Monday, April 06, 2015

Adam Shatz goes to a nightclub (rai) in Oran

Yesterday's (April 6) New York Times Magazine featured a very fine article by Adam Shatz (of the London Review of Books) that focused on the Algerian writer Kamel Daoud. Shatz went to Oran to meet up with him, and one night the two of them plus poet Amina Mekhali went out to a nightclub. Because it's Oran, of course the featured music is rai. Here's what Shatz has to say about it.

On the street, most women wear hijabs. But at late-night cabarets like the one we went to, young people dance, drink and, as Camus wrote in 1939, “meet, eye and size up one another, happy to be alive and to cut a figure.”
At midnight, when we arrived, the crowd seemed tentative, but when Cheba Dalila, a raï singer with a voice as deep as Nina Simone’s, came on at 2 a.m., the dance floor filled up. She strode with her microphone from table to table, collecting bills from people who paid to have their names mentioned in her songs. The bass was so loud I felt it in my belly. A woman in tight jeans wore a T-shirt that said “Detroit 1983”; pairs of men danced with women when their interest was plainly in each other. I took a photograph, but Mekahli’s son, Hadi, told me not to: “This place is run by the mafia.” The “mafia” makes its money on bootleg liquor and prostitutes. Some of the women at the nightclub were apparently for hire. “For me,” Mekahli said, “clubs like this are a reappropriation of Algerian identity. France doesn’t exist here. The people here are totally decolonized.”

I've not been to Oran but Shatz's description rings true with everything I've read about nightclubs and rai in Oran. The patrons of the nightclubs are typically the well-off of Oran (or other Algerian towns); prices are too steep for the young people who so love rai and constitute its core audience. They might expect to see rai live in performance at the occasional wedding or the big summer festivals sponsored by the state. The practice of collecting money from people who want their names mentioned in songs is described by Marc Schade-Poulsen in his 1999 book, Men and Popular Music in Algeria: The Social Significance of Raï. And yes, there are gays in Algeria, and in fact one of the most popular rai artists, Cheb Abdou, is openly effeminate, in a kind of Boy George, without being 'out.' And yes, the rai clubs have been mafia run for some time, and it is also likely that many of the patrons of the club that Shatz visited had made their money in the black market economy, in what is known as trabendo.

I had not heard of Cheba Dalila, but was glad to learn of her. Here's a clip of her in concert. Heavily autotuned, as has been the practice ever since the release of Chaba Djenet's hit "Kwit Galbi Wahdi" in 2000.

As an aside, I posted in 2011 about Kamel Daoud, columnist for Le Quotidien d'Oran, whose column is called "Raina Raikoum," in reference to a piece he did about harragas, as Algerian migrants who escape by boat are known. I learned from Shatz's piece that Daoud's younger brother is also a harraga.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Jewish-Arab victims of the Paris massacres (Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket)

For some reason, the Maghrebi origins of many of the victims of the massacre has not been getting much play, especially in the English language media. (Other than this article in Ynet which reports that all four of the victims of the kosher market shooting will be buried in Israel, and whose chief point seems to be the dangers posed to Jews by living in France).

It is not much remarked that about 60% of the French Jewish population of 600,000 are 'Sephardic,' that is, of Middle Eastern/North African origin -- mostly from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt.

Much more has been written about the Charlie Hebdo victims than the kosher supermarket victims to date. That may be a function of the fact that the kosher market events are more recent. Or it may be, as Gil Hochberg noted on FaceBook, the fact that secular Jews (who are among the Charlie Hebdo dead) are more familiar than the more religious Jews shopping for kosher.

Of the 12 dead in the Charlie Hebdo attack were two Jews of Tunisian origin: Georges Wolinski, 80, a cartoonist at the magazine, born in Tunis, and Elsa Cayat, 54, a journalist at CH and a psychoanalyst, whose father, Georges Khayat, was from Sfax, Tunisia. (And another of those killed was the Algerian-born Kabyle [Berber] Moustapha Ourrad, copy editor.)

