Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blond Blond Sings Samy Elmaghribi + Upcoming Gigs

Lady, Your Robe is Open!

I'm heading out of town for the holidays but didn't want to leave everyone hanging. I just digitized the B side of the Blond Blond EP I posted for Hanukkah. This is Blond Blond performing Samy Elmaghribi's scandalous classic - Kouftanek Mahloul (your robe is open in Maghrebi Arabic). In this song, the singer flirts with a woman (Ya lalla - as you will hear throughout) who clearly belongs to someone else. This song has mythic origins and according to this article in Ha'aretz was rumored to be a response by Samy Elmaghribi to accusations that he was having an affair with a member of Morocco's royal family. He vehemently denied this and said that in fact almost the opposite was true - it was he who was being pursued! Whatever the truth is, this was his comeback and it packs a punch. Many a North African musician has performed this song but there is something about Blond Blond's delivery that just makes you want to dance. Go for it.

Blond Blond - Kouftanek Mahloul - Dounia 1278 (1970s) by CBSilver

Upcoming Shows

January 14 and 15 at Limmud NY
  • January 14: Sheikh it Baby: Arabic Music, Jewish Musicians
  • January 15: Israel's Arabic Singing Jewish Musicians
January 26 and February 2 at JCC Manhattan
  • January 26: Jewish Musicians in North Africa at 78 RPM: 1904–1956 
  • February 2: The Untold Story of Israel's Arabic Singing Jewish Musicians

Finally, I will be in Los Angeles from January 18 - 22. If you have ideas for venues where I can spin this music, let me know / email me.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Happy Hannouka from Jewish Algeria and Blond Blond

Albert Rouimi aka Blond Blond
I know it looks misspelled but El Bonco – Hannouka is one of the greatest Hanukkah songs that you’ve never heard – courtesy, of course, of the master Algerian Jewish singer Blond Blond. Albert Rouimi, who was given the moniker Blond Blond due to his Albinism, was born in 1919 in Oran, Algeria. From a young age he frequented the cafes that featured legendary Orani musicians like Saoud L’Oranais, Maurice El Medioni’s father, and Reinette L’Oranaise. His influences ran across both sides of the Mediterranean, he was deeply affected by the music of Charles Trenet and Maurice Chevalier for example, and he found himself going back and forth between France and Algeria for much of his career. In 1937, he left for Paris only to return to Oran two years later. It’s unclear how the rise of Vichy France played into this but needless to say Blond Blond left Paris in 1939 and returned only after end of World War II.

Back in Oran, he became known as l’Ambianceur for his unique style of singing and his staccato-like spoken word that interspersed his music. While Blond Blond could make an audience laugh there was also no doubt that he was truly a master musician with significant technical knowledge. He was fluent in the Andalusian repertoire, nailed it in French, commanded chaabi (especially the musical styling of Lili L’abassi) and pioneered the Francarabe style, a mixture of French chansons and Arabic chaabi.

Blond Blond. Kouftanek Mahloul et El Bonco Hannouka. Dounia. #1278. 1970s
He released dozens of records throughout his career, including many on 78 rpm, and recorded for everyone from Pathe to Samyphone to Dounia. He not only performed from his own work and with his own orchestra but also collaborated with some of the finest musicians of his day like Reinette L’Oranaise, Samy Elmaghribi and Line Monty.

Thanks to Phocéephone for this great digitization of Blond Blond’s El Bonco – Hannouka below. Looks like the original Phocéephone link is dead but luckily I found a mislabeled Youtube video of the same tune. Notice that Blond Blond quickly switches languages at the beginning of the track and will do so throughout including when he sings about Hanukkah. Listen carefully at the beginning when he sings, “le mazal c’est la chance.” Mazal is Hebrew for luck.

Ignore the "Ghir Ajini Ajini" - this is indeed El Bonco-Hannouka

Blond Blond was one of the few Jewish Algerian musicians that performed in Algeria post-independence and gave two memorable performances at the Koutoubia music hall in Algiers in 1970 and 1974. Blond Blond, l’Ambianceur, died in 1999 at the age of 80.

Happy Hanukkah to everyone and please make sure to spread this around.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Simon Levy, Director of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, Dies at 77

Simon Levy at the Jewish Museum in Casablanca

I'm very sad to announce that Simon Levy, Secretary General of the Foundation and Director of the Museum of Moroccan Judaism, died last night at the age of 77. It is hard to imagine that this comes almost exactly a year after the death of Abraham Serfaty, another influential Jewish Moroccan. This is a tremendous loss for all who are interested in Moroccan Jewry. It should be noted that it was Simon Levy's dream to one day restore the El Fessain Synaogogue in Fez's mellah. I hope one day that this dream will be realized. Simon Levy's funeral will be held on Sunday, December 4th, 2011 at 3:00 pm at the Jewish cemetery in Ben Sik.

From Morocco World News:

December 2, 2011
Simon Levy, Secretary General of the Foundation of Jewish-Moroccan Cultural Heritage and the director of the Jewish Museum of Morocco, passed away on Friday morning at a hospital in Rabat following a long illness, people. He was 77. Levy was Morocco’s foremost authority on Moroccan Jewish cultural. His work will continue to guide future generations, academia, and researchers all over the world.

Mr. Levy was born in Fez in 1934. He was a professor in the Spanish Department of Mohamed V University in Rabat since 1971. Mr. Levy went to prison during Morocco’s colonization period because of his resistance to the French and demands to grant Morocco independence. Mr. Levy was also in prison during the years known as “Years of Lead” because of his demands to grant citizens more individual liberties and rights.

Mr. Levy was a leading figure and active member of Morocco’s Communist party (which, later on, became known as PPS) in which he held key positions for more than 30 years (up until 2011). He was also the Secretary General of Moroccan Judaism Foundation and the Director of its Museum in Casablanca (the only museum of this city).

