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Orchestre Arabe, Direction Mimoun – Danses Arabes – Parlophone, c. 1930

For those familiar with the Yazoo label’s Secret Museum of Mankind series, you may recognize the name Mimoun from their Music of North Africa” album released in 1997. Indeed, the side presented below is the flip of track 14 on that CD, “Prélude et Touchiat Zidane,” performed as part of Parlophone’s “Orchestre Arabe” under the direction of Mimoun Chetrit. Chetrit, almost always referred to simply as Mimoun, was the virtuoso pianist of the acclaimed Algerian orchestra El Moutribia. Like so many other musicians in early twentieth century Algiers, he called the lower Casbah home, residing mere steps from the likes of his contemporaries Edmond Nathan Yafil, Laho Seror, and Alfred Sassi” Lebrati.

“Danses Arabes,” released c. 1930, features a popular instrumental piece (a zindani) executed by Mimoun, an energetic Lili Labassi on violin, and a flutist that could very well be the famed Driss although it not uncertain.

Intriguingly, the Arabic text is misspelled. More important, however, is the exceptional quality of the music and some of the continuities that can be discerned. The melody here, for example, is the very same that would later grace Salim Halali’s “Danse de la mariée” (Polydor, c. 1960s), which provided prelude to his iconic and inescapable “Dour biha ya chibani.”

Notes
Label: Parlophone
Title: Danses Arabes (رقصا عرابه) [رقصات عربية]
Artist: Orchestre Arabe, Direction Mimoun
Issue Number: 46.548
Matrix Number: 114095
Date of Pressing: c. 1930

Saoud l’Oranais – El Idd El Kebir [Sides 1-2], Pathé, c. 1930-31

On the approach to Eid al-Kabir (also known as Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice), it felt appropriate to update this entry on Saoud l’Oranais, first posted on this site’s predecessor in 2015. Here, then, are both sides of his c. 1930 recording of the hawzi piece, “El Idd El Kebir” (العيد الكبير), composed by Tlemceni poet Ahmad Ben Triki sometime in the seventeenth century during his exile in Morocco. As its name implies, the song-text performed here by the renowned Jewish musician invokes the Muslim holiday which commemorates the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim) to fulfill God’s command to sacrifice his son Ismail (as in “the Binding of Isaac” in the Jewish tradition, God intervenes to replace the child with a ram). Ben Triki’s qasida itself deals with issues of longing for home and family.

Gharamophone · Saoud l’Oranais – El Idd El Kebir [Sides 1-2] (Pathé, c. 1930)

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: El Idd El Kebir (العيد الكبير)
Artist: Saoud l’Oranais
Issue Number: X 55225
Matrix Number: 99583
Date of Pressing: c. 1930-31

Isaac Loeb and Slomo Souiri – Belouajeb Nefrah – Olympia, c. 1950s

The Moroccan Jewish musician Isaac Loeb[1] recorded no more than a handful of records and perhaps only the soul-nourishing one featured here: “Belouajeb Nefrah” (بالواجب نفرح, We must rejoice), a duet with Slomo Souiri––complete with hand-clapping. Even if his recording output was scant, Loeb, a disciple of Rabbi David Bouzaglo, was certainly revered. This was as true in Casablanca, where this disc was made for the Olympia label sometime in the 1950s, as it was in Montreal, where he settled in the mid- to late-1960s and where he served as an important member of Maghen David.[2]

Gharamophone · Isaac Loeb & Slomo Souiri – Belouajeb Nefrah [Sides 1-2] (Olympia, c. 1950s)

Isaac Loeb & Slomo Souiri [yellow] - Belouajeb Nefrah - Side 2

Notes
Label: Olympia
Title: Belouajeb Nefrah (بالواجب نفرح)
Artist: Isaac Loeb and Slomo Souiri (Cheloumou Souiri)
Issue Number: 1021
Matrix Number: LSP 5353; 5354
Date of Pressing: c. 1950s

[1] As legend has it, three Loeb brothers, Ashkenazim originally from the Alsace region, settled in Morocco in the eighteenth century. The three were forced to settle in three different cities: Essaouira, Safi, and Azemmour.

[2] Maghen David was founded in 1968. It was one of the first Moroccan synagogues established in Montreal.

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).