the many imprints of the Azoulay family out of Jaffa.

At present, a fuller biography for Fhima is still being pieced together. As more information comes to light, this post will be expanded.

Label: Olympia

Title: Hobini ya bneia [Sides 1-2]

Artist: Sam Fhimat

Issue Number: 1011/1012

Matrix Number: LSP 5339/5340

Date of Pressing: c. mid-1950s

Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana – Hattab El Hattab – Pathé, c. 1930

The mizwid, the Tunisian bagpipe, has long had a vexed history.[1] For hundreds of years, Tunisian Jewish and Muslim communal authorities have objected to the goatskin instrument given the central role it has played in trance-inducing ceremonies––including those mixed in gender and confession and performed in private homes and at the tombs of sainted figures. But for a great many Jews and Muslims, the mizwid, a staple of the rebaybiyya tradition, was embraced with the gusto it deserved. Indeed, although it is most closely associated with a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s, owing, in part, to the release of a number of LPs and EPs produced in France, it is important to recall that the mizwid featured among the earliest and most popular Tunisian recordings of the turn of the twentieth century and just afterward. Among the greatest interwar exponents of rebaybiyya, with its signature mizwid and bendir, were the Tunisian Jewish duo of Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana. In listening to their pulsating c. 1930 version of “Hattab El Hattab,” dedicated to the Muslim saint Sidi Ali El Hattab (the namesake of the Hattabiyya Sufi order), their renown, as well as the power of the mizwid to send its listeners into a state of exaltation, hopefully becomes clear.


Label: Pathé

Title: Hattab El Hattab (Bnaders & Mezoued)

Artists: Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana

Issue Number: X 65070

Matrix Number: N 57273

Date of Pressing: c. 1930

[1] For expert treatment of the mizwid and rebaybiyya, see Richard C. Jankowsky, Ambient Sufism: Ritual Niches and the Social Work of Musical Form (University of Chicago Press, 2021). Much of the above derives from Jankowsky’s work.