Laho Seror – “Kam wa-kam ya ʿayni” – Pathé, c. 1907-1912

Eliaou “Laho” Seror was among the first cohort of Algerians to record for the phonograph at the turn of the twentieth century. That his recording career lasted decades, from his first appearance on a set of cylinders made in Algiers in 1905 through sessions which brought him to Berlin in the 1930s, makes it all the more surprising that to date, so few of his records have surfaced. What this means is that while his name has long been invoked among aficionados of Algerian music, his voice itself has been harder to come by since his passing in 1940.

Laho Seror was born in the lower Casbah of Algiers on September 8, 1860 to Moïse Seror and Bellara Seror (née Bensimon). Like all Algerian Jews at the time, Laho, the youngest of the Seror’s three children, was a subject of France rather than a citizen (that would change with the promulgation of the Crémieux Decree a decade later). The young Seror grew up in both an arabophone and Ladino- (or as it was known in Algeria, Tetouani-) speaking family. At some point in the 1880s, or possibly earlier, he apprenticed himself to Shaykh Mohammed Ben Ali Sfindja, the doyen of Andalusian masters in the Algerian capital. Although Sfindja was sixteen years Seror’s senior, the two had much in common. Both were cobblers by trade. Both spent much time in and around a greasy spoon by the name of Maklouf Loubia. And both formed an important relationship with Maklouf’s son Edmond Nathan Yafil, the pioneering figure behind the North African recording industry.[1]

In the earliest years of the twentieth century, Yafil (who we will learn more about in a follow up post) began collaborating with Sfindja, Seror, and an emerging European musicologist by the name of Jules Rouanet in order to render the Andalusian repertoire onto the printed page in the form of sheet music. By 1905, Yafil turned to the technology of the phonograph cylinder to make a series of commercial recordings as part of what he called “Collection Yafil.” Among those featured on the “Collection Yafil” cylinders was Seror.

In addition to his independent recording activities, Yafil represented Pathé, Gramophone, Odeon, and other labels then operating in Algeria. Again, Seror featured prominently. This recording made by Laho Seror for Pathé under the supervision of Yafil is difficult to date but suffice it to say that it has been little heard for a century or so. It appears, for instance, in a 1912 record catalog but its matrix numbers align well with a print publication released by Yafil in 1907. As music historian Ouail Labassi has observed, “Kam wa-kam ʿayni” (How much, my eyes), the side featured here, is a khlas or mkhiles, an integral component of the Andalusian repertoire in that it serves to close a particular suite (in this case, nubat maya).

As with many of the early Pathé releases at the time, there is quite a bit of surface noise on this record. As Jonathan Ward has noted, this owes, in large part, to the labels iconoclasm. Pathé records, for example, were vertically cut, meaning that the music was to be found at the bottom of shallow grooves rather than on the sides of deeper channels (as was more common practice). The label also continued to record initially on cylinders, rather than on master discs, well past the point of their competitors. Still, you might find that if you close your eyes and come to focus on the voice and instrumentation, the surface noise will start to melt away. With a careful ear, you will hear Seror on the kwitra (a type of ʿud), accompanied by Alfred “Sassi” Lebrati on the mandolin. You may also detect Seror repeating the vocables, “ya la la” and “ya la lan,” at once, understood as making reference to al-Andalus itself and at the same time, as a form of copyright. In other words, by omitting some of the words of “Kam wa-kam ʿayni” and replacing them with “ya la la,” the artist could protect a difficult to learn repertoire from imitation by competitors.

From just before the First World War until the eve of the Second World War, Seror also played a foundational role in the ever-expanding world of Algerian musical associations, including Yafil’s El Moutribia (est. 1912) and El Andalousia (est. 1929).[2] In 1914, he also served as artistic director of an early incarnation of the aforementioned El Andalousia, which was then a part of the Young Algerian association El Toufikya.

