The Jews in Maghreb through their singers and musicians in the 19th and 20th century

by Alain Chaoulli

Edition L’Harmattan, 4th September 2019, 260 p.
Preface by Simon Elbaz

Specialist of Iranian Jewish culture, Alain Chaoulli presents in his book a wide panorama of Judeo-Arab-Andalusian music of the three countries from the Maghreb, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

The main musical genres (malouf, nouba, Sanaa, msaddar, dardj, btâybi, inçirâf, khlas, hawzi, aroubi, melboun, chaabi, matrouz etc…) are described, as well as biographies of many Jewish artists from the Maghreb, such as Albert Rouimi (1919-1999) aka Blond Blond, the albino singer and imitator of Maurice Chevalier, Lili (Élie) Boniche (1921-2008), creator of the hit « Alger-Alger » and of the adaptation of « La Mamma », « Ya Ymma » by Charles Aznavour, Maurice El Médioni (1928), Salim Hallali (1920-2005), born in a baker’s family, son of a Turkish origin father and a Judeo-Berber mother, Elie Moyal aka Lili Labassi (1897-1969), father of the actor Robert Castel, Cheikh Raymond Leiris (1912-1961), who was killed, Eliane Sarfati (1926-2003) aka Line Monty, Saül Durand (1865-1928) aka Mouzino, René Perez (1940-2011), Sultana Daoud (1915-1998) aka Reinette l’Oranaise, Messaoud Médioni (1893, 1943) aka Saoud l’Oranais, deported to Sobibor with his 13 year old son, Simone Tamar Allouche (1932, 1982), « the golden voice of Constantine », Yafil Ibn Shbab (1877-1928) aka Edmond Nathan Yafil and Joseph Benganoun (1890-1975) aka Cheikh Zouzou, violin virtuoso.

More recent performers are also mentioned, such as Jo Amar, pioneer of religious Jewish music, Haïm Botbol (1938), first Moroccan singer to use the electric guitar, Rabbi David Bouzaglo (1901-1975), Simon Elbaz (1938), author, comedian, actor, composer and singer, Raymonde Cohen-Abecassis (1943) aka Raymonde El Bidaouia, Zohra El Fassiya (1905, 1994), popular singer, Félix Wizman (1937-2008) aka Félix El-Maghribi, Salomon Amzallag (1922-2008) aka Samy El Maghribi, who emigrated to Canada where he became a cantor in the synagogue, Maxime Karoutchi, Rabbi Haïm Louk (1942), virtuoso of Arab-Andalusian music and Emile Zrihan (1952), the «Moroccan nightingale».

The author focuses on several aspects of the artistic careers of Issim Israël Rozzio (1897-1939) aka Cheikh El’Afrit, « The Clever », who was invited by the bey of Tunis to perform in the Bardo Palace every week, Elie Touitou ( 1932-2000) aka El Kahlaoui Tounsi, percussionist expert of the darbouka, who did a great career in the USA, Maurice Meimoun (1929-1993) aka Meimoun El Tounsi, ud and violin player, the great Raoul Journo (1911-2001), decorated by French minister Jack Lang and Habib Bourguiba, Habiba Msika (1903-1930), who was killed, Asher Mizrahi (1890- 1967), born in Jerusalem and who passed away in Israel after spending a long time in Tunisia, Hana Rached (1933-2003), daughter of the singer and dancer Flifla Chamia, Leïla Sfez (1874, 1944), niece of Habiba Msika, the Shemmama sisters, Kammuna, Mannana, Bibiya and Bhayka who were accompanied by the famous violin player Kaylu, Louisa Saâdoun (1905-1961) aka Louisa Tounsia and Slama Youssef (1903-1970), great player of zither, buried in Jerusalem.

The Jewish languages and musical instruments are also mentioned in the book, and several chapters are dedicated to the rise of North-African Judaism, although these sometimes contain mistakes, or a tendency to embellish and create an idyllic cohabitation that really did not exist.

In short, despite a few inaccuracies, this book, which comes with a CD and a DVD by Simon Elbaz on the Matrouz, represents a rich source of information.

A nice engagement with the Jewish musical heritage of North Africa.
Purchase the book


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