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