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Salim Halali – Adhrob Kassi and Atini – Pathé, c. 1947

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of Salim Halali’s birth. It is only fitting, then, that we add some of his lesser known recordings to the Gharamophone archive. “Adhrob Kassi” (Toast with me)[1] belongs to that series of records Halali made for Pathé just after the conclusion of World War II. Indeed, after surviving the war while under German occupation in Paris, he wasted little time in returning to the recording studio postwar. Whereas on his earliest records he collaborated with his compatriots Mohamed Iguerbouchène and Mohamed El Kamal, the mid- and late-1940s sessions now drew heavily on a number of Tunisian Jewish artists including the late Gaston Bsiri[2], Simon Amiel, and Messaoud Habib (who likely provides the piano here).

SHalali-Atini 2

Like Halali, “Adhrob Kassi” is salacious. It begins with an invitation to an unnamed lover for a drink, which leads to a kiss, and then proceeds with the Algerian Jewish vocalist invoking all manner of sexual innuendo.

Gharamophone · Salim Halali – Adhrob Kassi and Atini [Sides 1 – 2] (Pathé, c. 1947)

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Adhrob Kassi (اضرب كاسي) and Atini (اعطيني)
Artist: Salim Halali
Composer: Salim Halali
Issue Number: PV 53
Matrix Number: CPT 6429 and CPT 6439 (M3-111282 and M3-111283)
Date of Pressing: c. 1947

[1] Literally, “hit my cup.”

[2] Bsiri was murdered in Sobibor in 1942.

Sariza – Plainte (Chekoua) – Polydor, c. 1936-1938

The early twentieth century Algerian Jewish pianist Sariza Cohen is still venerated among Algerian musicians and music-lovers but is unfortunately little known beyond those circles. While the biography that follows will necessarily be a partial one given the scant source material available at the time of writing, it will nonetheless hopefully serve to increase her profile.

Unfortunately, much of our limited knowledge of Sariza comes from a single source: a report written at the height of Vichy rule by an employee of the Centre de Hautes Études d’Administration Musulmane (CHEAM) named M. Delahaye. In order to begin to sketch out her career, then, one must start by reading against the grain of a very problematic document.

The woman who would record and broadcast under the name of Mme. Sariza or simply Sariza was born as Zahra Saïac to Isaac Saïac and Hana Aobadia in Oran in 1889. Her mother’s family was originally from Tlemcen. In 1913, she married Abraham Cohen and thus became Zahra (Sariza) Cohen

Sariza was trained as a classical pianist, most likely at the Conservatory of Oran. At some point in the early 1930s, she became transfixed by the Andalusian repertoire, with particular interest in marrying the musical traditions of western Algerian with Western art music. As Hadj Miliani recently unearthed, Sariza’s brothers were also musically-inclined. Her brother Edmond Sayag (Saiac) served as the manager of a number of music-halls and cabarets in Paris, including the famed Les Ambassadeurs. Her brother Max Sayag (Saiac), also based in Paris, was the founder of Maxsa, one of the first French labels to deal exclusively in jazz.

Around 1936, Sariza made her first records for the Polydor label in Paris. On some of those recordings, she was apparently accompanied by the orchestra of the Great Mosque in the 5th arrondisement.[1] In 1937, J. Bouyer of L’Echo d’Alger praised one of her Polydor releases, which featured “Ana louleïa” on the A side and “Y a smer eloun” on the B side, as a “truly original record.” The French journalist was as taken by her voice as with her piano playing. He did make one suggestion, though. Given his “total incompetence in Oriental music,” he proposed that Sariza’s records moving forward, “include spoken preamble, in French, specifying the origin of the Arab melody and its literary meaning.”[2]

This Polydor side, “Plainte” (“Chekoua”), which might be best translated as “lamentation,” ornamented simply but stunningly with Sariza’s voice, her own accompaniment on piano, and strings, may have hailed from those 1936 sessions although the record itself indicates it was pressed in 1938. Nonetheless, the result is breathtaking. And now thanks to Kawther Bentjdipas (a friend of this site and much more), this piece has been further identified as the istikhbar,
“أَشْكُوا الْغَـرَامَ”(Ashku al-gharam), performed here in the mode of araq.

By 1939, Sariza and her records were featured on the “Muslim broadcasts” of Radio Alger. She often came on the air right after Quranic recitation. She also gave a number of high-profile concerts in Paris at this time.