Mr. Levy supported the Palestinian case and showed strong support towards the right of Palestinians to establish a sovereign and independent state. Mr. Levy was a major supporter of Mimouna Club since it was first set up in spring 2007. In this sense, Mr. Levy has been present, kindly, and constantly available to help the club organizes its events and use his contacts network to provide any possible assistance to club’s mission.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"God, Country, King" in Song - The Music of Esther Elfassy, Albert Suissa & Samy Elmaghribi

Morocco's motto: God, Country, King
From time to time I have small groups over at my apartment for listening sessions. These listening sessions allow me to share old recordings and the overall listening experience in an intimate setting while also providing me with a laboratory to demonstrate certain themes or try out new ideas. At a recent session, I decided to play some pieces that reflected the theme of “God, Country, King,” the official motto of Morocco. What I love about this theme is that it allows me to showcase some unexpected music from some well known artists including Esther Elfassy, Albert Suissa and Samy Elmaghribi. At first I thought that for readers / listeners familiar with Moroccan music and the role that Moroccan Jews played in the music industry that perhaps these tracks wouldn't be so unexpected but on second thought I'm not so sure. Even if the themes are expected - nationalist, religious - the singers, timing and styles aren't. A young Esther Elfassy singing about the oneness of God in haunting Arabic in Israel in the 1970s or Samy Elmaghribi singing a marche Marocaine shortly before his departure from Morocco - especially when contrasted with his other music.

Nonetheless this music is very different from what I have posted previously. Below I've including some biographical information on these three great singers and some of their dynamite tracks. As you'll see, there is some biographical information missing, especially with Esther and Albert. I would love for readers to help me fill in these gaps.

Esther Elfassy

Esther Elfassy performing in Paris

Esther Elfassy began recording for the Azoulay brothers under the Koliphone and Zakiphon labels in Israel in the early 1970s. She mostly recorded songs written by Moshe Ben Hamo but did also write some of her own work. She sang chaabi and incorporated some Hebrew in her music from time to time. What I love about her in many ways is her Arabic (of course in addition to her killer voice). She reminds us of course that Moroccan Jews have historically expressed even Jewish religious concepts in Arabic. One of my favorite tracks of hers is called Zoro El Kotel (Visiting the Western Wall in a combination of Maghrebi Arabic and Hebrew).

Esther Elfassy. Zakiphon. 1970s

The track below is religious / devotional in nature. It is a song about the oneness of God and the repetitiveness is rhythmic. Judging from some of her other work and her picture, it's not what one would expect from her but that's what I love about it.

Albert Suissa

Albert Suissa performing at a Bar Mitzvah celebration in Morocco. 1950s

Albert Suissa was a giant of Moroccan music. He recorded dozens of records (including many 78s) for a half dozen labels including N. Sabbah, Casaphone, Boussiphone, Koliphone and Zakiphon. He was a killer singer and oudist.
Albert Suissa. Koliphone. 1960s
Below is a song called Hasan Tani Ala Slamtic Sidna. Suissa uses the honorific "sidna" for King Hassan II, a Moroccan title used for royalty and the exaltation of saintly figures. The song pulls you in from the very beginning. The song in many ways is about power and protection and conveys both those feelings from the start through pounding singing and instrumentals. Check it out below.

Samy Elmaghribi
Advertisement for Samyphone records. Le Voix des Communautés (Rabat, published 1950-1963). March 1, 1963, pg. 3.
I'm not going to give his entire bio here but needless to Samy Elmaghribi was one of the all time great Moroccan musicians. At the height of his popularity there wasn't a person in Morocco who didn't know his name or who hadn't heard heard his music. Even to this day, mention the name Samy Elmaghribi in Morocco and elsewhere and you will get a big smile.

Samy Elmaghribi (center with oud) signing records after a performance
Born Solomon Amzalleg in the coastal city of Safi in 1922, he was already a singing sensation by the 1940s and throughout the course of his early career he recorded dozens of 78 records for Pathe. In 1955-56, he established his own record label Samyphone and by 1959 he had moved to France. He sang in a variety of styles including in the various Moroccan and Algerian Andalusian traditions, his own sometimes scandalously secular work and classic popular tunes. By 1962 the Azoulay family began exclusively distributing Samy Elmaghribi's recordings under the Koliphone and Zakiphon labels. The Azoulays were also the first to bring Samy to Israel to perform and managed his career there.  In 1967 he settled in Montreal, served as the cantor at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and continued to perform around the world. In 1987 he moved to Ashdod, Israel where he lived until 1996 when he returned to Montreal. He died on Mary 9, 2008 at the age of 86.

The track below is one side of one of his rare Samyphone 78s and his 8th release on his label. It is an upbeat anthem that invokes the Moroccan motto of God, Country, King. He sounds young here but nonetheless is clearly in command of his band known affectionately as "Samy's boys." Here he sings in praise of all things nationalist Moroccan - the Moroccan military, King Mohammed V, King Hassan II and of course the people. Listen to it a couple of times - it's much different than anything you've heard him sing.
Samy Elmaghribi. Samyphone. 1956

Friday, November 4, 2011

Between Forgetting and Remembering: Charli Elmaghribi and the Other Artists

I recently read a comment on a Youtube video that stirred something inside me. If I recall correctly, the video was of an old recording of the great Moroccan oudist Sliman Elmaghribi. After watching the video I scrolled down to see that one commenter on the video was looking for more information on Sliman. Another commenter said something to the effect of: “It’s sad that barely a generation after many of these artists have passed away…no one remembers them.” In many ways, I feel the same sentiment but in other ways when I look at my own record collection or meet other collectors I realize that not all is lost. Perhaps it just needs to be gathered.

It seems that in every generation North African music is forgotten, rediscovered and recovered to some extent. To get a sense of this historically, I recommend reading Jonathan Glasser’s excellent work on the concept of Andalusian musical patrimony in Algeria in the early 1900s. I have to say that these preservers of this patrimony, whoever it belongs to, often did and continue to do a decent job. There is hoarding to be sure and reluctance to share but thanks to the work of individual ranging from Edmond Nathan Yafil in Algeria to Rafael Azoulay in Israel to Tounsi El Kahlaoui in France, a good deal of North African music is out there somewhere, in some form, waiting to be rediscovered and ripe for new listeners. When I speak about this music publicly, I often ask myself the rhetorical question, “Why does any of this matter?” My first answer - and in many ways the best answer - is that this music is good. It moves the listener. Like that video, it stirs something inside us. For a moment, we share space and time with musicians who gave their heart and soul to this craft and thus it is a part of us.

Charli Elmaghribi (third from left). Le Guerre de Yom Kipour. Koliphone. 1973

I say all this because I want to share some music of a lesser known artist whose work begs to be rediscovered. There are a number of artists who I make frequent mention of on this blog due to how talented they were, how prolific they were and to my dismay how quickly I feel they have been relegated to historical amnesia. But we must remember them because for every Zohra El Fassia there was an Esther Elfassy - also talented, prolific but who likely came of singing age in a different time (the 1970s) and the wrong place (Israel and not Morocco or other parts of the Maghreb) and thus didn’t have the same chances of success. And so for every Jo Amar there was a Sami Amar and for every Samy Elmaghribi there was a Charli Elmaghribi.

