Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Long Lost Libyan Records Resurface in Jaffa

The late Libyan Jewish recording star Joseph Mango Boaron
Music is subversive. It knows no bounds and no borders. This blog has traditionally focused on Morocco although I have recently ventured into writing about Jewish Algeria and Tunisia. This post will bring us to the far east of the Maghreb: Libya.

Between 1949 and Libyan independence in 1951, some 30,000 Libyan Jews left their homeland for Israel. Harvey Goldberg writes in the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times (p. 442) that when the Israel-bound ships sailed from the harbor at Tripoli, immigrants sang Moses’ song of redemption at the sea (Exod. 15). But what else were they singing?
Geoula Barda, Libyan master of the mawwal and Zakiphon standout
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Libyan Jewish musicians flocked to Jaffa to record with Raphael Azoulay and his sons for their Zakiphon label. These musicians included Bano Gniss, Joseph Mango Boaron, Geoula Barda, Suffa Kahlon and others. They recorded Andalusian music (ma’luf), Libyan pop and original chaabi songs. Through the latter, these musicians succeeded in narrating their own migration experiences and confronting their new realities.

Libyan Jewish singers introduce themselves, their writers and their label in late 1950s, early 1960s Israel

It is unclear whether any 78 rpm records were ever commercially recorded in Libya in the first half of the twentieth century as attested to by Jonathan Ward at the excellent Excavated Shellac blog. LPs and EPs were indeed recorded in independent Libya but it remains a real challenge to find any of this music today. So when I stumbled upon a stack of Libyan 45s in the Jaffa flea market last month, I knew I had uncovered rare musical artifacts that had to be shared with readers and listeners.
Yaacov Yamin, music writer and composer who worked closely with Geoula Barda
As you will hear, Libyan music is and feels different from the rest of Maghrebi music. Separate the Egyptian pieces out and you are left with killer violin, mawwal that feels like sacred ritual and trance inducing repetition. The Arabic is different as well. It was difficult to choose one 45 side to post but I decided to go with Labnyia Labsitt Sirwal by the famed Joseph Mango Boaron. This is one of the first pieces Boaron recorded in Israel. He manages to capture the initial reaction to the Libyan experience in Israel by narrating the story of a young woman from Amrous, a village-turned-city just outside Tripoli. In Israel, this young Libyan woman flirts, smokes and worst of all - as he repeats over and over again in the chorus: the world and times are terrible…this girl is wearing pants.

Unfortunately most of this music has been lost and many of these musicians have passed including Joseph Mango Boaron. I know very little of Bano Gniss. Suffa Kahlon…well it seems he may still be alive. His story is so unbelievable that I will have to save for another post. I was pleased to learn that Geoula is still belting it out. Check out this performance of hers at a 2011 Libyan wedding.

Of course many questions still remain. Did Jews commercially record in Libya or only in Israel? Were original compositions in Israel in fact based on older Libyan pieces? Did any of the music produced in Israel ever make it back to Libya as it did with the Moroccan repertoire? There is much more work to be done on this music but let’s start with this. If we’re lucky some of this music will finally make it back to Libya and the story will continue to unfold.


Ben Becker said...

Sounds like a great find in the flea market. Any plans to digitize the collections? Are the posted songs clips you lifted from the records or files you found online? Great post, can't wait to hear more.

Heller said...

Great sounds!

Chris Silver said...

Thanks, Heller! Ben - plans in the works. Sounds are taken from the records or cassettes themselves.

Korinna said...

Your site is great, a real treasure trove! Concerning Libyan/Tunisian music in Israel, there is a fine singer called Shlomit Buschnik who performs Libyan music at weddings/hinas etc. Here is a clip-there are more on youtube:

Tunisian singer Ruby Chen, who also performs Greek-style Israeli Yam Tichonit music:


Chris Silver said...

Thanks, Eva! Would love to be in touch next time I'm in Israel.

Unknown said...

I wander if you have the lost song of Geoula barda called " min tgablni al kbiss"?
I'lbe happy to hear that

OrthodoxJew said...

My maternal grandparents are Tripolitai and we were raised with music like this. One day my grandma showed me a tape of Yosef Mango and I only remember one song. It was a song satirizing the Arab loss of either the '67 war and said something about the Arabs fleeing their homes without their shoes. In the chorus he says, tongue-in-cheek, "boom, boom, boom."

Do you have that song?

Does anybody understand what he's saying? "Dunya" means "world."

Austin'sVinyl said...

I recently found a 45 by Geoula Barda in Tel Aviv, the tracks are “Hnat Elaarosa” and “Aarosa”. The sound is very unique, similar to the track you posted by Boaron. I was wondering if you know anything about these songs and if you will post any more recordings from the Libyan 45s.