Seror made his final records in the early 1930s for the Baidaphon label in Berlin. Throughout the end of the interwar period, he remained a regular on stage in Algeria’s principal cities and on Radio Alger. Shaykh Eliaou “Laho” Seror died in 1940 and is buried in Cimetière de St. Eugène in Algiers.

Notes

Label: Pathé

Title: Kam wa-kam ya ʿayni (كم وكم يا عيني)

Artist: Laho Seror

Issue Number: 10.409

Transfer number?: 428

Date of Pressing: c. 1907-1912


[1] Much of the detail for this post is adapted from Chapter 1 of Recording History: Jews, Muslims, and Music across Twentieth-Century North Africa (Stanford University Press, 2022): Available here and here for North America and here for Europe, MENA, and beyond.

[2] On Algerian musical associations in the early twentieth century, see Silver (2022), Jonathan Glasser (2016), Malcolm Théoleyre (2016), Hadj Miliani (2011), Omar Carlier (2009), and Nadya Bouzar-Kasbadji (1988).

Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana – Hattab El Hattab – Pathé, c. 1930

The mizwid, the Tunisian bagpipe, has long had a vexed history.[1] For hundreds of years, Tunisian Jewish and Muslim communal authorities have objected to the goatskin instrument given the central role it has played in trance-inducing ceremonies––including those mixed in gender and confession and performed in private homes and at the tombs of sainted figures. But for a great many Jews and Muslims, the mizwid, a staple of the rebaybiyya tradition, was embraced with the gusto it deserved. Indeed, although it is most closely associated with a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s, owing, in part, to the release of a number of LPs and EPs produced in France, it is important to recall that the mizwid featured among the earliest and most popular Tunisian recordings of the turn of the twentieth century and just afterward. Among the greatest interwar exponents of rebaybiyya, with its signature mizwid and bendir, were the Tunisian Jewish duo of Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana. In listening to their pulsating c. 1930 version of “Hattab El Hattab,” dedicated to the Muslim saint Sidi Ali El Hattab (the namesake of the Hattabiyya Sufi order), their renown, as well as the power of the mizwid to send its listeners into a state of exaltation, hopefully becomes clear.

Notes

Label: Pathé

Title: Hattab El Hattab (Bnaders & Mezoued)

Artists: Khailou Esseghir and Sion Bissana

Issue Number: X 65070

Matrix Number: N 57273

Date of Pressing: c. 1930


[1] For expert treatment of the mizwid and rebaybiyya, see Richard C. Jankowsky, Ambient Sufism: Ritual Niches and the Social Work of Musical Form (University of Chicago Press, 2021). Much of the above derives from Jankowsky’s work.

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.

Line Monty – Ouine houa? – Pathé, c. 1952

Algerian Paris in 1952 must have been quite the scene. In and out of the Pathé recording studio that year, for example, was a who’s who of Algerian artists including the rising star Line Monty. In Paris that year, the twenty-six year old Line Monty, born Eliane Serfaty and sometimes dubbed “the Algerian Edith Piaf,” recorded six sides in Arabic. On all of those sides, she was backed by Youcef Hedjaj, the Tunisian Jewish orchestral and bandleader, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist who was so adept at setting the mood. While four of those sides would be re-released on a single Pathé EP by the end of the decade––including her iconic rendition of l’Orientale––two were never re-released. Now, for the first time in over six decades, Ouine houa? (Where is he?) is available again in all of its mid-century sultry splendor.

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Ouine houa?
Artist: Line Monty
Issue Number: PA 2834
Matrix Number: CPT 8691 / M3-135633
Date of Pressing: c. 1952

 

Zohra El Fassia – Mayli Sadr Hnine – Pathé, c. 1956

Among the many North African musical forms recorded by Zohra El Fassia, her interpretations of Algerian hawzi (or haouzi) stand out. Her “Mayli Sadr Hnine,” recorded c. 1956 for Pathé and complete with accordion accompaniment, is no exception.