Charli Elmaghribi. Koliphone. 1980s.

Charli Elmaghribi recorded for Koliphone/Zakiphon from at least the early 1970s. He is a fantastic oudist and has a distinct voice. He performs everything from Algerian to Moroccan and Andalusian to piyyutim. I want to thank my fellow collector Eilon for pointing out this Youtube video of Charli Elmaghribi in Morocco that seems to date from the late 1980s or early 1990s.

I have digitized the first side of a Charli Elmaghribi cassette from the early 1980s. The little background information I know on Charli is that he is still alive and performing and lives in France. He comes to Israel throughout the year to perform. I wish I could tell you more (his real last name, the city he hails from in Morocco, who his musical influences were) but for now his name and music will have to suffice. I want to stress one more thing.

Charli Elmaghribi - Yamslmin kalbi - Koliphone by CBSilver

Charli Elmaghribi - Ya kalbi chali el hal - Koliphone by CBSilver
In case of I haven’t made this abundantly clear; much of this music still exists in the Azoulay brother’s shop in Jaffa. I strongly recommend stopping there on your next trip to Israel and purchasing what you can before this music once again becomes lost to time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Jewish Morocco Now on Twitter!

Follow Jewish Morocco on Twitter for more updates, photos and links to music. Also, stay tuned for a dynamite upcoming post on Samy Elmaghribi, Esther Elfassy and Albert Suissa.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Raoul Journo, Memories of Tunisian Jewish Music and Kol Nidre

It is impossible to ignore the influence of Algerian and Tunisian music on Moroccan music and vice versa. That is why in the years I have been collecting records, I have moved from focusing only on Moroccan music produced in Israel to Moroccan music in general and on to Algerian and Tunisian as well.  I have also concentrated on North African Arabic music as performed by Jews but when I’m so moved I also will pick up something performed in Hebrew or even Aramaic like Kol Nidre.

Raoul Journo et Alain Scetbon. Kol Nidre: Chantent à l’orientale 3 mélodies hébraïques.
Festival Records (FX45-1543). 1970s

So today, Jewish Morocco goes to Tunisia via France. I have digitized both sides of a Raoul Journo and Alain Scetbon EP entitled Kol Nidre: Chantent à l’orientale 3 mélodies hébraïques produced by Festival Records (FX45-1543) in France circa 1970s. Raoul Journo and Alain Scetbon are accompanied by Victor Zeitoun on the qanun. “This record represents the first time that Raoul Journo and Alain Scetbon have performed together,” says the liner notes on the back cover of the record. Journo and Scetbon use the “most authentic Tunisian synagogue melody and thus this disc is an indisputable document.” The notes also express hope that the talent of the musicians on this disc might “rescue from oblivion the important cultural wealth of the once prosperous North African Jewish communities.”

Raoul Journo was born in 1911 in Tunis, Tunisia to a Jewish family. By his twenties he was already recording for Polyphon and Pathe. He left Tunisia in 1965, a full 9 years after Tunisian independence, and later continued to record for Pathe, Dounia, Bel Air and others. He was truly one of the greatest Tunisian vocalists, if not the greatest, of the modern era. It is said that the Egyptian singer Mohammed Abdel Wahab sought him out frequently and even attended his concert at the Olympia in Paris. Raoul Journo died in 2001 and is buried in Jerusalem.

Alain Scetbon, also known as Rabbi Mikhael-Alain Scetbon, was another Tunisian-born singer known for his piyyutim while Victor Zeitoun, the qanoun player on this EP, was also born in Tunisia. There are some fantastic Youtube recordings of Alain Scetbon out there but I have seen little to nothing written of Victor Zeitoun. I will work on getting some information on him. It always amazes me that only a few years after the deaths of many of these great musicians, so little is written about them. I hope in some small way that this blog can contribute to their memory.

The first side of this record is the Kol Nidre prayer. Kol Nidre is recited every Yom Kippur and is one of the most awe-inspiring (and controversial) pieces of Jewish liturgy. It is most often described as haunting. This is a very different Kol Nidre. It is less haunting, more rhythmic and to me more spiritually uplifting. The qanun accompaniment is incredibly powerful. Listen to Raoul Journo, Alain Scetbon and Victor Zeitoun perform Kol Nidre here.
Raoul Journo et Alain Scetbon. Kol Nidre (Festival Records - FX45-1543). 1970s. by CBSilver

The second side is two different prayers – Kilou Nahi and Il Nora Alila. Kilou Nahi is a hymn to the glory of God and his reign while Il Nora Alila (also El Nora Alila) is a piyyut, a liturgical acrostic poem set to music, which is part of the closing Neilah service for Yom Kippur. Listen to Raoul Journo, Alain Scetbon and Victor Zeitoun perform Kilou Nahi and Il Nora Alila here.
Raoul Journo et Alain Scetbon. Kilou Nahi, Il Nora Alila (Festival Records - FX45-1543). 1970s. by CBSilver

Sunday, September 11, 2011

New Jewish Morocco Books, Resources and Music

A number of new, important books have been published recently that deserve the attention of anybody interested in Jewish Morocco.

The first is Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa, an edited volume put together by two top scholars - Emily Gottreich at Berkeley and Daniel Schroeter at Minnesota. Of particular interest is Abdellah Larhmaid’s Jewish Identity and Landownership in the Sous Region of Morocco, Aomar Boum’s Southern Moroccan Jewry between the Colonial Manufacture of Knowledge and the Postcolonial Historiographical Silence, Susan Miller’s Making Tangier Modern: Ethnicity and Urban Development, 1880-1930 and Stacy Holden’s Muslim and Jewish Interaction in Moroccan Meat Markets, 1873-1912.
The volume also contains valuable chapters on Algeria and Tunisia. Hadj Miliani’s Crosscurrents: Trajectories of Algerian Jewish Artists and Men of Culture since the End of the Nineteenth Century will provide readers of this blog with familiar names of Algerian musicians from the first half of the 20th century and is a welcome scholarly addition to this field although it also feels very much like the beginning of research rather than the culmination of efforts. Jewish Culture and Society North Africa will also serve as a welcome companion to the volume The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times edited by Reeva Spector Simon, Michael Laskier and Sara Reguer.

