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