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Ensemble Paul Godwin – Touchiat Dil – Suite Arabe – Polydor, 1929 

Paul Godwin (né Pinchas Goldfein) and Saoud l’Oranais (né Médioni) are not names you might expect to find together on a record. But once again a disc made almost a century ago has managed to surprise and delight. Let us start with a bit of biography. The Polish Jewish violinist and composer Pinchas Goldfein was born in 1902 in Sosnowiec in Congress Poland.[1] His talent for music was recognized while he was still a boy and brought him to study in Vienna, Budapest, and eventually in Berlin, where he settled in the 1920s. In Berlin, he established a dance band and made a name for himself as an artist fluent in the various popular styles of the day. While his first dance records were made under his family name––“Tanz-Orchester Goldfein” (the Goldfein Dance Orchestra)––he soon settled on the stage name of Paul Godwin. By 1928, his more than 1500 recordings of foxtrot, tango, and jazz made Godwin perhaps the best selling artist of his time. For a sense of scale, Lloica Czackis has suggested that the Grammophon label had sold some 9 million of Godwin’s records by 1933.[2]

            How Godwin connected to “Touchiat Dil,” (tushiyyat dil), a metered, instrumental overture in the mode of “dil” and a component of the Algerian Andalusian repertoire, is not entirely clear but the credited names at the center of this record begin to offer some clues. At the end of the 19th century and continuing through the 20th century, European composers in Algeria embarked on a number of projects to transcribe and “modernize” Andalusian music in an attempt to render it, “classical.”[3] While Jules Rouanet was perhaps the most famous of these figures, owing to his partnership with the Algerian Jewish recording pioneer Edmond Nathan Yafil, the Oran-born José Huertas was well known in his time as well. Like Rouanet, Huertas’ compositions were indebted to a celebrated Algerian Jewish musician, in his case, Saoud l’Oranais (né Messaoud Médioni).[4] Owing to Médioni’s labor, Huertas went on to publish and register the copyright for a number of Andalusian pieces or those associated with the tradition, including the famed qasida, “Bensoussan,” which tells the true and tragic story of a Jewish-Catholic romance in late 19th century Algeria. Given that Huertas’ compositions were distributed by the French music publisher Senart and that he was a member of the French rights society SACEM (Société des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs de musique), the potential for Godwin to be paired with “Touchiat Dil” starts to reveal itself. And while Godwin’s 1929 Polydor recording is a departure from his standard fare at the time and certainty from whatever Saoud l’Oranais must have initially played for Huertas, the Polish Jewish violinist nonetheless gives an evocative performance which manages to capture at least an echo of the original.

Notes
Label: Polydor
Title: Touchiat Dil – Suite Arabe (José Huertas – Saoud Médioni)
Artist: Ensemble Paul Godwin
Issue Number: 22515
Matrix Number: 704 BN
Date of Pressing: 1929


[1] Much of the biographical sketch of Godwin (né Goldfein) is gleaned from Rudolf A. Bruil, “Paul Godwin – Violin / Viola,” Sound Fountain, http://www.soundfountain.com/amb/godwin.html, first published July 2001.

[2] Lloica Czackis, “Tangele: The history of Yiddish tango,” The Jewish Quarterly, Spring 2003, 48-49.

[3] On European transcription projects in Algeria, see, for example, Jonathan Glasser (2016), Malcolm Théoleyre (2016), and Hadj Miliani (2000).

[4] Hadj Miliani, “Fabrication patrimoniale et imaginaires identitaires. Autour des chants et musiques en Algérie,” Insaniyat, 2000, 53-63.

Sariza – Épreuve – “Mihna” – Polydor, 1938

In May 2020, I posted Sariza Cohen’s stunning recording of “أَشْكُوا الْغَـرَامَ”(Ashku al-gharam), released on Polydor in 1938. This is the other side of that record. It is no less remarkable. Here the pianist and vocalist from Oran performs a composition by Algerian Jewish impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil. The title of the piece is given simply as “Mihna” and “Épreuve,” both of which mean “hardship” (in Arabic and French, respectively). Her voice and piano-playing are exquisite. So is the ʿud which adorns the three minute recording.