Zohra El Fassia was born Zohra Hamou to a Jewish family in Sefrou in 1905. Soon thereafter, the Hamou’s moved to Fez (or Fas) from whence her stage name of “El Fassia” derives. Her father, a butcher by trade and a paytan[1] by pleasure, provided her with early musical training. First recognized for her talent as a teenager, she started recorded in the 1930s and would continue to do so in Morocco through the late 1950s. By mid-century, she found herself in Casablanca, like so many musicians of the time.

“Mayli Sadr Hnine,” a song text in colloquial Arabic––like the rest of the hawzi repertoire, has long been held in high regard by a range of Algerian recording artists from Tlemcen but so too their Moroccan Jewish analogues like El Fassia. While the Tlemencis Larbi Bensari and Elie Bensaid had already recorded the song in the late 1920s, it appears that Zohra El Fassia may have been the first Moroccan woman to record it, even if decades later.

It should also be mentioned that there is a rather wonderful surprise at the end of this recording. Just as the song finishes on the second side, an eager Pathé employee or perhaps a member of Zohra El Fassia’s entourage can be heard swinging open a door.

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Mayli Sadr Hnine
Artist: Zohra El Fassia
Issue Number: PV 549
Matrix Number: CPT 12.183 – M3-179133
Date of Pressing: c. 1956

[1] A paytan is a singer of piyyut or Hebrew liturgical poetry.

Louisa Tounsia – Heukm Ennessouane – Pathé, c. 1930-1931

During Louisa Tounsia’s rise to stardom in the mid-to-late 1920s, the Tunis-born Jewish artist played an instrumental role in carving out a modern Tunisian public. Throughout the interwar period, contemporary newspapers accounts, local observers, and so too those passing through the Tunisian capital and the suburb of La Goulette noted that the concerts of the artist born Louisa Saadoun were different than those of a generation just prior. In a departure from that staging of music, in which smaller audiences were often segregated along socio-economic or gender lines, Louisa Tounsia gathered crowds of both the elite and popular classes, of men and women (sporting a melange of Western and local sartorial styles), and of course, Muslims and Jews. As opposed to the café setting – the domain of so many musicians before her – Louisa Tounsia performed in large venues, filled to capacity, where, as one literary figure remarked, she felt at home among her people. Her fans responded in kind.

Between the wars, Louisa Tounsia’s music, often written by her composer of choice Maurice Benaïs, was heralded in the press and in the literature released by the record labels as a modernist triumph. While much of its modern quality derived from its salaciousness and the fact that it veered considerably from Andalusian music – mixing, as she did, French with Arabic – Tounsia’s songs also gave voice to the modern through their stinging critiques of male-dominated society.[1]

Such was the case with “Heukm Ennessouane,” one of her earliest releases for the Pathé label c. 1930-1931.[2] In the six-minute song, whose title might literally be translated as, “Governing Women,” Tounsia implores her Tunisian “sisters” to seize new opportunities afforded by the current moment while remaining vigilant of men and their desire to govern or control. In fact, Houda Mzioudet, the Tunisian journalist, researcher, translator, and musicophile, who labored diligently on a translation of this record, has suggested that the song’s title could also be understood as, “Empowering Women.” That empowerment, promoted by Louisa Tounsia on the record, was reflected in new forms of socialization in interwar Tunis – including “dancing” the “Charleston” (starting at 1:29 on Side 2).

As with many of Louisa Tounsia’s discs, “Heukm Ennessouane” ends with an exquisite piano solo by Tunisian Jewish pianist Messaoud Habib. Over the course of her career, Habib would accompany her often. But what is most remarkable about Louisa Tounsia – in addition to her choice of subject matter – is the staggering number of records she made for a bevy of labels, including Pathé, Columbia, Polyphon, Baidaphon, Perfectaphone, and Pacific, over a multi-decade career. Given her prolific output and the fact that her music remains so deeply embedded in Tunisian collective memory, curiously little is known about her final years. And yet, if “Heukm Ennessouane” survived passage, other archival documents must have as well. In time, I hope, these too will surface. Until then, the archiving of her music will continue apace.

