Jewish singers from Tunisia

A radio program of the European Institute for Jewish Music hosted by Hervé Roten


Jews are settled in the territories of today’s Tunisia since centuries. If one should believe the legend, when the first Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar, some Cohanim (priests) would have gone into exile, and would have landed on the island of Djerba, where they would have built their first synagogue of la Ghriba, in which they would have incorporated one of the original rocks of the Temple, taken during their escape.

As diasporas went by, the Jewish culture will progressively take root in this Tunisian land. Thus, in the 15th century, Jews chasen from Spain by the Inquisition of Isabel the Catholic take refuge in North Africa. Finally, in the 18th century, it’s the Granas, Jews coming from Livorno in Italy who cross the Mediterranean Sea. The Israelites live then under the protection of the Bey. These successive emigrations blend into the local cultures, the songs in Arab and the music rhythm joyously the celebrations from the Brit Milah (circumcision) to the wedding, passing by the Bar Mitsvah. And to better fit in the landscape, the biggest singers take pseudonyms with an Arab consonance, therefore Isserène Israel Rozio will become Cheïkh El Afrite, Elie Touitou will be El Kahlaoui Tounsi (Kahlaoui the Tunisian). And as singing is forbidden to Muslim women, the greatest women singers will often be Jewish, like Louisa Tounisia (Louisa the Tunisian), Fritna Darmon, Leyla Sfez or the famous Hbiba Msika, born Margueritte Mskika, who had a tragic fate.

For the release of the CD « Jewish singers from Tunisia », the producer Michel Lévy and musicologist Hervé Roten will talk of this singular story, uillustrated by many excerpts of songsb by Hbiba Msika, Fritna Darmon, Louisa Tounsia, Raoul Journo, Cheikh El Afrite, El Kahlaoui Tounsi and José de Suza…

Chanteurs juifs de Tunisie - Hervé Roten (Judaïques FM 94.8)

Officer of the Ordre of Arts and letters, PhD in musicology at Paris University Sorbonne, prize-winning graduate from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris, Hervé Roten is the director of the European Institute for Jewish Music since its creation in 2006.
Ethnomusicologist, he quickly developed an interest in the safeguard and digitization of archives, subjects he taught for several years in Reims and Marne-La-Vallée universities.
Author of many articles, books and recordings related to Jewish music, producer of radio programs, Hervé Roten is recognized today as one of the best specialists of Jewish music in the world.

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  • Chanteurs juifs de Tunisie - Hervé Roten (Judaïques FM 94.8)

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