Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

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