Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Singing "Go Down Moses" in Judeo-Arabic - Happy Passover from Jewish North Africa!

Samy Elmaghribi. Le Chant Des Synagogues - "La Haggada". Pathe. 1960s.

The Passover holiday, commemorating the Israelites exodus from slavery to freedom, begins this Friday at Sunset and so when I re-listened to Nathan Cohen's Judeo-Arabic Had Gadya, below, I couldn't resist posting.

From the very beginning of the 20th century, Jewish artists in North Africa recorded liturgy, piyyutim and festival music in a melange of languages (Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, etc.) for popular release. The Passover holiday was no different. As many of you know, the festival has always held an important place in the North African Jewish tradition and the unique mimouna celebration marking the end of Passover is a testament to that.

In the 1960s and 1970s, dozens of records were released by musicians from Morocco to Libya on labels ranging from Samyphone (rereleased on Pathe/EMI above), to Dounia (originally owned by a Muslim entrepreneur as I learned from Maurice El Medioni recently and later purchased by El Kahlaoui Tounsi) to the Tunisian label Ennour to the various Zakiphon labels in Israel. These musicians while mastering and pioneering secular, popular Arabic music were also deeply Jewish and recorded religious music, much like their Jewish musical counterparts around the globe.
Nathan Cohen. Moise Sauve Des Eaux. Hagadah De Paque. Ennour. 1970s
With all of that being said, Nathan Cohen, a talented musician originally from Tunisia, has provided Jewish Morocco readers with a real treat. Over his career, Cohen recorded Andalusian, Arabic pop (chaabi) and Jewish music for labels based in France, North Africa and Israel. His unique voice and his penchant for piyyutim made him a stand out in his day.
Nathan Cohen. Haggada De Paque. Le Son Du Chofar (Dounia). 1970s and 1981.
I have digitized Nathan Cohen's Had Gadya for your listening pleasure. Had Gadya, meaning, "one little goat," in Aramic, is a playful, cumulative song that traditionally marks the end of Passover. Drop the song into Google and hundreds of versions will show up but very few if any are in Arabic and fewer less in North African Judeo-Arabic.

The version of Had Gadya below, sung by Nathan Cohen and his choir, is performed in Tunisian Judeo-Arabic. Listen to it a couple times and try not to be hooked.

I had to throw in some Jo Amar as well. Thanks to Phocéephone for the digitization of Jo Amar's Passover LP from the Tam Tam label out of Marseilles. The record starts with Jo going over the Passover seder in French. It's a fun listen despite some of the bumps and hisses. Skip to 11:51 to hear Jo Amar's Aramaic Had Gadya.

More music coming after the holiday including recently unearthed Libyan pop. In the meantime, I wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and meaningful Passover!


tim abdellah said...

Wonderful stuff, Chris. Chag Sameach!

Chris Silver said...

Thanks! You too, Tim!

Anonymous said...

My husband and all our friends and family, Moroccan and Tunisian, can't get enough of these old songs at Pesach time. What a treat to hear your recording, thx!

Chris Silver said...

Thanks, Ruth!