Brill recently released The Martyrdom of a Moroccan Jewish Saint by Sharon Vance, a contributor to Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa. I have not had a chance to read this yet but I have included a description of the book below: 

Tomb of Sol Hatchuel, Fez Jewish Cemetery, 2008 (c)

This work gathers texts that tell the story of the martyrdom of Sol Hatchuel, a young Jewish girl from Tangier, who was executed in Fez in 1834. It discusses narratives in Hebrew, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Spanish, French and Spanish written in the first century after her death, placing them in historical and literary historical context and showing how authors in each language interpreted her martyrdom. The book also includes a historical analysis of the event itself in the context of Moroccan and Moroccan Jewish history in the 19th Century.

The Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center at Beit Hatefusot in Tel Aviv recently received a donation from the Raphael and Georgette Cohen Collection of Family Trees of a searchable database of 22,000+ individual names, organized in family trees, of Jewish families from Meknes, Morocco. The link has been included below.


I also want to draw your attention to Jonathan Ward’s excellent new four CD set Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM. Ward of Excavated Shellac fame (the excellent 78 rpm blog he runs) has incorporated a number of rare tracks by Jewish North African artists on the first CD including Sassi, Cheikh Zouzou, Cheikh Elafrit, Messaoud Habib and Zohra El Fassia. The CD set is now available for pre-order.

To access a complete list of Jewish Morocco books, click here.

To purchase Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa, click here.

To purchase The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times, click here.

To purchase The Martyrdom of a Moroccan Jewish Saint, click here.

To access the Meknes database, click here.

To pre-order Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM, click here, and make sure to check out Excavated Shellac.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Death of Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, Memories of Tafilalt and Cheikh Mwijo

The new Jewish cemetery in Rissani (2008)

The tragic news of the murder of Rabbi Elazar Abuhatzeira, grandson of the Baba Sali, in Be'er Sheva, Israel last Friday, July 29 brought back memories of my travels in Tafilalt where in a way this story really begins. Tafilalt is the area of southern Morocco that borders the Sahara where the Abuhatzeira dynasty originally hails from. The area includes the shrine of Rabbi Shmuel Abuhatzeira, cousin of the Baba Sali, in Erfoud, the remnants of the historic Jewish communities of Ghirlane and other villages and of course the original home of the Baba Sali in Rissani. I'm going to write more about Erfoud, Ghirlane and Rissani in an upcoming post but first I want to start with the figure of the Baba Sali and some music that will help situate this story.

As you will recall from a post I put up in January, Cheikh Mwijo, the legendary singer from Meknes, and the Abuhatzeira family have long had a history. At the time I recounted the following, "First, it should be noted that Mwijo has a number of songs that exalt Moroccan tzaddiqim. One of these songs is a tribute to Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hasira, the grandfather of the Baba Sali, who died on a pilgrimage to the Land of Israel and was buried in the Nile Delta in Egypt. Abu Hasira’s tomb became a site of pilgrimage and has recently attracted media attention due to local Egyptian opposition to the annual influx of Israelis and Jews. When the Baba Sali caught wind of this song and of Cheikh Mwijo he invited Mwijo to visit him in Netivot in the Negev. Mwijo couldn’t make the journey from Kiryat Ata right away but eventually would come to pay his respects. The Baba Sali couldn’t understand how Mwijo knew so much about his grandfather. Mwijo revealed to the Baba Sali that he was a Meknesi at which point the Baba Sali exclaimed that everything now made sense as Meknes was a city of great torah scholars. To honor Mwijo, Baba Sali asked Mwijo to drink arak from the same cup as Rabbi Y. Abu Hasira, his grandfather (it was unclear whether the cup was used by his grandfather or if the arak had actually been partially consumed by his grandfather). Mwijo drank dutifully but was forced to hold his nose while doing so for he hated arak. As Mwijo told this story animatedly, I remembered the arak I had left in the car and thought that somehow the Baba Sali must have been watching over me."

I have digitized Cheikh Mwijo's Rabb Abouhassira off of his 14th LP. It dates from the 1970s. It is fascinating ode to the Baba Sali and his grandfather and recounts, in Judeo-Arabic, the history of the Abuhatzeira family and the Jews of the Sahara.

Cheikh Mwijo. Rabb Abouhassira. #14. Koliphone. 1970s
Take a listen.

Rabb Abouhassira - Cheikh Mwijo (Koliphone, 1970s) by CBSilver

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Videos from the Tahala Jewish Cemetery

I've added a couple of short videos from the Tahala Jewish cemetery. If anyone has any updates on the status of the cemetery, please send my way. It is surreal to once again see these videos after having been away from the region for too long.

Here is some of what I wrote back in October 2008:

I arrived in Tahala and quickly found an amicable old man who pointed me in the right direction. Tahala is a small village about 15 km outside of Tafraoute. It was a Saturday and even quieter than usual. If I saw anyone around I asked them to point me in the direction of the cemetery and the happily did so. I finally arrived to a construction site. The Moroccan equivalent of a McMansion was being built in Tahala and seriously blemished the landscape. The construction workers motioned me forward past the site and to what looked like construction materials at first glance. But at second glance it was much more than construction materials. It was the remnant of the Tahala Jewish cemetery...

...There were about 12-15 visible graves with visible, clearly written Hebrew on about 6 of the graves. Some of the graves lied under construction materials and many had been destroyed. There was broken pottery, mostly tagine lids, strewn about and a good number of the graves that were still in good condition had been desecrated from the top. A number of people I have spoken to on this matter seem to think that local Berber traditions have identified Jewish cemeteries as sources of certain powers and the broken pottery and even the desecration is part of these rituals. As construction moved along and as I moved on it seemed to me that this cemetery only has a few years left before it is totally destroyed. Sadly it was one of the most moving cemeteries I have seen since arriving in Morocco and was at a loss of what to do. If the Hebrew inscriptions are not moved to a museum (perhaps in Casablanca) then they will completely disappear in the near future.

Tahala and the study of the Jews of the Sous are continuing to gain interest among historians and anthropologists. Read Abdellah Larhmaid's excellent chapter on Jewish Identity and Landowndership in the Sous Region of Morocco in the excellent and recently released Jewish Culture and Society in North Africa.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Images from the Tahala Jewish Cemetery

Jewish cemetery in Tahala (2008)

There is more music on the way soon but I want to start uploading my photos from past trips to the blog and thought I would start today before Shabbat. Below are a few more photos from the abandoned Jewish cemetery in Tahala, a small village outside of Tafroute in the Ameln Valley that once had a sizable Jewish community (as a percentage of the entire village). At the time the photos were taken there was significant development occurring adjacent to the cemetery and no wall to protect it from the new construction. I'm unfortunately not sure what the current state of the cemetery is.