For many years, the memory of Sariza was kept alive by someone who shared her city and her passion for Algerian music and culture: the late scholar Hadj Miliani (1951-2021). Indeed, it is largely thanks to the intrepid and inimitable Miliani that we know what we know of Sariza in the first place––from her frequent appearances on radio to her close relationship with the revolutionary Francophone Algerian poet Jean Sénac. Deservedly, there have been many tributes to Miliani since his unexpected passing in July 2021. You can read one such homage by Omar Carlier here and here. This post, dedicated to Miliani, is but a small contribution to that effort. He was and remains an inspiration.

Notes
Label: Polydor
Title: Épreuve – Mihna (Yafil)
Artist: Sariza
Catalogue Number: 524 448
Matrix Number: 4022 HPP
Date of Pressing: 1938

Judah Sebag – Elmella and Adon Olam [Sides 1-2], Disques Tam Tam, c. 1955

Yehuda “Judah” Sebag was born in 1925 in Safi as the eldest son of Shimon and Saada Sebag.[1] Six years later, Shimon moved the family to Marrakesh. There, Judah began attending the Alliance israélite universelle school. When he was not in class, he also learned how to cut hair in his uncle’s barbershop in the mellah (Jewish quarter), across from which sat the office of a musician and music promoter named David Zrihan. The regular rehearsals in Zrihan’s space entranced Judah. In exchange for a daily pot of tea, the local impresario offered to teach Judah the ud. The young apprentice quickly obliged.

By the mid- to late-1940s, Judah had made a name for himself as a musician and regularly performed in and around Marrakesh for both the Jewish community and mixed Jewish-Muslim audiences. He apparently was so well regarded that he served as music teacher to one of the daughters of Thami El Glaoui, the Pasha of Marrakesh. In 1950, however, Judah made the difficult decision to leave Morocco for Israel. He joined a growing number of Moroccan Jews who would do the same. But after two years there, he returned to Marrakesh. Roughly 2,500 of his compatriots, in fact, made the reverse journey from Israel to Morocco around this time.[2]

In 1955, Judah departed for Israel once more. While transiting in Marseille, he headed to Jacques Derderian’s Disques Tam Tam store and recording studio on 9 rue des Dominicains. He would be among the many North and West African artists who passed through its doors, including fellow Moroccans Jo Amar and Zohra El Fassia. In the course of a morning or possibly an afternoon, Judah recorded four songs over two records for Derderian’s label (whose discs were pressed by Philips). The first record, presented here, features Elmella, a piyyut (Hebrew paraliturgical poetry) for the circumcision ceremony (Brit Milah), and Adon Olam, the Hebrew prayer which closes the Sabbath morning service. As for Adon Olam, the ethnomusicologist Edwin Seroussi has identified the tune invoked by Judah and his small orchestra, which included accompaniment on the spoons in lieu of the tar (frame drum), as that of Qaduk almayas, a qudud from Aleppo which became quite popular among the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire (and even made its way into klezmer music in Palestine).[3] How and when the qudud first made its way to Morocco is not clear.

Judah Sebag - Adon Olam 2

Over the next four decades, Judah continued to delight Moroccan audiences in Israel with his music. While by day he served as a barber, at night he performed in concert alongside his compatriots David Nidam (ud), Yehoshua Azoulay (kamanja), Haim Dayan (tar), Emil Dayan (darbuka), and Shlomo Nissim (qanun). He would make one last trip to Morocco in 1995, which left a strong impression on him and his son. After a difficult illness, Yehuda “Judah” Sebag died on August 31, 2004 in Jerusalem.

Notes
Label: Disques Tam Tam
Title: Elmella; Adon Olam
Artist: Judah Sebag
Issue Number: TAM 155-1; TAM 155-2
Matrix Number: ACP 3876; ACP 3877
Date of Pressing: c. 1955

[1] My sincerest thanks to Avi Sabbag for his invaluable assistance in filling out his father’s biography.

[2] Michael Laskier, North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria (New York: New York University Press, 1994), 126.

[3] Written correspondence with Professor Edwin Seroussi, June 2016.

