Thursday, June 21, 2018

Great resources: Taoufik Bestandji, maalouf, Constantine, (Cheikh) Raymond Leyris

If you are interested in 'Arab-Andalusian' music and particularly malouf, the variety played in Constantine (and Tunisia), and if you're interested in Cheikh Raymond Leyris, as well as those who've played a major role in keeping this tradition alive, please check out Taoufik Bestandji's website, it is a major resource. Bestandji comes from a musical family, and his grandfather, Cheikh Abdelkrim Bestandji, was one of Raymond Leyris' teachers. Bestandji is probably best known internationally for the recording of Raymond Leyris' music that he did with Enrico Macias in 2000, Hommage à Cheikh Raymond. (I wrote about Raymond and Enrico and the album in  “Against Hybridity: The Case of Enrico Macias/Gaston Ghrenassia,” published in Rebecca L. Stein and Ted Swedenburg, ed., Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture (2005). 

Bestandji is also an accomplished singer and oud player in his own right, so please check this out too.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Shadia, Sudanese style

The divine Shadia, who passed away in November 2017, performs a song composed by Munir Mourad (Leila's brother), "Ya Habibi Oud Li Tani," in Omdurman, Sudan, sometime during the 1960s. The original recording was done in distinctly Sudanese style, it's not just for this performance, and of course the Sudanese audience receives it warmly. I'm sorry about the quality of the video, it's not great, but the song really is. I don't know of other examples of well-known Egyptian singers of the period performing in Sudanese mode, but perhaps there are some. Please let me know! And thanks to Rania for the tip.

Run-up to war?

Good recent resources/commentary on Donald Trump's move to neo-connery.

Adam Shatz, "The Drift towards War," on the LRB Blog.

Over the last few years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes inside Syria, mostly aimed at Hizbullah military convoys suspected of transferring advanced weapons into the Bekaa Valley. In February, however, after intercepting what it claimed to be an armed Iranian drone in its airspace, Israel struck for the first time at Iranian targets, killing at least seven members of the Quds Force, the external operations unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The possibility of an Israeli-Iranian war is now higher than it has ever been, since Iran feels encircled, and Israel believes that it has a green light from Washington for further military adventures.

Elliott Colla, "Fog (of War) Machine"

When the US invaded Iraq fifteen years ago, it did not do so accidentally -- we were led there: first and foremost by the neocons who wanted war at any cost; and secondly, by a liberal media that was all too willing to create the fog that made the war possible. There are salient differences between now and then. In 2003, one could plausibly make the argument that US war policy was not driven by Islamophobia and the most toxic forms of Zionism. Not so this time. By this stage in 2003, we had gone out in the millions to protest. We haven't even begun to do so yet.

The fog bank is rolling in again this week, bringing with it mass human suffering.

Do not think of it is a natural event. It is entirely man-made. It's what happens when a blast of neocon will-to-power hits the hot, moist air of liberal humanitarianism. 

And do not think that this fog emanates from distant places "over there" in Syria. This fog is an entirely local meteorological phenomenon, designed to prevent only Americans from seeing things for what they are. It will not impact weather or vision in other parts of the globe. 

Tweet from Laleh Khalili

To which I add: I met an Israeli in 1971, in New York City, who told me that he grew up in an Israeli community very close to the Syrian controlled Golan Heights and that he never felt under threat, at least prior to spring 1967. And as Dayan clarifies, the reason for shooting in the area was Israeli provocation.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Scopitones: Arab, Maghrebi, Kabyle, Mashreqi

This is a terrifically interesting TV broadcast from Canal+, a show called "L'Oeil du Cyclone," which screened on Saturday evenings between 1991 and 1999. 

L'OEIL DU CYCLONE-226 >Oued Saïd Story from alain burosse on Vimeo.

Called "Oued Saïd Story," it was broadcast on April 3, 1999, and features clips of Scopitones that were made to show in the bars and cafés patronized by working-class Maghrebi immigrants in France. (It appears to be a shortened version of a film made by Michèle Collery and Anaïs Prosaic, called Trésors des scopitones arabes, kabyles, berbères.)

Scopitone was a kind of film jukebox, and some 280 films of Arab and Kabyle songs were produced for scopitones between 1965 and 1980 (Here is a list of titles, probably not complete)


The music films' subject, when the singer was North African and especially if they were based in France, was often the travails of life in exile, the rough work, troubles with European women, alcohol and the police, and nostalgia for the homeland. Scopitones featuring Salah Sadaoui were particularly amusing and bitter-sweet send-ups of the exile condition. (I've blogged about Sadaoui's scopitone "Nezouedj Ouahdi" here.)