Read about my travel to Tahala here and here.

Tombstone from Jewish cemetery in Tahala (2008)

Tombstone from Jewish cemetery in Tahala (2008)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ya Nas, Ya Nas – Zohra El Fassia Digitized

The recent draft constitution put forward by King Muhammad VI describes Morocco as, “a nation whose unity is based on the fully endorsed diversity of its constituents: Arab, Amazigh, Hassani, Sub-Saharan, African, Andalusian, Jewish and Mediterranean.” I thought I would take this opportunity to write about the great Moroccan Jewish singer Zohra El Fassia who embodies much of that diversity.

The Morocco Years
Zohra El Fassia was born in 1905 to a Jewish family in Fez. She recorded dozens of records in her career in Morocco and at least seventeen 78s just between the years 1947 and 1957 for Polyphon, Pathe and Philips. She was a favorite of the King and of the people and took pride in the fact that her music was enjoyed by both Muslims and Jews.

Zohra El Fassia – Aita Moulay Brahim (Chant Chleuh) – Pathe, 1950s
I just digitized one of her 78s. To my knowledge no version of this exists online or in CD form. Take a listen. This is a different Zohra El Fassia then the one you will hear later in this post. Rapid paced singing. Chant Chleuh as Pathe describes it – Zohra El Fassia singing ‘aita.

The Israel Years
By 1962, Zohra El Fassia – at the height of her career in many ways - moved to Israel. She lived in Jewish Agency housing in Ashkelon, in conditions strikingly different from the ones she enjoyed in Morocco. Upon arrival in the country, she began recording in Arabic for the Koliphone (Zakiphon) label.

I want to take a moment to point out something interesting here and it is really a point that Ammiel Alcalay made in the past but that hasn’t been resolved. Erez Bitton, the important Moroccan-Algerian poet, who writes about the North African experience in Israel, penned a poem in 1976, a tragic poem, on Zohra El Fassia’s life in Israel and deserves mention here:

Zohra El Fassia’s song
Erez Bitton, 1976

Zohra El Fassia

Singer at Muhammad the Fifth’s court in Rabat, Morocco
They say when she sang
Soldiers fought with knives
To clear a path through the crowd
To reach the hem of her skirt
To kiss the tips of her toes
To leave her a piece of silver as a sign of thanks

Zohra El Fassia

Now you can find her
In Ashkelon
Antiquities 3
By the welfare office the smell
Of leftover sardine cans on a wobbly three-legged table
The stunning royal carpets stained on the Jewish Agency cot
Spending hours in a bathrobe
In front of the mirror
With cheap make-up –
When she says

Muhammad Cinque

Apple of our eyes

You don’t really get it at first

Zohra El Fassia’s voice is hoarse
Her heart is clear
Her eyes are full of love

Zohra El Fassia

Back in 1993, Ammiel Alcalay pointed out in After Jews and Arabs: Remaking of Levantine Culture that the compendium the Modern Hebrew Poem Itself makes a serious error about Zohra El Fassia. Several poems by Erez Bitton are included in the the Modern Hebrew Poem Itself including the poem “Zohra al-Fasiya.”

Alcalay points out that one of the compendium’s editors, Ezra Spicehandler, writes, “Erez Biton (b. in Algiers, 1942), more than any other poet of this younger group, strongly reflects his Middle Eastern heritage. Much of his poetry springs from a childhood spent in the slum world of Moroccan immigrants in Israel. Typical is his ballad of “Zohorah al-fasiah,” a fictive [emphasis mine] Jewish favorite of King Muhammad V of Morocco.

Until this day The Modern Hebrew Poem Itself continues to print in all its editions that Zohra El Fassia was fictive. It’s all the more astonishing to consider that Zohra El Fassia lived, recorded and performed in Israel. Furthermore, her impact on Moroccan music has long been acknowledged in Morocco including most recently at the 2009 music festival in Essaouira.

Zohra El Fassia – Laarosa – Zakiphon, 1960s
I just digitized this 1960s release of Laaroosa by Zohra El Fassia. This EP was released by the Koliphone (Zakiphon) label in Israel. Check it out. A very different sound then the ‘aita on 78. You can hear her voice strain here but it is still a dynamite track. In fact, when writing about this music I always think it’s important to consider whether this music had any impact at all in Israel…

Here is the former Sderot-based band Sfatayim doing their rendition of Laarosa. Not as good but interesting.

Zohra El Fassia died in 1994 in Ashkelon at the age of 87. Erez Bitton, along with the singer Shlomo Bar, of Habrera Hativit and born in Rabat and the Mayor of Ashkelon were some of the very few who attended her funeral.

Two months before her death, Zohra El Fassia said the following in an interview with Maariv: “When I made aliyah to Israel they [the Jewish Agency] gave me a horrible apartment. I suffered from loneliness, no one visited me…Do you know why I cried? I wasn‘t afraid of death, I knew one day I would die but I was afraid that after my death no one would remember who Zohra El Fassia was.”

Spread this music around. I’ll be digitizing more of her 78s soon. Let’s not forget the great Zohra El Fassia.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Moroccan Jewish Music at JCC Manhattan - June 7, 2011

Zohra El Fassia. Laarosa. Zakiphon. 196?

Come check out my sessions at JCC Manhattan

Here is the schedule:

12:30 am
Koliphone Records: The Untold Story of Israel’s Arabic Singing Jewish Musicians

1:45 am
Sheikh it Baby: Arabic Music by Jewish Musicians

I know it's technically June 8 but come on the 7th and stay through the 8th :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Felix el Maghrebi - A Life in 45s

Felix el Maghrebi was a mainstay of the Moroccan pop scene in the 1960s. His real name was Felix Weizman - Weizman being a somewhat popular Moroccan Jewish last name not related to its Ashkenazi counterpart. He died on March 6, 2008, right before the death of Samy ElMaghribi

I've been listening to a number of his 45s recently which I have only found on the N. Sabbah label, an indigenous Moroccan label produced in Casablanca. Interestingly, I have only seen / heard N. Sabbah 78s and 45s but no 33s. It seems as though N. Sabbah recorded mostly Jewish artists although as you will see from the back of this Felix el Maghrebi EP, the label also produced Muslim artists.

Felix el Maghrebi. El Frak & Khel Laiounne. N. Sabbah. 196?

Felix el Maghrebi. El Frak & Khel Laiounne. N. Sabbah. 196?

Felix el Maghrebi. Kaftanec Mahlou & El Mlaine. N. Sabbah. 196?

