Those in the know, know Sliman Elmaghribi. Elmaghribi, born Sliman Benhamou in Meknes, came to define the Moroccan sound in Jaffa in the 1950s and 1960s. And that sound was nothing if not ubiquitous. It could be heard at once blasting from the Azoulay’s shop near the center of town and wafting out of the rough and tumble night clubs - the hamara - dotting the city’s alleyways. There were the Andalusian practitioners there to be sure but Tel Aviv’s better half also drew in those who were ready to sing about their more contemporary experiences in hybrid styles all their own. Sliman, difficult to categorize, falls somewhere into all of this. The ultra-talented singer and oudist was both a major recording star for the Zakiphon label and a musician’s musician who sometimes slipped under the radar. He knew and loved Cheikh Mwijo, indeed the two played together back in Morocco, but seemed to avoid some of his friend’s more extroverted qualities. He was adored by the masters of a previous generation, like Zohra El Fassia and Samy Elmaghribi, and yet never adopted the honorific that so many of his peers were bestowed. What can be said for sure is that Sliman Elmaghribi was prolific and accomplished, putting out album after album for decades and attracting more and more fans along the way.
His “Yaffo Zint Elbldan” (roughly translated as Jaffa the Beautiful) gives us a slice of what all of this sounded like. It is his homage to the city he spent so much time in and grew to love - despite its very real problems. As you listen to this track, try to put yourself in its time. Imagine yourself winding your way to an address best found by looking for landmarks and not numbers. As you enter the smoke-filled venue, recall that the Kuwaiti brothers are somewhere nearby entertaining Iraqi audiences. Order a round of beers and pickled vegetables as Sliman sets up with his orchestra. Close your eyes as he begins to strum. Yaffo Zint Elbldan for you and for others is now the city’s unofficial anthem.