Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Marhaba Tunis: New Music Mix, Tunisia’s Jewish Musicians, and Summer Travel

“Summer is here my friends: Turn on the fan, pour yourself a refreshing drink, close the shutters a bit, relax and refresh yourself in this paradise-inducing musical oasis,” writes Guillaume le Roux for 716 Music on my recent music mix. You can read his full write-up on my efforts, here. In honor of my August and September travel to Tunis and Paris (which will include research and record digging – any tips more than welcome!), I have put together the above-described mix of some of Tunisia’s finest male Jewish musicians. The mix, which I have dubbed Marhaba Tunis, can be downloaded below. In a recent tweet, Afropop Worldwide described it in the following terms, “We cannot say enough about how dope this mix of Tunisian music from @JewishMorocco is. (hint- VERY) LISTEN!!”

Two final notes before we get to the music and the rest of the post:

1. You can find more details on Tunisia’s music scene and background on the artists featured on this mix after the jump.

2. I will be blogging from the Maghreb and France for the rest of the summer so be sure to visit the site often. There will be additional updates on my Facebook and Twitter.

Kakino de Paz – Taksim Rasd
El Kahlaoui Tounsi – Men jarr aalaya
Maurice Meimoun – Khalli rabbi yetfakkarni
Cheikh El Afrit – Gued ma amelt maak
Jose de Suza - Consolacion
A. Perez – Ya Beladi
Raoul Journo – Sellemt fik ya biladi
Raoul Journo – Ahla Ouassahla
Kakino de Paz – Teksim Naïm
Brief Historical Note on Tunisia’s Jewish Stars 
Youcef Hedjaj aka Jose de Suza
Naturally, I have spoken most often on this blog about the world of Moroccan Jewish music-makers. Over the last couple years, I have delved into Algeria’s robust Jewish soundscape as well. I have given the least attention to Tunisia up until this point, although Algeria’s eastern neighbor deserves our attention since the country is as much a part of the story as the rest of the Maghreb. I won’t go into all of the details of the Tunisian music scene at this point but suffice it to say that Jewish participation mirrors, if not exceeds, that of their Maghrebi Jewish counterparts to the west.

Louisa Tounsia née Saadoun
Fritna Darmon, Maurice Attoun, Messaoud Habib, Abramino Berda, Bichi Slama, Chaloum Saada, Leila Sfez, Gaston Bsiri, Mademoiselle Dalila, Cheikh El Afrite, Doukha, Louisa Tounsia, Raoul Journo, Habiba Messika, Youcef Hedjaj, and Acher Mizrahi are but a small sampling of the Tunisian Jewish performers who defined and shaped their industry throughout the course of the first sixty-plus years of the twentieth century. A few details on Habiba Messika and Acher Mizrahi demonstrate the diversity of these performers and their impact, both of which are recalled fondly to this day. Habiba Messika, described as the Tunisian Sarah Bernhardt by observers in the 1920s, recorded extensively until her shocking death by arson at the hands of a jealous (Jewish) lover at the too-young age of twenty-seven. Throngs of Jews and Muslims came out for her funeral and both Jewish and Muslim popular artists (like Mademoiselle Flifla and Bachir Fahmy) penned songs in her honor. Some of those 78 rpm records were even sold to the American market on the Victor label. Acher Mizrahi was born outside of Jerusalem at the end of the nineteenth century. A hazzan by trade, he eventually settled in Tunis where he became not only the city’s most famous cantor but a major popular music figure as well (something which seems unimaginable today). He wrote lyrics for Cheikh El Afrite, recorded on his own, and collaborated with the likes of Mademoiselle Dalila and Messaoud Habib. Remarkably, he remained in Tunisia until shortly before his death in 1967.

There is infinitely more to write but this will have to serve our purposes for now. Think of it as whetting of the appetite. In return, I promise to blog on the topic later in the summer.

Short Biographical Sketches on the Musicians featured on the Marhaba Tunis Mix
Isaac “Kakino” De Paz (b. 1919, d. 1983): Blinded at a young age, Kakino de Paz was a multi-talented musician, a true virtuouso. De Paz was a master of the qanun, the violin, the oud, the piano, the accordion, and oh yes, the electric organ. He performed with La Rachidia, Tunisia’s premier Andalusian ensemble, and served for a time as head of the Radio Tunis orchestra.

El Kahlaoui Tounsi (b. 1932, d. 2000): Born Elie Touitou, El Kahlaoui was a stunning showman. There is a quality to his voice, which can only be described as mesmerizing and his darbouka work is without parallel. In addition to his staggering personal output and work with myriad North African greats, El Kahlaoui took over the Paris-based record label Dounia (the name repeated a number of times at the beginning of the mix) in the 1960s and turned it into one of the premier Maghrebi outfits. It is thanks to him and his efforts that much of North African music of the 1960s and 1970s is preserved.

Maurice Meimoun (b. 1929, d. 1993): Son of famous Jewish musician Mouni Jebali (who also happened to be Hédi Jouini's master teacher), Meimoun was an accomplished violinist and composer – writing for many of Tunisia’s biggest and brightest. The Tunisian Ministry of Culture honored him for his work shortly before his death.

Cheikh El Afrite (b. 1897, d. 1939): Born Israël Rosio Issirene, his adoption of the name Cheikh El Afrite (roughly translating as Master of the Devil) paid homage to his wit and was perhaps also a play on the word ‘ivrit, which happens to mean Hebrew in Hebrew. He was nothing if not prolific and there was little he didn’t sing about including a lament about a husband, who was sick and tired…of his wife.

Youcef Hedjaj (b. 1919): The sometimes Jose de Suza has written over 600 songs in a mélange of languages. He helped to pioneer the francarabe genre and held court at the famed El Djazaïr cabaret in Paris. He wrote the lyrics to some of the true classics including Line Monty’s Ya Oumi and L’Oriental.

Albert Perez (unknown): I admit I know little of Perez other than that he cut a number of 45s with El Kahlaoui on Dounia. Ya beladi is an emotional ode to his Tunisia. If anyone has more information, please do send my way.

Raoul Journo (b. 1911, d. 2001): Simply put, Raoul Journo was among the greatest, if not the greatest, in Tunisian recording history. His repertoire remains an integral part of the his country’s musical fabric to this day. Sellemt fik ya biladi is an incredible homage to Tunisia.