In late 1940, she was forced off of Radio Alger by Vichy’s anti-Jewish statutes. In his report written a year later, M. Delahaye of CHEAM noted that the “Oranaise Jewess” was being compared to two figures just before the outbreak of the war: Mohamed Iguerbouchène, who among other activities, had acted as the composer on Salim Halali’s earliest records, and the Radio Alger violinist Jacqueline Maire, who was experimenting with Andalusian music herself.

After the war, Sariza appeared once again on Radio Alger and on a number of stations in Paris. By 1962, Cohen, like the vast majority of Algerian Jews, had left Algeria. But like a minority of others, she returned to independent Algeria by the end of the year. In Oran, she resumed her position at the conservatory. Alongside Abderrahmane Sekkal, she also served as the co-president of the music association Ennahda (La Renaissance). She finally departed Algeria for France in 1977.

Notes
Label: Polydor
Title: Chekoua (Plainte)
Artist: Sariza
Catalogue Number: 524 448
Matrix Number: 4021 HPP
Date of Pressing: c. 1938

[1] Hadj 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, 184.

[2] J. Bouyer, “Un beau disque nord-africain,” L’Écho d’Alger, April 11, 1937.

Lili Boniche – Carmelita – Pacific, c. 1950

You can read more about Lili Boniche and listen to his mid-twentieth century song “Pourquoi Tu Ne M’aimes Pas”/“علاش ما تحبنيش” here. Meanwhile, here is another side from his postwar sessions with the Pacific label on its “Musique orientale” series. Written and composed by Boniche, “Carmelita,” a paso-doble about a Spanish woman who drives him wild, was a major hit across North Africa when it was released c. 1950 (and possibly as early as 1947). It was later covered by Blond Blond and a young Moroccan Jewish musician by the name of Haim Botbol, both of whom found much success with the song. Listening to the original, it is not difficult to understand why.

Notes
Label: Pacific
Title: Carmelita
Artist: Lili Boniche
Issue Number: CO 7013
Matrix Number: ST-1485-1
Date of Pressing: c. 1950

Smarda el Olgia – Refken [Sides 1-2], Smarda, 1935

Five years ago, I wrote about Smarda el Olgia here. Incredibly, nearly all of the information still holds. But a few new details have emerged as well. Below I quote from the original text (with some revisions) and then expand based on the additional sources that have come to light.

“Smarda el Olgia was born Rachel Sitbon in Tunis in 1892. She married Israel-Eugene Hayat [around 1909] and thus became known as Mrs. Rachel Hayat (Sitbon). In addition to being a fixture of Tunisian Jewish high society, presiding over a number of charitable organizations, she was also very well regarded among practitioners of the eastern Algerian and Tunisian classical Andalusian tradition known as Malouf [ma’luf].

Throughout the end of the 1920s and the 1930s, patrimony became the watchword across the Maghrib. In large part it was fear of Egyptian music’s popularity that caused French colonial figures and indigenous musical impresarios reformers to leap into action. Thus, institutions dedicated to safeguarding Andalusian music in all of its local forms, as well as committed to protecting Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian musical traditions more broadly constructed, were established. One thinks of the erection of the conservatory in Rabat, the formation of orchestras like El Djazairia in Algeria, and of course, the emergence of La Rachidia in Tunis in 1934. As part of this effort, Emile Gau, Director General of Public Instruction and Beaux-Arts Fine Arts in Tunisia, concerned that the suites associated with malouf [ma’luf] were in danger of being lost (a common trope and no doubt influenced by the work of Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger and La Rachidia), commissioned Rachel Hayat to make a series of malouf recordings in Paris in order to preserve Tunisian heritage in perpetuity (take a close look at the label and you’ll see much of this background come alive). And in September 1935, Rachel Hayat (Sitbon), under the name Smarda el Olgia (Smarda or Zmarda was a common Tunisian Jewish name), performed that task beautifully––recording this and [a] dozen or so other records.”[1] To celebrate and promote the affair, a Smarda catalogue was printed and a press campaign was launched.

On “Refken” [رفقا مالك الحسن], a classic of the ma’luf repertoire, el Olgia (Hayat) is accompanied by the famed Mohamed Ghanem on the rebab (a bowed string instrument), who is invoked by name at the outset of the recording. On this and her other discs, she is also joined by the illustrious Khemais Ternan, virtuoso of the ud, and Chaloum Aaddaoui on violin. At various points on this record, the masterful bowing of strings cleaves so closely to el Olgia’s voice that one could be forgiven for thinking she was singing in harmony with herself.