The first record is in my possession but I grabbed the second record image from the Jewish Moroccan Heritage site based in Belgium. If you click here, you can see a bunch of Moroccan Jewish 45 album covers. The Botbol cassette I recently uploaded can be seen in its record form as well as an Albert Suissa EP on Casaphone. I wish there were a way to bring these to the forefront of the site a bit more but a little searching does the trick.

I'll be uploading some more album art soon but in the meantime enjoy.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Schedule Posted for Jewish Morocco Symposium at American Sephardi Federation - May 15-16, 2011

ASF just posted the schedule for their two day symposium (May 15-16) on Moroccan Jewish life. Incredibly impressive array of scholars on a variety of topics. I encourage you to attend if you are in the New York area.



The symposium is being held under the High Patronage of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco
and made possible through the generous support of the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation

May 15 & 16, 2011

Symposium Brochure Page One | Symposium Brochure Page Two

Click here to purchase tickets:

5/10 at UCLA: Between Memory and Extinction: The Moroccan Jewish Quarter in the Twentieth Century

Lots of Morocco related events happening lately. If you are in the LA area on May 10th, this is a must attend event. Prof. Miller is a top scholar.

Between Memory and Extinction: The Moroccan Jewish Quarter in the Twentieth Century

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm, Royce Hall - Room 306

See below for additional information.


PRE-REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. Email or call (310) 267-5327 to RSVP.


Center for Jewish Studies
(310) 267-5327


Additional Information

Between Memory and Extinction: The Moroccan Jewish Quarter in the Twentieth Century Susan Miller (UC Davis) Maurice Amado Seminar in Sephardic Studies The Jewish quarter or mellah was the physical and symbolic center for Jewish life in Morocco for centuries. Historians, anthropologists, and architectural historians have closely studied the mellah and its people in an effort to understand the role of the Jewish quarter as a historical "stage" for Jewish survival practices in the face of dire existential threats.

Prof. Miller will concentrate on the trajectory of the mellah in the early 20th century, when its inner structure unraveled under the twin pressures of a European-induced modernity and the imposition of harsh racialist policies under the fascist Vichy regime (1940-44).

Cosponsored by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jewish Morocco Symposium at American Sephardi Federation - May 15-16, 2011

The American Sephardi Federation is conducting a two-day international symposium entitled: Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey at its home at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. The symposium will feature international scholars from Morocco, France, Canada, Israel and the U.S., who will present the history, contributions and contemporary story of Jewish Morocco.

Specific topics will include, among others: Evolution of Jewish Life, Moroccan Jews and the Arts, Moroccan Rabbis and Jewish Thought, Relationships Between Jews and Muslims, Moroccan Jewish Diaspora and the Jews of Morocco Today.

The symposium, open to the public, is part of the year-long series: 2,000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey, which is being held under the High Patronage of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco.

For more information and to RSVP, click here.

Andalusian (Ala) Music in New York on 4/30: Orchestra of Fes with Françoise Atlan

World Nomads Morocco
Opening Concert & Reception
Orchestra of Fes
with Françoise Atlan

Saturday, April 30, 2011
FIAF, Florence Gould Hall

Presented as part of World Nomads Morocco
in partnership with Essaouira Mogador Association
with the Festival Andalousies Atlantiques and Fondation Esprit de Fès
with the Festival of World Sacred Music

World Nomads Morocco opens with an evening of Judeo-Arab Andalusian music performed by the acclaimed Orchestra of Fes, under the direction of eminent musician and conductor Mohamed Briouel. This rich musical tradition dates back to medieval Spain and is loved by Muslims and Jews alike, throughout the Arab world and in the Sephardic diaspora.

The concert will feature renowned Jewish vocalist Françoise Atlan, who is considered one of the most beautiful voices of this tradition.

All concert attendees are invited to a Moroccan-themed reception following the concert.

To purchase tickets, click here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Two More Digitized Haim Abitbol Tracks!

Another two tracks from Haim Abitbol. I have two more to upload from this cassette but waiting to get a new external hard drive so I can transfer a bunch of files.

Harket dana mouhjati - Haim Abitbol (Koutoubiaphone, 1970s) by CBSilver

Frak ghzali - Haim Abitbol (Koutoubiaphone, 1970s) by CBSilver

Friday, April 1, 2011

More Haim Abitbol Recordings Up

Below are two recently uploaded recordings (from a 1970s cassette) of Haim Abitbol on Koutoubiaphone. Enjoy.

Oulayni haya by Haim Abitbol (Koutoubiaphone, 1970s) by CBSilver

Karmelitta - Haim Abitbol (Koutoubiaphone, 1970s) by CBSilver

Friday, February 25, 2011

Zohra El Fassia Documentary Premiers at 15th NY Sephardic Film Festival

Zohra Elfassia (2010) by Haim Shiran will be shown at 5.30 pm on Sunday, March 13 in New York.

Here is the description of the documentary: Zohara Elfassia was born in Fez in 1908 and was one of the greatest singers among the Jewish singers that came out of Morocco. Her presence in every home in Morocco, Jews and Muslims, attests to her popularity. She sang both Jewish and Muslim songs, and her career extended over many years in Fez and other cities in Morocco and Algeria. After she emigrated to Israel in the 1960's, her voice was not heard on public stages and the radio, yet you can still hear her singing on old records and tapes in the homes of Moroccan Jews.
(Israel, 2010, 20 mins.)

Check out this listing and other listings on the Sephardic Film Festival's website.

I haven't seen this yet but am very interested. Has anyone had a chance to watch this? Let me know.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cheikh Mwijo # 23 Digitized - Classic Recordings

More Cheikh Mwijo - this time on cassette. The quality isn't perfect but I'm on a tape kick right now. I'm fairly positive that the album cover was shot in Mwijo's current home - I recognize the red vinyl.

Cheikh Mwijo. #23. Ze lo halom. Koliphone/Zakiphone

Cheikh Mwijo. #23. Goulouli fine. Koliphone/Zakiphone

Cheikh Mwijo. #23. Gzali houwa sbabi. Koliphone/Zakiphone

Cheikh Mwijo. #23. Lbnat. Koliphone/Zakiphone

Meeting the Legendary Cheikh Mwijo

Cheikh Mwijo. #12. Koliphone/Zakiphone. 1970s

When you google Koliphone, the Israeli record label started by the Azoulay brothers in Jaffa in 1953 that pioneered and produced Arabic music sung by Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, a couple of things come up. One is my blog and other is the work of Uri Wertheim in Israel. Knowing I would be in Israel in December, I sent Uri a fairly benign Facebook message about record digging for North African LPs in Haifa and Jerusalem. Our conversation quickly moved beyond finding records and soon involved tracking down and interviewing the remaining Arabic singing musicians from the 1960s.