Of the 4 dead at the kosher supermarket, three have positively been identified as being of Maghribi origin, i.e., Jewish Arabs.

Yoav Kattab, 21, was the son of the grand rabbi of Tunis, Tunisia, Benyamin Hattab. He was born in La Goulette and raised in Djerba. After completing his bacalaureat in Tunis, he had gone to Paris to study marketing and international commerce. He had recently, and proudly, voted in Tunisia's presidential elections.

Yohan Cohen, 22, born in Enghien-les-Bains. His parents were from Algeria, settled in Sarcelles, France, in the 1960s. He was a grandson of a famous Jewish-Tunisian singer, Doukha, who passed away in December. He liked rap, particularly French rapper Booba -- one of France's great rappers, who frequently raps against racism, is a 'non-practicing' Muslim, and whose father is Senegalese. Cohen reportedly died when he tried to tackle gunman Amedy Coulibaly, in order to save a three year old child.

 Yohan Cohen

Cohen's grandfather Doukha was a passionate fan of the great Syrian singer Farid El Atrache as a boy, and got his start in music singing the songs of Farid in the group of the celebrated Tunisian-Jewish singer Raoul Journo. He was a master of the Judeo-Tunisian, the Judeo-Algerian, and the Egyptian repertoire. Check out his rendition of a "Tunisian folklore" song here.


François-Michel Saada, 63, a retired senior executive, whose children live in Israel, was born in Tunis, Tunisia.

I have not yet found information on the background -- Maghrebi or otherwise -- of the fourth victim, Philippe Braham, 45. According to his brother-in-law, Shai Ben-David, "He was a man who always wore a kippah, a Zionist whose dream was to make aliyah and he never made it. Every time he used to tell me, 'God willing we'll come, we'll make aliyah soon.'"

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Quick note on the Charlie Hebdo attack and French history and massacres

So many news reports about the Charlie Hebdo attack say it's the worst terrorist attack in France in 50 years. They (at least the ones in English) never tell you exactly what they're referring to. It would seem to be an act of the far-right Organisation de l'armée secrète which was fighting to preserve the French colony in Algerial. In June 1961 the OAS bombed a fast train at Vitry-Le-François, resulting in 28 dead and 100+ injured. I would have guessed, however, that the worst violence in France over the last 50 years was the October 1961 Paris police massacre of as many as 200 French Algerians who were peaceably demonstrating against curfews and in support of the FLN. Some deaths resulted when police tossed men they had beaten unconscious into the Seine. Funny, you don't see either of these horrific events (acts of first, the extreme right, and second, the cops) being discussed. Ah, historical consciousness.

 October 1961

An excellent source on the events of October 1961 is: Jim House and Neil MacMaster. 2006. Paris 1961: Algerians, State Terror, and Memory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Excellent films on the October 1961 events include: Octobre à Paris, Le silence du fleuve, and Dissimulation d'un massacre.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Middle Eastern Music Mixes for Your New Years: Old School North African and New Skool Mahraganat

 1. This isn't a new one but I just came across it. Krimau, one of the two dj's of Toukadime, did a mix back in 2012 for the website 716. It features the likes of Mazouni, Rabah Driassa, Boujemaa el-Ankiss, Cheikha Mangala Relizania and more. Grab it here.

2. And, a brand new mahraganat mixtape, courtesy Philip Battiekh, called El Battiekhawya meets Islam Chipsy in the Diaspora of Sha3besque Rhythm. With the likes of Islam Chipsy, al-Madfa3geya, Amr 7a7a, Sadat and Fifty, Battiekh, and other knowns and some unknowns. Really brilliant.

Yasmine Hamdan's "Hal" is in the running for an Oscar

I've blogged about this song previously. It's from the final scene of Jim Jarmusch's 2014 film, Only Lovers Left Alive, where the aging, world-weary vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) come across Yasmine Hamdan performing in a club in Tangier, Morocco. The scene is riveting, although the song is not, I have to admit, one of my favorite Yasmine Hamdan songs. I suppose we should not get too excited about the chances that "Hal" will win. There are a reported 79 songs in the running for Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards. We'll know whether it is actually nominated on January 15, 2015.

