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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

The early-to-mid twentieth century Algerian recording artist Elie Touboul (1894-1947) and his music illuminate in more ways than one. To begin with, Touboul, who was also known as Pinhas El Saidi[1] and most commonly as Cheikh Pinhas, hailed not from one of the major urban centers that scholars of music and aficionados tend to focus on––but from Mostaganem, a medium-sized city some 100 kilometers east of Oran. In this way, Cheikh Pinhas’s voice serves to remind of the vast and sometimes little-known universe of Algerian music-making that existed outside of Algiers and other principal locales.

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

Elie Touboul-1.jpg

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

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

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

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

Alice Fitoussi – Ya msalmin kalbi – Polyphon – 1933

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

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

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

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

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