In December, we met in person for the first time. I was greeted by Uri and his dog Fred in the Florentine section of Tel Aviv not too far from the Central bus station. We headed to Hummus Abu George for lunch. We ordered two bowls of hummus with ful. We spoke about Koliphone records, the Azoulay brothers, how Uri got into collecting (he started working for one of the Azoulay brothers earlier in his career), record digging and everything in between. On our way out we ran into the other members of his band The Apples.

We headed to Uri’s apartment with Fred. Uri’s record collection really blew me away. Outside of the Azoulay brothers themselves, I would venture to say that Uri has the most complete collection of Koliphone records in the world. My personal interest in Koliphone stems from my interest in Moroccan Jewish music and North Africa in general but Uri has done an excellent job focusing on this label and the various associated labels (Zakiphon, Pianophon, etc.) and building a collection. Amongst other things, Uri had 45s that I had never seen before – for instance, before I arrived in Israel I knew of two Zakiphon 45s entitled Alass Ya Nasser (Why O Nasser) songs in Moroccan Judeo-Arabic on Israel’s 1967 victory - but Uri had a whole series of these EPs. He also had a nice collection of Albert Suissa, Cheikh Elafrite (Tunisian), Geoula Barda (Libyan), Raoul Journo (Tunisian) and anything else you can imagine – it was really unbelievable. We listened to some records including some 78s on an old portable phonograph that we weren’t sure was going to work (it did). We then listened to some Cheikh Mwijo.

Cheikh Mwijo. #7. Koliphone/Zakiphone. 1970s

Somehow in the course of our messages and emailing before I arrived in Israel, Cheikh Mwijo had come up. Cheikh Mwijo, (real name: Moshe Attias), had long occupied my imagination. Of all the Moroccan Jewish performers he was one of the most recognizable and perhaps the most flamboyant. The album artwork on his records was unmistakably him. There is the one where he gazes admiringly at a record, the one where he wears a fur coat and holds a cigarette in one hand and a violin in the other, another where there are four different images of Mwijo – one in traditional Moroccan garb, one wearing a yarmulke and studying text, one in a suit and one by a video camera. Above all else, Mwijo’s voice is distinct and that is what makes him stand out. Before arriving in Israel we (mostly Uri) worked on tracking down Mwijo so that we could interview him and record him. Most of the musicians of Mwijo’s era have passed – many in recent years (Samy Elmaghribi, Jo Amar, etc.) and that was part of the reason why this was so important.

Back of Cheikh Mwijo #7. Album Covers. Koliphone/Zakiphone. 1960 - 70s

We called Cheikh Mwijo from a landline. The phone was on speaker. It was a tremendous feeling to hear the voice that I only knew from 60s and 70s LPs. Mwijo told us he welcomed our visit, we hung up the phone and Uri and I got to planning.

I met Uri and Uri’s brother Noam at the car rental agency, stopping by a liquor store on the way to buy a nice bottle of arak for Cheikh Mwijo. We left Tel Aviv by late morning and headed toward Kiryat Ata, Cheikh Mwijo’s adopted city. The journey took a couple of hours with a stop for lunch. We made our way north through areas recently devastated by fire.

We pulled into Kiryat Ata and began to look for Mwijo’s home address. As we slowly crept up his street I spotted Mwijo sitting at a café wearing his signature tarbush. He looked like he had always looked. My heart raced. We were originally supposed to meet him at his house but there he was sitting in the café by his apartment smoking a cigarette. This was a future album cover. We parked the car and tried not to overwhelm him with our enthusiasm. He knew we wanted to meet him but he wasn’t sure what the point was. Moroccans the world over already knew Mwijo, he told us. We told him that not everyone knew his story and that this was an important endeavor we were embarking on. We showed him my blog (the whole thing was very meta) and the recently posted clip from Haim Abitbol. He wasn’t impressed. Mwijo had performed with Marcel Abitbol. He told us to follow him to his home.

Mwijo looked sharp – slacks, dress shirt and tarbush. He was much shorter than I ever imagined. Ani ben adam pashut, he kept saying in Hebrew. I am a simple man. It was true. He lived very simply. His home was small and exhibited touches of Morocco (a Moroccan style couch for example). He had a single picture on his living room wall and it hinted at a once great musical career - a framed, color copied image of Mwijo in front of the Eiffel Tower with his name spelled Cheikh Moizo (there are a number of ways his name has been spelled throughout his career) and superimposed above his head. We sat not in the living room but in the dining room. Images of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the Baba Sali and Moroccan tzaddiqim adorned the walls. We sat around the dining room table. His chair was a white plastic chair with a leather car seat attached to it for comfort.

The room filled with cigarette smoke quickly. We asked some questions when we could but mostly he spoke. Mwijo was born Moshe Attias in Meknes in 1937. He came from a family of musicians. His father, Yaakov Attias, a musician, died young at the age of 32. Yaakov Attias was originally from Fez and married Mwijo’s mother in Meknes. Mwijo spent some time growing up in the Fez mellah on Rue du Mellah, the main drag. When I asked him where exactly, he asked me in Arabic if I was Arab or Jewish and how I knew about Morocco. He then recalled an incident in the 1940s (he would have been very young) where a Vichy officer recorded his family’s name – anti-Semitism was something that would come up periodically throughout our conversation with Mwijo and this incident, in particular, stuck with him. Mwijo’s grandfather had also been a musician. Mwijo has a number of brothers who are still alive and who he still performs with. He then showed us an unbelievable black and white photo (below):

In the picture (left to right): Sliman Elmaghribi, Sliman’s father Mordechai, Muallem David Ben Haroush, Mimoun Turjeman, Yaakov Zerad and Mwijo’s father Yaakov Attias.

Mwijo first learned music by listening to this band of Jewish musicians. In Israel, Muallem (an honorific title like cheikh) David Ben Haroush would soon become Mwijo’s main influence.

Mwijo moved to Israel in Israel in 1962 at the age 35. His profession, which if I understood correctly, was an embroiderer of military uniforms and was not needed in Israel (with their scaled back, simple military uniforms and their ranks made of medal) and he showed us the 1962 letter from the Security Services Office to prove it. He touched on his experiences in the ma’abarot, the transit camps for Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, and on what he described as racism towards Moroccans in Israel then and now.