As already mentioned, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Houda Mzioudet for untangling what proved to be an intricate web of lyrics in “Heukm Ennessouane.” Thanks are also due to Thomas Henry for assistance in dating the record in question.

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Heukm Ennessouane
Artist: Louisa Tounsia
Issue Number: X 55269
Pressing Number: N 98915
Date of Pressing: c. 1930-1931

[1] All of this would earn her the ire of cultural conservatives in her own time and for decades to come.

[2] Why this record was labeled “Constantinois” (“Constantine-style”), given that it was crafted by Tunisian artists, is unclear.

Salim Halali – Je t’appartiens (tango) – Pathe, c. 1945

Istwanat Pathé, Salim Halali.” These were the words the Algerian Jewish musician Salim Halali spoke in the summer of 1945 as he recorded at the Pathé studio in Paris. Those 1945 recording sessions occurred about a year after Paris’ liberation from Nazi German control. For many, this recording –– “Je t’appartiens” (“I belong to you”) –– and others from his 1945 sessions signaled that Halali had survived in Paris. It was a question that many Algerians had wondered at war’s end. With this tango, then, Salim Halali not only boldly announced his return to the stage and studio but also made it clear that, once again, he belonged to his public.

Salim Halali is a fitting candidate to launch Gharamophone.com –– the online archive dedicated to preserving North Africa’s Jewish musical past, one record at a time. Halali is a figure who is known in the broadest of brush strokes, and at the same time, a personality for whom almost all of the details still escape. We know, for example, that Halali was born in 1920 in Bône (Annaba), Algeria, that he made his way to Paris as a teenager in the mid-1930s, that he survived the war years in Paris, and that he eventually established the famed Le Coq d’Or cabaret in Casablanca. And yet, all of the rest still needs filling in. Similarly, some of his music catalogue is readily available –– instantly conjured by generations of fans from the Maghrib –– and still, so much of his music has remained unreleased until the present. With the addition of Halalil’s “Je t’appartiens” to the archive, I aim to change some of the above.

Beyond constituting a long forgotten component of Halali’s repertoire, this record also provides a rather remarkable glimpse into his immediate postwar life. Indeed, if before the war, Halali had made a name for himself alongside Algerian orchestral leader Mohammed El Kamal and Algerian composer Mohamed Iguerbouchène (whose names were featured on all of his early recordings), by the outbreak of war, the three had more than parted ways. As Halali went into hiding ­­­­–– possibly at the Grand Mosque of Paris –– El Kamal and Iguerbouchène went to work for Nazi German-controlled radio in Paris. In fact, at the very moment that Halali himself went silent in occupied Paris, El Kamal pressed ahead, continuing to record throughout the war alongside French jazz musicians in the capital.

While Halali survived the war, other North African Jewish musicians stranded in the metropole did not. Gaston Bsiri, for example, giant of Tunisian song –– a recording artist and composer –– was deported from Paris and then murdered in Auschwitz in April 1942.

What is intriguing about this Salim Halali recording – beyond the music itself –– is that the words for “Je t’appartiens,” are credited to none other than the Gaston Bsiri. In fact, this was the case for almost all of Halali’s immediate postwar recordings, which are attributed not to his former Algerian collaborators (turned collaborators of a different sort) but to the Tunisian Jewish Bsiri. Did Halali and Bsiri encounter each other in Paris? It is almost certain they did. And yet, whether the writing credit and its timing constitutes mere coincidence or an act of homage on Halali’s part is unclear. What is clear is that this record begins to give voice to the wartime fate of some North African Jewish musicians and so too to their long silenced output in the days following the war. Given the Bsiri credit and his tragic fate, so too might there be another layer of meaning to the lyric, “I belong to you.”

Notes
Label: Pathé
Title: Je t’appartiens (tango)
Artist: Salim Halali
Composer: Gaston Bsiri
Issue Number: PV 5
Matrix Number: CPT 5975 (M3-107233)
Date of Pressing: c. summer 1945