Here's the list of clips you see bits of in this show:

There are a total four from Salah Sadaoui, an Algerian Kabyle singer who moved to France in 1954 and whose career was based there: "Letm’na Mraâa" (seen in its entirety here), "Ana Achki  Fe Zine," "Hazmali Serouali," and"Sloulardji." (One of the last three is another name for what I've called "Nezouedj Wahdi" above.) If you're interested in seeing Sadaoui perform more traditional material, check out this YouTube vid.

Two from Tunisian folkloric singer Mohamed Jerrari, "Zerdet Couscous," and "Sayad El Out."

The famous Algerian singer Noura teams up with her husband Kemal Hamadi to do "Rabbi Adh Yessahel." On her own,
Noura performs a Kabyle song, "Idourar." This Scopitone you can view in its entirety on YouTube.

There are two as well from the great Mohamed Mazouni, "Ould El Ghourba" and "Cherie Madame" (with Meriem Abed), both no doubt recorded during the years he spent in France (1973-82).

Slimane Azem, a Kabyle singer who moved to France in 1962, contributes "A Madame Encore à Boire."

Another great Algerian singer of the diaspora or ghorba, Dahmane El Harrachi, contributes "Ghir El Brah Ouana Farhan."

The famous Kabyle singer Idir does "Zwit Rwits" and, from 1975, "Azwaw":

The Algerian Kabyle rock band Les Abranis does "Athedjallade."


The Casablanca, Morocco rock band Golden Hands do "What to Say" (1968). Below is a minute of that Scopitone, very fuzzy. 

Moroccan soul man Vigon, who I've blogged about previously, does "Harlem Shuffle": 

My favorite Egyptian bellydancer Samia Gamal and Abdelsalam Nabulsi (uncredited) show up in one of the Scopitones.

Abdel Halim Hafez sings "
Ya Khali El Qalb" with Nadia Lotfi in a scene from his film Abi Fawq al-Shagara. Below is a not very good clip. 

There is a very brief clip of Abdel Halim's "
Zay El Hawa," with Mervat Hatem, from the film Gana El Hawa.

Algerian singer Rabah Driassa does "Ouled El Djzair" and "El Houta."

Kabile singer Rachid Mesbahi does "Yarabi/Savon."

Moroccan artist Abdelwahab Doukkali gives us "Lahla Izid Ktire."

The Tunisian artist Hamadi Laghbabi performs "Sidi Mansour."

Taroub, a female Lebanese singer of Jordanian Circassian origin, does "Ya Hallak." Below is not the Scopitone, probably a clip from Lebanese TV.

The great Farid El Atrache does "Ya Gamil Ya Gamil."

Finally the great Sabah, with
"Danse Orientale" and the divine "Allo Beirut," with lots of scenes of Beirut, Lebanon, for the nostalgist. 

For more on the Arab and Kabyle scopitones see this article and this one.

Saturday, May 05, 2018


When you drink your mint julep, you should know that "julep" comes from the Arabic "jallâb," a delicious drink made from dates, carob, grape molasses and rosewater, very popular in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. When I lived in Beirut it was my fave cold drink to buy from street vendors, who usually topped it with raisins and pine nuts or almonds. I recently found some jallab concentrate in a store in my home town of Fayetteville and had my son Evan, a bartender, taste it. He's the one who did the research on the etymology of the word julep. (I should add that the Arabic jallab comes from the Persian gulab ("rosewater"), but it passed into Latin from Arabic and hence to Old French and then to English.)

Monday, April 30, 2018

Habiba Messika, Arab Nationalism, Baidophone

 Habiba Messika on the front cover of L'Éclaireur du dimanche, 3 February 1929. Courtesy Gallica-BnF.

The invaluable Chris Silver has published yet another piece on Tunisian-Jewish singing star Habiba Messika, in History Today. What struck me about it in particular was what we learn about Messika's recordings for the Lebanese record label Baidaphone, headquartered in Berlin, in 1928. Messika was able to take advantage of the company's excellent recording equipment, but also, Silver informs us,

recording in Berlin had another advantage: she could do so away from the watchful eye of the French authorities. While she continued to make records with suggestive titles, like ‘Ala sirir el nom’ (‘On my bed, spoil me’), she also recorded a number of marches dedicated to King Fuad in Egypt, King Faysal in Iraq and the Bey of Tunis, Muhammad VI, as well as anthems extolling Egypt and Syria.

Silver continues:

With Baidaphon, Messika seemed to strike a nationalist rallying cry. At the end of one such recording, ‘King Fuad’s March’, Messika and her orchestra could even be heard shouting ‘Long live the King’ and ‘Long live Egypt’ alongside thunderous applause. Hearing of Egyptian sovereigns and sovereignty, Tunisians could imagine their own. This record and others in a similar style would be her most popular in terms of sales. That popularity quickly drew the attention of French officials.