Muallem Ben Haroush would eventually also settle in Israel, in Kiryat Haim, where Mwijo would support him during his final days. As a gift to Mwijo, Ben Haroush left him his songbooks, which had also been handed to down to him. The songbooks would prove to be the source from which Mwijo drew his strength. I can’t stress enough what these songbooks represent. It is incomprehensible what is tied up in these songs – the heritage of Moroccan music, Moroccan Jewish history -- history that can be found nowhere else but buried somewhere in Mwijo’s modest apartment. Apparently, when Professor Joseph Chetrit of Haifa University became aware of the books he asked Mwijo if he could photograph them for his research. Mwijo refused. He thought Chetrit was just out to make money (clearly not the case and not the case with books published by academic presses) and that Mwijo wasn’t going to get his cut. So for now, only one man has studied and mastered those songs since Ben Haroush and that man is Mwijo. It is because he committed the songs in the books to memory – a dramatic turnaround from his earlier years when he could only ever remember parts of songs – that Mwijo maintains the honorific title of Cheikh – the master of 1,000 songs. In a final odd musical twist, we learned from Mwijo that Muallem David Ben Haroush is buried in Haifa near Mike Brant, the 1970s Israeli pop star who committed suicide at the height of his career.

At this point in Mwijo’s life, a number of things happened in tandem. Mwijo discovered that his profession was no longer needed in Israel and that he had been given two gifts – the songbooks and a voice. Sitting in a café in Haifa one day, Mwijo began to sing and this, he recalled, literally brought unsuspecting patrons to tears. All of these factors – a lack of employment, a mastery of songs and a unique voice helped launch Cheikh Mwijo’s career in the music industry.

Mwijo began his music career singing and playing the mandolin but he would eventually switch to the violin, played in the upright North African style (he would later deride Western style violin playing for not being sufficiently difficult). He never learned to read music. Between 1962 and 1970, Mwijo estimates he wrote and sold about 40 songs to Sliman Elmaghribi, the young musician pictured at the far left of the black and white photo he had showed us earlier.

By 1969, Mwijo had started his own recording career. Zaki Azoulay, one third of the Azoulay trio, came to Mwijo in his home with reel-to-reel tape and recorded him live. It sold very well. Later Mwijo would record dozens of records and cassettes for the Azoulay brothers and their Koliphone/Zakiphon label at their studio on Raziel Street in Jaffa, across the street from where the current Azoulay brothers’ store now stands. The recording sessions were all “live to tape” sessions but today, he told us, he prefers multi-track recording.

In the course of conversation he shared with us a few stories that correspond roughly to the height of his career. At this point I’m not entirely sure how to describe these stories. They are demonstrative of a number of things – Mwijo’s religious zeal, his relationship to other Moroccans and Jews, how Mwijo sees himself in history, his feelings on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism – or perhaps they are just anecdotes that are interesting.

First, it should be noted that Mwijo has a number of songs that exalt Moroccan tzaddiqim. One of these songs is a tribute to Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hasira, the grandfather of the Baba Sali, who died on a pilgrimage to the Land of Israel and was buried in the Nile Delta in Egypt. Abu Hasira’s tomb became a site of pilgrimage and has recently attracted media attention due to local Egyptian opposition to the annual influx of Israelis and Jews. When the Baba Sali caught wind of this song and of Cheikh Mwijo he invited Mwijo to visit him in Netivot in the Negev. Mwijo couldn’t make the journey from Kiryat Ata right away but eventually would come to pay his respects. The Baba Sali couldn’t understand how Mwijo knew so much about his grandfather. Mwijo revealed to the Baba Sali that he was a Meknesi at which point the Baba Sali exclaimed that everything now made sense as Meknes was a city of great torah scholars. To honor Mwijo, Baba Sali asked Mwijo to drink arak from the same cup as Rabbi Y. Abu Hasira, his grandfather (it was unclear whether the cup was used by his grandfather or if the arak had actually been partially consumed by his grandfather). Mwijo drank dutifully but was forced to hold his nose while doing so for he hated arak. As Mwijo told this story animatedly, I remembered the arak I had left in the car and thought that somehow the Baba Sali must have been watching over me.

In the 1970s, Mwijo often performed abroad and frequently in France. One time, while in France, a Moroccan (unclear whether this Moroccan was Jewish or Muslim) invited him to perform in Germany. Mwijo adamantly refused to play in Germany because of the Holocaust – even after an offer of 10,00 Deutschmarks from his host which he explained was a lot of money at the time. He was impassioned when telling us this story. His voice rose and sank as he progressed. After the refusal, Mwijo immediately headed to a casino, pulled the handle on a slot machine and won the equivalent of 10,000 Deutschmarks. This was divine intervention, he argued and said rhetorically that if this wasn’t a sign (from God) then nothing was.

Mwijo then transitioned to telling us more about his career in Israel. Mwijo never received any royalties for his music instead he began by earning 10 Israeli lira per song (he would share some of this with Sliman when they performed together) and payment for each record produced. It is unclear what exactly his relationship is today to Zaki Azoulay as a result of their financial arrangements although I would guess based on what I understood from Mwijo and the nature of producer-artist relationships that it is strained at best.

Mwijo feels that he is unique among Moroccan performers. He does not like the style of Salim Halali or a number of other artists. In fact, he prefers Algerian (djiri) music to Moroccan (chaabi) and describes his singing style as djiziri, which he says is more delicate and sweet than other North African styles. To that effect, he says he performed with the Algerian National Orchestra in France in 1981, which to me underscored his complex relationship with North Africa. He has returned to Morocco once and only to perform at a Jewish celebration.

In the course of our time with him he shared with us other fascinating anecdotes. He seems to have been present at all the major life cycle events of Aryeh Deri, the former head of Shas, including his brit milah in Meknes. Mwijo’s connection to Deri, whether ideological or otherwise, is incredibly potent. In fact, Mwijo penned him a song in 2000 as Deri headed to prison on a bribery conviction.

Chris Silver. Cheikh Mwijo. Uri Wertheim. Noam Wertheim - 2010

There was a point when it became clear that it was time for us to leave. We took a picture with Mwijo and exchanged pleasantries. Uri asked Mwijo if he could visit him again. In 10 years – Mwijo said. He had grown tired and preferred to look forward rather than back. For nearly 50 years Cheikh Mwijo has made good Moroccan music. As we exited the apartment, he told us to check him out in March when he would perform at the Dead Sea.