Jewish Maghrib Jukebox

Friday, May 22, 2015

Mediterranean Musical Trajectories: Judah Sebag and a Rare 78 RPM Recording of Adon Olam

l'Alcazar as it once was
This is a post about the global Mediterranean. It is about Marseille, France serving as a hub of North African music in the era of decolonization. It is about surprising partnerships engendered by the pioneering work of the Armenian-owned record label Disques Tam Tam. Finally, it is about a rare 1950s 78 rpm recording of Judah Sebag performing “Adon Olam,” the liturgical poem chanted weekly in synagogues around the world.

Although many of the details here are obscure, we can begin to trace the trajectory of Judah Sebag. Born in Morocco, Sebag likely made his home in Marseille sometime in the 1950s. There, in the Cours Belsunce quarter, he would have found a space long home to North African cultural production. Indeed, it was here, at l’Alcazar, that Julie Abitbol earned a name for herself some two and half decades prior and became known professionally as Julie Marseillaise (her daughter Widad eventually married the Tunisian artist Hédi Jouini but I’ll save that for another post).

Bobo musicians from Burkina Faso on Tam Tam
In the heart of Cours Belsunce, at 9 Rue Des Dominicains, Sebag would have found the Armenian-owned Disques Tam Tam. So too did other Moroccan Jewish musicians, including but not limited to Abraham El Fassi and Jo Amar. At the Disque Tam Tam studio, Sebag teamed up with a small orchestra consisting of oud, darbouka, and qanoun. Who knows, perhaps the West African and Armenian stars of Tam Tam were milling about when Sebag began to warm up.

Sebag recorded at least two records for Disques Tam Tam but likely a few more. You are about to hear an exceedingly rare 78 rpm recording of Judah Sebag performing that staple of synagogue service, Adon Olam. While Arabic-language North African 78s are difficult to come by, Hebrew-language discs are that much more scarce, so this is a treat. And I have to admit, that Adon Olam, originating sometime in the fifteenth century and meaning “Master of the Universe,” has never quite sounded so good as it has when put to mid-century Moroccan rhythms - despite some surface noise.

I’m not sure what became of Judah Sebag but if any readers out there have any leads, please do send them my way. In the meantime, wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom.