Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Azoulays, Jewish Libyan Cassettes and Zohra El Fassia's Great Granddaughter

Henry Zehavi performs in Bat Yam - Feb. 2012

The morning after participating in the Bat Yam North Africa sessions, Eilon and I enjoyed a traditional Israeli breakfast of coffee and cigarettes while listening to music. One of the standout pieces he played for me was ostensibly political propaganda and musically-speaking it was dynamite. It was Moroccan Arabic pop music (chaabi) that extolled the virtues of an Ashkenazi mayoral candidate in Ashdod in the 1970s. Using music to convey current events and encourage voting is part and parcel of this genre and in fact much of this political music not only offers insight into these communities and the issues they were concerned with but also an enjoyable listening experience. Judah Assaraf, who sang for a number of Moroccan labels in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s, recorded songs on subjects ranging from the famed peace flight of Iranian-Israeli Abbie Natan (from Israel to Nasser’s Egypt and back again) to the Six Day War to the Herut party.

Between changing records, Eilon showed me some old 78s he had collected that had unfortunately not withstood the test of time but nonetheless shed more light on the musical history discussed on this blog. The 78s in his possession included a number of Jo Amar pieces recorded in Arabic for Philips and a duo known as Abitbol and Fassy that recorded for the N. Sabbah label out of Casablanca.
Joseph Mango Boaron. In Chansone Tripoli. #3. Koliphone. 1970s.
After breakfast, we headed to one of our favorite spots - the Azoulay shop in Jaffa. While Eilon chatted with David and Zaki Azoulay, I picked out some cassettes including a Mike Karoutchi, the Libyan performer Joseph Mango Boaron and a Cheikh Mwijo opus / political call to action to restore the name of Shas leader Aryeh Deri, a former Knesset member convicted of bribery and banned from parliament for ten years in 1999. Each of these cassettes has an interesting story behind it but I’ll save that for another time.

Zakiphon Record Catalogue. Clockwise: Samy Elmaghribi, Albert Suissa, Zohra El Fassia, Jo Amar and Salim Halali.
Our conversation with the Azoulay brothers lasted about an hour but could have lasted for several days as far as I was concerned. In the course of casual conversation, I learned the following:
- Cheikh Zouzou’s son had settled in Israel and brought his father’s recordings with him thereby enabling their rerelease and preservation.
- The Azoulays kept better tabs than I thought and part of the proof of this was the last remaining Zakiphon record catalogue that David showed me and allowed me to photograph.
- AZR, one of the many label names under the Koliphone/Zakiphon suite, stood for Azoulay – Zaki – Raphael.
- Their record factory was based in Holon.
- Their reference points for beauty were still Louisa Tounsia and Line Monty.

With every sentence uttered, my knowledge of the Azoulays, their vision, their personalities and just how mindboggling their operation had been and how much more there is to learn from them increased exponentially.

After fulfilling our Azoulay needs, we headed to Jaffa’s flea market in search of buried vinyl treasure. Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to find North African records in Jaffa and if they are to be found then they are marked up considerably. However we had a lead and this lead led us to an antique store where the proprietor did in fact have a few EPs remaining. The records were in horrible, horrible condition but I purchased one on the Philix label on the off chance that I would get home, put the needle on the record and be floored. We then had lunch, said our goodbyes and I headed back to Jerusalem.
Eliyahu Kahlaoui (Shlomo Cohen). Bente El Mdina. Philix. Late 1960s?
I returned to the Tel Aviv area a few days later to meet with Karen. Karen is Zohra El Fassia’s great granddaughter who had contacted me through this blog in the hopes of tracking down recordings of her famously talented relative. When I told her I would be in Israel for work, we immediately set up a time to visit and swap stories. The experience was powerful. Karen resembles Zohra and was as warm as I had imagined. As soon as I saw Karen I handed her a CD I had made of digitized Zohra El Fassia 78s. For me, the fact that I was able to share this music with a member of Zohra El Fassia’s family was beyond moving. Karen, in turn, shared with me stories and much more. I learned just how bold Zohra was (she was married multiple times), that her family name was the very common Hammou and how uncommon her life was – more so than I had ever really understood. Karen showed me converted home videos of Zohra El Fassia performing at family gatherings. To paraphrase the poet Erez Bitton, her eyes are full of love in these videos but it’s not only her heart that is clear – so too is her iconic voice in these recordings. I left Karen with a much deeper understanding of just who Zohra El Fassia was and what she stood for. Karen is now working on an online project to capture the history and music of Zohra El Fassia. Let me know if you would like to be in touch with her to contribute photos, music and/or anecdotes.

When I returned to New York days later, I wasn’t disappointed. I dropped the needle on the record and Bente El Mdina practically begged to be digitized. Bente El Medina - City Girl in Arabic – was recorded by Shlomo Cohen aka Eliyahu Kahlaoui for the Philix label, one of the smaller Moroccan labels that cropped up in Israel around the Koliphone/Zakiphon labels. Eliyahu Kahlaoui (Shlomo Cohen) also recorded a song called Bente El Mochav – Moshav Girl in a combination of Arabic and Hebrew - that is the suburban contrast to City Girl. Philix recorded a number of North African musicians in the 1960s and 1970s including Judah Assaraf, who I mentioned above, Brahim Souiri, one of the all time great Moroccan musicians, and the famous Algerian David Elbecheri. Take a listen to Eliyahu Kahlaoui and his troupe below.


Medmouad said...

Such a big luck to meet the grand daughter of Zohra El Fassia. Any update about her project?

Chris Silver said...

Yes! More updates to come over the summer. I'll keep you posted.

Unknown said...

please post that cassette of Joseph Mango Boaron, because these things will be lost forever if they are not shared. Otherwise your work is excellent - but what use is it to us to only read - music should also be listened to and I think these cassettes deserve to be spread a bit. Thank you in advance, especially the Libyan-Jewish music is extremely rare.

uri mixmonster said...

S.Cohen was probably a business associated of Philix (et. Cohen) and have also written for Meir chriki and Juddah Assraf
I did not know That he was Eliyahou Kahlaoui! thanks, man!! this blog is like an endless treasure for my curiosity.