Notes
Label: Smarda
Title: Refken [رفقا مالك الحسن]
Artist: Smarda el Olgia
Issue Number: 10791-10792
Matrix Number: N/A
Date of Pressing: 1935

[1] http://jewishmorocco.blogspot.com/2015/12/who-was-smarda-el-olgia-microhistorical.html

Marie Soussan – Alach ya Lsan tadoui [Sides 1-2], Polyphon, 1934

Until 2019, we knew little about Algeria’s first female stage actor Marie Soussan (1895-1977). Then Ouail Labassi, a historian of early twentieth century Algerian music and a friend of Gharamophone, published his groundbreaking research on the comedienne and recording artist here. Much of what follows, then, is mere summary of his work (with permission). Readers should also note that I build on the pioneering scholarship of Hadj Miliani. Where possible, I have added some additional details culled from my own findings.

Soussan was born on January 17, 1895 in the lower Casbah of Algiers. As Labassi has shown, her mother Louna Aboucaya was the maternal aunt of impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil. Like so many artists of her era, she honed her musical skills at family gatherings, where she devoted herself to singing and the darbuka. At some point after World War I, she joined El Moutribia, the orchestra and theater troupe of her famous cousin Yafil. According to Labassi, her stage debut may have occurred in 1925 at the Casino d’Alger. Over the next fifteen years, she maintained a busy career with El Moutribia, acting and touring alongside her comic partner Rachid Ksentini. Together, the Jewish-Muslim duo took center stage. Many of those acts were then recorded to disc. Soussan, of course, was also a talented solo artist, recording an array of genres––classical and popular––first with Gramophone and then with Polyphon. All of this earned her early membership in the Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique (SACEM).

This record, “Alach ya Lsan tadoui,” an original composition by a yet identified musician, was made for Polyphon in 1934, a rather productive year for the label in North Africa. As can be heard, there is a strength and a sultriness to her voice. Perhaps that is why, in part, the French press of the time referred to Marie Soussan as “the Sophie Tucker of North Africa.”

Notes
Label: Polyphon
Title: Alach ya Lsan tadoui [علاش يا لسان تدوي]
Artist: Marie Soussan
Issue Number: 45.803
Matrix Number: 237 HRP; 238 HRP
Date of Pressing: 1934

Zohra El Fassia – Ayli Ayli Hbibi Diali [Sides 1-2], Philips, c. end of 1954-1955

Within moments of Albert Suissa’s end of 1954 release of the politically charged “Ayli Ayli” on the Olympia label, Zohra El Fassia did much the same with “Ayli Ayli Hbibi Diali” on the Philips label. Indeed, El Fassia, a favorite of the Moroccan palace, was almost certainly motivated to record the song at the time for the same reasons as Suissa: she, like so many others Moroccan Jews and Muslims, longed for the exiled Sultan Mohamed Ben Youssef.

One final note on what else can be heard on this recording. At minute 5:41, El Fassia excitedly recognizes her violinist, the famed Moroccan Jewish musician known as Shulamit.

Notes
Label: Philips
Titles: Ayli Ayli Hbibi Diali / ايلي ايلي حبيبي ديالي [Sides 1-2]
Artist: Zohra El Fassia
Issue Number: 78.120 H
Matrix Number: 207-A [Side 1] and 208-B [Side 2]
Date of Pressing: c. 1954-1955

Albert Suissa – Ayli Ayli (ايلي ايلي) [Sides 1-2] – Olympia, c. end of 1954

On January 14, 1954, a confidential letter was passed on to the French Civil Controller of Morocco’s southern Chaouia region by a subordinate. It noted that a certain qaʾid (tribal governor) by the name of “Saghir” had brought it to his attention that a number of records recently played on Radio Maroc had “made allusion to the exile of the ex-sultan.”[1] Given the political climate, this was a particularly grave problem. Months earlier, in a dramatic showdown, the French Residency, in cooperation with the Glaoui Pasha, had removed Sultan Mohamed ben Youssef from the throne and cast him into exile. The shortsighted move had once again brought Moroccans together. Tensions across the country ran high. The march to independence was gathering steam.