Aroun Haouzi El Baidi – Koumtarra Barahim, Polyphon, 1932

This entry will no doubt change as more information comes to light. In the meantime, here are the few details we can begin to piece together on the life and career of the Algerian artist Aroun Haouzi, more commonly known as Aroun Haouzi El Baidi. Haouzi was born in eastern Algeria around the beginning of the twentieth century. As his recording name suggests, El Baidi could trace his origins to Aïn Beïda although it seems that he may have spent his earliest years in the larger entrepôt of Constantine as so many from the region did. It is also possible that Haouzi was the child of a certain Chaloum Haouzi and Rina bent Fredj Zerbib, married in Aïn Beïda in 1886, although at present that is impossible to determine.

The relatively small town of Aïn Beïda, south of Constantine and west of Tunisia, supplied a number of prominent practitioners of maluf, the Andalusian tradition straddling the Algerian-Tunisian border. In addition to our El Baidi, there was also Eliaou Assoun “El Baidi”, who recorded extensively for Pathé and Gramophone. Both El Baidis recorded at the same time in the 1920s and 1930s.

Aroun Haouzi El Baidi made a number of discs with the Pathé and Polyphon labels in the early 1930s. Among them, El Baidi recorded the classic “Qum Tara” (Arise, see the almond blossoms) for Polyphon in 1932.

El Baidi’s strong vocals, which begin with the repetition of “ya layl,” are punctuated by the early introduction of the zurna, a woodwind instrument found not only in Algeria but in the Middle East, Balkans, and Central Asia as well. As you will hear, there is also a shoutout to the violinist Youssef on side 1. Could this have been Youssef Benzarti, who also recorded for Polyphon at the time? If so, does this mean that his relative (brother?) Haroun Benzarti, a famed zurna player (zurnaji), was also captured here? Hopefully those with more knowledge will weigh in soon.

Notes
Label: Polyphon
Title: Koumtarra Barahim (قوم ترا براهيم) [Sides 1-2]
Artist: Aroun Haouzi el Baidi
Issue Number: V 45.564 A; V 45.564 B
Matrix Number: 5237 BK; 5238 BK
Date of Pressing: 1932

Raoul Journo – Habbit ana habbit [Sides 1-2] – Philips (Polyphon), 1937

This is not a complete history of Raoul Journo, one of the great Tunisian vocalists of the interwar period and mid-twentieth century, but it should give us at least a sense of his earliest years and recordings. Raoul was born in 1911 to Joseph Journo and Zouïaza Journo (née Chiche) in a working-class neighborhood in Tunis (on rue Tronja to be exact). The Journos, including their five children, lived in a home shared with six other families. The courtyard was to be Raoul’s first stage.

The young Journo began singing at an early age. He learned much from his mother. The same was true of the phonograph, employed at nearby cafés, which attracted him and other customers. We need add that his passion for music and his adroitness for it was also incubated in the traditional Jewish school he attended (kutab) and the synagogues he frequented, where some of the standout musicians and recording artists of his era gathered to chant. Perhaps more surprisingly, it was at the Alliance israélite universelle where he began to develop and then expand a repertoire. His music teacher there was none other than Gaston Bsiri, who twice weekly taught him Tunisian, Egyptian, and Tripolitanian songs. Bsiri soon gave the promising upstart private lessons at his home.

By the age of fifteen, when he left school, Journo had launched an amateur career with a small ensemble. Within a couple of years, he also began acting and did so alongside the likes of Habiba Messika and Dalila Taliana.

His big break occurred in the early 1930s when the pianist Messaoud Habib, who was also Pathé’s artistic director in country, arranged for a recording session at the Hotel Moderne on rue de Constantine. What happened to that first record is unclear. But that he had talent was obvious. Around 1932, he headed to Paris where he began recording for Polyphon. He would record for the label regularly until the outbreak of the Second World War. In the meantime, his discs were played with stunning frequency on Radio Tunis and Radio Alger and were sold from Tunisia to Morocco in the thousands. He had become a star.

“Habbit ana habbit” (I loved, I loved) comes from a 1937 recording session with Polyphon (re-released from the masters postwar by Philips). If nothing else, his powerful and yet supple voice stands out here. So does a considerable influence from Egypt.

Notes
Label: Philips (originally released on Polyphon)
Title: Habbit ana habbit [حبيت انا حبيت]
Artist: Raoul Journo
Issue Number: 46.016
Matrix Number: 3269 HPP; 3270 HPP
Date of Pressing: 1937

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.