 Three months after Messika's tragic murder in 1930, Silver informs us,

French officials in Morocco began receiving urgent messages from civil controllers across the country. Messika’s records – purchased widely and listened to in communal settings like cafés – were stirring up nationalist feelings. Intelligence agents found Moroccans singing along to Messika’s music, ‘in-sync with the phonograph’, while accompanying themselves on oud. In response, French authorities imposed draconian policies to slow the import of, and soon ban, Messika’s discs across the Maghreb.

What I wanted to add to Silver's discussion about Baidaphone and French authorities is that French colonial authorities' worries about the company's recordings only increased during the 1930s.

A bit later in the decade of Messika's death, colonial police became further alarmed by the travels undertaken during the 1930s in France's North African colonies by “Doctor” Michael Baida (who founded the company with two brothers and two cousins 1906). Accompanied by his German sound engineer, Baida signed recording contracts with local artists and established a network of distributors for the company's discs. The colonial police suspected the “doctor” of being a German agent, but they were never able to tie him directly to any political activity. But so concerned were the authorities about the role of imported music in the spread of dangerous ideas that in 1938 they forbade the import into Algeria of records in any “foreign” languages (including Arabic), and the French Army banned all Baidophone records from the cafés maures it used to hire for the purpose of entertaining “native” troops in North Africa as well as in France (Rebecca Scales, “Subversive Sound: Transnational Radio, Arabic Recordings, and the Dangers of Listening in French Colonial Algeria, 1934-1939.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52(2):398-399, 414, 2010).

The move made by the French authorities in 1938, of course, was motivated in part by the fact that since Messika's death, the Nazis had taken power in Germany, where Baidaphone was headquartered and where Michael Baida lived (in Berlin). And no doubt the Nazis had no problem with Baidaphone's promotion of recordings in Arabic that were critical of French or British colonialism. How interesting it is that, prior to the rise of the Nazis, a Jewish-Tunisian artist played an important role in Baidaphone's subversive music production.

Sunday, April 08, 2018


I think this photo, by Mohammed Salem of Reuters, is the best I've seen from the recent Gaza events, the state-sponsored mass shootings in response to Palestinian protests. Click on it, fill your screen with it. I posted the photo on Facebook and one of my friends observed that it was like a Delacroix painting. It's from Friday, April 6, the second big day of the weekly rallies of the Great March of Return, when protesters burned tires to try to hinder the Israeli snipers posted at the border, who killed at least 20 people and wounded hundreds on the previous Friday. They were only partially successful: the snipers took out 9 more on the 6th.

The photo, I think, shows the indomitable spirit of the Gaza Palestinians who live in a huge open air prison, with very limited access to the outside world, whether coming or going, with massive unemployment, very degraded water resources, etc. Note that these protesters are unarmed. Note their youth, And note, of course, the inevitable kufiyas. Long Live Palestine.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

One of Mohamed Mounir's best: 'Ad wa 'Ad ( قد وقد)

One of my favorite tracks by the legendary Egyptian star Mohamed Mounir. From his 1981 album, Shababeek. Lyrics by Sayed Higab; melody, Yahya Khalil. Backing Mounir are: on drums, the legendary Egyptian drummer Yahya Khalil; keyboards, Fathy Salama; guitar, Aziz al-Nassir; bass, Michael Cokis. Produced by Yahya Khalil.

Yahya Khalil is one of Egypt's most celebrated jazz drummers. Fathy Salama has recorded several albums with the group Sharkiat. One of my fave recordings he was involved with is Roman Bunka's Color Me Cairo (1995).

Sorry that this recording is not complete, I grabbed it from YouTube. You can hear the complete song here.

You may still be able to find this recording on cassette tape, although when I was in Egypt recently it was hard to find shops selling cassettes. Everything, alas, has gone digital.

Tunisian singer Flifla does a song about the death of Hbiba Messika

This, from Chris Silver's essential blog Gharamaphone. Essential listening and essential reading. The Tunisian Jew, Flifla Chamia, reportedly the greatest dancer of her generation (interwar period), an actress, and an accomplished singer. The recording is from c. 1930, and treats the scandalous murder of the superstar Tunisian Jewish singer, Habiba Messika, who I've blogged about briefly here.

Flifla Chamia, from the 1937 film Le Fou de Kairouan.

Highly recommended listening: Bachir Sahraoui

A friend recently posted a link to my blog, which prompted me to think that I should put up some new content. Resolution to self: more blog content! Resolution #2: be satisfied with short posts!

The highly recommended music blog Wallahi Le Zein! recently posted this, a tribute to the Algerian singer Bashir Sahraoui, and a link to mp3 tracks of one of his cassettes. I was not familiar with Bashir, who was born in the Algerian Sahara, fought with POLISARIO against the Spanish occupiers of Spanish Sahara, and then turned to a musical career. He does music in the Bedouin style, backed only by reed flutes (gasbas). It is beautiful, gorgeous music. Do download it. And watch this.