While at least three offending discs making “allusion to the exile of the ex-sultan” had made their way onto Moroccan radio, one seemed to merit special attention. Perhaps it was because it was so catchy. At some point, the qaʾid must have hummed a line to a bureaucrat in the Civil Controller’s office. It was transcribed as “El habib diali fain houa” (my friend where is he). The song in question was known variously at the time as “Ayli Ayli,” “Hbibi diyali,” and “Sidi Hbibi.” Today, it has been covered by just about everyone: from Moroccan R&B and funk artist Vigon to French-Spanish singer Manu Chao.

By February 1955, Saghir’s intelligence tip had worked its way up the ladder. Political Affairs, for example, now possessed a summary of the original letter, as well as new information gleaned along the way. On February 15, 1955, it was concluded that at least three versions of “Hbibi diyali” by three different artists were being distributed in Morocco. The record censor’s office determined the following: “that of Albert Suissa contains political allusions.” On February 23 1955, the Moroccan Jewish artist was brought to the attention of Captain Levaique, Director of General Information Services. He was informed that if he wanted to intercede with Suissa’s “Ayli Ayli,” released on the Olympia label and bearing issue numbers 1005 and 1006, he would need to act quickly. Indeed, Mr. Azoulay-Elmaleh, who ran the Olympia label out of his brick and mortar store on Rue de Mazagan in Casablanca, wrote to Captain Levaique that he had official authorization to distribute the Suissa records. Furthermore, he added that 935 copies of “Ayli Ayli,” pressed by the Radium label in Paris, were to arrive at port in the coming days. As for what happened next, the archives go completely silent.

Whatever the fate of those discs was in February 1955, we can presume that Suissa’s record traveled widely and was widely popular (despite what seems like a slight tape problem on the recording). Originally released at the end of 1954, Azoulay-Elmaleh, operator of a small, independent Moroccan record label, had ordered another thousand copies of “Ayli Ayli” just months after it first hit the market. We have heard from Suissa before on this site but have not yet thought of him in nationalist terms. On “Ayli Ayli,” we hear him asking “my love, where is he?” in the shadow of the disappearance of the beloved Sultan Mohamed ben Youssef. Over the next two years, Suissa’s support for the monarch would grow more strident.[2] The same was true for any number of Jewish musicians who remained in Morocco through the earliest years of decolonization.

Notes
Label: Olympia
Title: Ayli Ayli / ايلي ايلي [Sides 1-2]
Artist: Albert Suissa
Issue Number: 1005/1006
Matrix Number: LSP 5257/5258
Date of Pressing: end of 1954

[1] Christopher Silver, “Listening to the Past: Music as a Source for the Study of North African Jews,” solicited contribution to “Jews of Morocco and the Maghreb: History and Historiography,” ed., Aomar Boum, Jessica Marglin, Khalid Ben-Srhir, and Mohammed Kenbib, special issue of Hespéris-Tamuda, vol. L1, 2016, 244. (https://www.academia.edu/36013037/Listening_to_the_Past_Music_as_a_Source_for_the_Study_of_North_African_Jews).

[2] On the nationalism and nationalist music of Moroccan Jewish superstar Samy Elmaghribi, see Christopher Silver, THE SOUNDS OF NATIONALISM: MUSIC, MOROCCANISM, AND THE MAKING OF SAMY ELMAGHRIBI, International Journal of Middle East Studies (2020), 1-25, doi:10.1017/S0020743819000941. (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies/article/sounds-of-nationalism-music-moroccanism-and-the-making-of-samy-elmaghribi/DEA0FA05DCEE3C8474753BF75F969B11).

Lili Boniche – Pourquoi Tu Ne M’aimes Pas (علاش ما تحبنيش) – Pacific, c. 1950

Algerian Jewish recording artist Lili Boniche (1922-2008) was born to a family of humble origins in the lower Casbah of Algiers. Raised in a musical family, the young Boniche picked up his father’s mandole early and soon developed a talent for the instrument. By the early 1930s, Saoud l’Oranais recognized that talent and brought Boniche under his wing alongside Reinette l’Oranaise. Just a few years later, Boniche joined El Moutribia, the Andalusian association and orchestra first established by Edmond Nathan Yafil and long presided over by Mahieddine Bachetarzi, where he was quickly promoted as their “new star”––including at the troupe’s many Ramadan galas. It was at this time that the Jewish musician also became a fixture on Radio Alger, backed on piano by his contemporary Mustapha Skandrani. During World War II, Boniche, like all Algerian Jews, was denaturalized by the Vichy regime. His own website suggests that he participated in the Resistance. To be sure, the archives make clear that he certainly sang of the war and of Allied victory. Just a few years later, he recorded a song for the French Pacific label’s Collection musique orientale series entitled, “Marché Noir” (Black Market).

Beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the early 1950s, Boniche recorded exclusively for Pacific. Released circa 1950, “علاش ما تحبنيش/Pourquoi tu ne m’aimes pas” (Why don’t you love me), a tango which blended French with Arabic, is emblematic of his signature Franco-Arabe sound, which won him fans from Algeria to Morocco (where he toured regularly) and from Morocco to metropolitan France. While a much later version of this song was recorded in the 1990s and released on Boniche’s “Alger Alger,” on the A.P.C. label, this is the first time that the original has been reissued after more than seventy years.

It is perhaps telling that Boniche and other Algerian Jewish artists, French citizens again since 1943, were still assigned to the label’s “oriental” imprint even at mid-century and even as they recorded some songs that were mostly in French. While scholars assume that the Frenchness of Algerian Jews was a settled mattered in the postwar period, if not earlier, it seems that questions still remained given the steadfastness of those like Boniche to indigenous culture and language.

Notes
Label: Pacific
Title: Pourquoi Tu Ne M’aimes Pas / علاش ما تحبنيش
Artist: Lili Boniche
Issue Number: CO 7012
Matrix Number: ST-1482-2
Date of Pressing: c. 1950

Blond Blond – Ghnaït Robert Cohen [Sides 1-2] – Pathé, 1954

In Algerian historiography, the year 1954 looms especially large. Most notably, the date marks the formal start of the Algerian war of independence. That year, it should be mentioned, Algerians had other causes to celebrate and occasions to mark, even if now forgotten. Indeed, two months before fighting broke out in November 1954, a boxer from Annaba in eastern Algeria fought halfway across the globe to become the bantamweight champion of the world and a national hero back home. His name was Robert Cohen.

On September 19, 1954, Cohen, twenty-four years old and standing at 5 feet, 2.5 inches (1.59 m), faced off against a slightly older and slightly taller Thai boxer by the name of Chamroen Songkitrat in Bangkok. The fierce title fight was held before a crowd of some 60,000 and lasted the maximum fifteen rounds. Despite Songkitrat’s homecourt advantage, Cohen would win on decision.[1] In emerging victorious, the young Jew electrified the boxing world, Algeria, and seemingly all of North Africa.

Less than three months after Cohen’s victory, the celebrated Algerian Jewish artist Albert Rouimi, better known by his stage name of Blond Blond, composed and then recorded the celebratory “Ghnaït Robert Cohen” (the Song of Robert Cohen) for Pathé. On what was likely the first boxing record of its kind in the Maghrib, he was accompanied by multi-talented Tunisian Jewish musician Youcef Hedjaj, a vocalist, instrumentalist, and composer who was also a favorite of Louisa Tounsia, Line Monty, and many others.

The rousing song about the Algerian Jewish boxer Cohen––curiously listed as a “chant Marocain” (a Moroccan song) on the label––is reminiscent of Saoud l’Oranais’ 1934 football chant “Gheniet U.S.M.O” in structure, melody, and lyrics. The phrase “khalouni nghani” (let me sing), for example, is repeated in both throughout, as is the French word “champion.” At the same time, there are notable differences. Blond Blond, for instance, sang of Cohen’s victory not just as the pride of a certain city, as Saoud l’Oranais did, but as “honoring” all of Algeria and North Africa as well. Of course, the context was also much changed. 1954, the start of the Algerian revolution, was a far cry from 1934 or any other moment in the interwar period. Nonetheless, this record captures certain continuities that existed in parallel to the rapid changes on Algeria’s path to decolonization. In 1954, Algerian Jews––legal French citizens since the end of the nineteenth century––still sang in Arabic and could still be considered part of the national community and even national heroes. In fact, it is noteworthy that Blond Blond recorded “the Song of Robert Cohen” in Arabic. This was a choice. He could have easily done so in French. But in making that choice, Blond Blond made clear his audience: Arabophone Algerian Muslims and the not insignificant number of Algerian Jews who still spoke Arabic. It was for them, it seems, that Cohen’s triumph was especially meaningful.

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Ghnaït Robert Cohen (اغنية روبر كوهين)
Artist: Blond Blond
Issue Number: PA 3120
Matrix Number: CPT 11.296; CPT 11.297 / M3-160363; M3-160364
Date of Pressing: end of 1954

[1] Cohen held the title until 1956. He lost to Italian Mario D’Agata on June 29, 1956 in a fight that was recognized as a title match by some institutional bodies but not others. In 1957, Alphonse Halimi, another Algerian Jew, took the title from D’Agata to become bantamweight world champion. It is of interest to note that Cohen and Halimi shared many similarities, in addition to both being Jews. Both were from eastern Algerian (Halimi was from Constantine). Both got their start in swimming. And class was a significant factor for both. Cohen and Halimi, for example, were each one of fourteen children.

Albert Abitbol and Gaston Bsiri – al-Bashraf al-Kabir [Sides 1-2] – Disques Oum-El-Hassen, c. 1930s

Like all of the releases on the independent Tunisian label Oum-El-Hassen (meaning, “nightingale”), this one begins with the chirping of birds. At the time, the canned singing may have been intended to evoke the caged birds that flanked the many cafés in Tunis where ma’luf was performed. Or perhaps it was meant to conjure al-Andalus itself. Either way, the result is the same: the listener quiets and prepares for what follows.

Oum-El-Hassen was founded by the Tunisian Muslim impresario Bachir Rsaissi around 1930. It appeared at about the same time as his iconic Rsaissi label. Using his Oum-El-Hassen imprint, Rsaissi recorded widely. This included ma’luf, the Tunisian variant of the Andalusian repertoire, as well as Tunisian and Egyptian popular music. After recording locally, Oum-El-Hassen masters were then shipped to Paris where they were pressed by the French Cristal label. The records were subsequently shipped back to Tunisia where they were sold for about the half the price of discs on the Baidaphon label, where Rsaissi had previously been an employee.

IMG_0001 - SIde 2

This recording of the ma’luf overture of al-bashraf al-kabir features the virtuosic playing of two of the most important Tunisian musicians of the interwar period: Albert Abitbol on violin and Hayyim “Gaston” Bsiri on ʿud. The flawlessness of their execution must owe to the fact that the two were frequent collaborators, recording together on Gramophone throughout the 1920s and apparently on Oum-El-Hassen and other labels in the 1930s.

Unfortunately, little bibliographic information is available for Abitbol but a few points can be made. First, the blind instrumentalist was regarded as among the premier violinists of his day. In addition to collaborating with Bsiri, for example, Abitbol formed an integral part of Cheikh El Afrite’s orchestra. It can also be surmised that the Tunisian Jewish musician performed well into the 1950s, if not later. The Algerian vocalist and composer Kamal Hamadi, husband to the famed Noura and who came of age at mid-century, once stated that, “no one could play the violin like Albert Abitbol.”[1] The statement was based on his own experiences with Abitbol. As for Gaston Bsiri, much more is known.

Gaston Bsiri was born in Tunis in 1888 to Ottoman Jewish parents, who may have originated in the port city of Izmir. He was both a gifted solo artist and accompanist, who recorded for a host of labels in the 1920s and 1930s including Gramophone, Pathé, Perfectaphone, and Oum-El-Hassen. He was likewise a prolific composer, most notably for Baidaphon. Like many musicians of his era, Bsiri earned his livelihood in myriad ways. In addition to making records, for instance, Bsiri also sold them from his store on rue d’Alfa in the Tunisian capital. What’s more, Bsiri also served as a Hebrew and music teacher at the Alliance israélite universelle school on rue Malta Sghira in the Hafsia neighborhood of Tunis, where he counted the great Raoul Journo among his pupils.

At some point in the late 1930s, Bsiri, like other North African Jewish and Muslim musicians, established himself in Paris. As the Nazi occupation set in during summer 1940, Bsiri, like Salim Halali who was also marooned in Paris, would find himself ever more vulnerable.[2] Nonetheless, according to Journo’s autobiography, Bsiri continued to play publically through the first few months of 1942 and did so possibly by passing as Muslim. Then, suddenly and in unclear circumstances, he was denounced to the Gestapo. Tragically, on April 8, 1942, Gaston Bsiri, the Tunisian Jewish ʿudist and composer of wide acclaim, was killed in Auschwitz.

Notes
Label: Oum-El-Hassen
Title: al-bashraf al-kabir
Artist: Albert Abitbol and Gaston Bsiri
Issue Number: 55.120
Matrix Number: O 209 H; O 210 H
Date of Pressing: c. 1930s

[1] https://www.depechedekabylie.com/culture/148138-je-suis-venu-a-la-musique-par-accident/

[2] Halali would begin recording Bsiri’s compositions, likely in homage to him, at war’s end.