Recording History

Jews, Muslims, and Music across Twentieth-Century North Africa

By Christopher Silver

Stanford University Press, June 2022, 320 pages

A new history of twentieth-century North Africa, that gives voice to the musicians who defined an era and the vibrant recording industry that carried their popular sounds from the colonial period through decolonization.

If twentieth-century stories of Jews and Muslims in North Africa are usually told separately, Recording History demonstrates that we have not been listening to what brought these communities together: Arab music. For decades, thousands of phonograph records flowed across North African borders. The sounds embedded in their grooves were shaped in large part by Jewish musicians, who gave voice to a changing world around them. Their popular songs broadcast on radio, performed in concert, and circulated on disc carried with them the power to delight audiences, stir national sentiments, and frustrate French colonial authorities.

With this book, Christopher Silver provides the first history of the music scene and recording industry across Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and offers striking insights into Jewish-Muslim relations through the rhythms that animated them. He traces the path of hit-makers and their hit records, illuminating regional and transnational connections. In asking what North Africa once sounded like, Silver recovers a world of many voices—of pioneering impresarios, daring female stars, cantors turned composers, witnesses and survivors of war, and national and nationalist icons—whose music still resonates well into our present.

About the author

Christopher Silver is the Segal Family Assistant Professor in Jewish History and Culture at McGill University. He is the founder and curator of the website Gharamophone.com, a digital archive of North African records from the first half of the twentieth century.

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