Here's the scene from the film:

And here is Yasmine Hamdan performing for one of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts, in May 2014:

One of the songs she performs is one of my favorites, "Beirut." I posted about this song previously -- check it out here. Lyrics in Arabic and English are provided.

Best Original Song
Best Original Song

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

recommended Middle Eastern music for your hols: Syria, North Africa, El Ghorba

More great stuff I've come across:

1. Sabri Mudallal (Moudallal), live in concert in Cologne (1988) and studio recordings (1989).

This two CD set is available to download here, courtesy the music blog Oriental Traditional Music from LPs & Cassettes. Sabri Moudallal (1918-2006) was one of the twentieth centuries most renowned singers hailing from Aleppo, Syria. He was both a muezzin and a singer of the distinctive Aleppo genre of music, the wasla 'suite.' He is probably best known outside of Syria as a vocalist with the al-Kindi Ensemble. Essential reading on Aleppo's music scene, including a discussion of Moudallal, is Jonathan Shannon's Among the Jasmine Trees Music and Modernity in Contemporary Syria.

2. A collection of recordings, courtesy the music blog Arab Tunes, by Cheikha Habiba Saghira dating from the seventies and eighties. Habiba Saghira is one of the great rai cheikhas. The set commences with the song "Nebghi Nechreb" (I want to drink). It concludes with "Yasker Ou Yebki" (He drinks and cries). You get the idea. I posted photos of a couple Habiba Saghira record jackets awhile back, here

3. Courtesy the music blog Phono Mundial, a mixtape of music of El Ghorba or exile, a "cassette" composed of two "sides" of Maghrebi music. Side A is a set of music, produced mostly in France, dating from post Algerian independence. Great tracks from the likes of Abranis, Doukkali and Mazouni. Side B is a bit more contemporary than Side B, with some great twist, yé-yé, rock'n'roll and Kabyle fusion, from the likes of Karoudji, Mazouni (again), and Rachid et Fathi. It also includes a song very dear to my heart, Bellemou's "Zerga ou Mesrara," with vocals from Hamani Tmouchenti, one of the original pop-rai songs. I've written about it previously here and here. (Phono Mundial claims the recording of this Bellemou track was done in Marseille. I wonder...) [Correction, December 30, 2014: apologies to Phono Mundial, who say the track was issued in Marseille, and not recorded there. So cool that it was issued there!]

4. Courtesy Jewish Morocco, a mixtape for Hanukkah (or any other holiday you like, in fact), titled "Mazal Haï Mazal: Eight North African Tracks to Light Your Soul On Fire." It is not free, it's $5, or more, if you'd care to donate to Jewish Morocco's digitalization project. You won't find these rare tracks elsewhere, by such renowned artists as Albert Suissa, Reinette l'Oranaise, and Zohra El Fassia. I'm particularly excited about getting my hands on a recording of  Blond-Blond's "La Bombe Atomique." Read more about this collection here.

Happy holiday listening!

kufiya harem pants (sirwal) and other possible kufiya-themed xmas gifts

A friend turned me on to the etsy site of Fadila A Alouchi, based in Châtelet, Belgium. It's full of kufiya items. You'll have to check it out.
Here are a couple samples. They are way, in my opinion, over the top.

Harem pants, known in Arabic as sirwal. $111.33.

Fur hat. $93.82.

Hair Bow. $31.15

shop away!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

More kufiya fashion

I've not been paying that much attention to the kufiya fashion front, but occasionally I get notification of interesting new developments, via Pinterest (where I have a kufiya board, which I add to infrequently.) I recently came across some new items which I feel I must share.

These are described as Givenchy kufiyyeh platforms (source). I've been unable to confirm whether Givenchy really sells or sold such an item. But pretty amazing, eh?

I found these items at the Dusty-Reykjavik blog. These are all by the Danish designer Cecilie JØrgensen, who has lots of kufiya fashion items. And here are some more:

This is via Cover, where you can see even more Cecilie JØrgensen kufiya fashion.

Finally, kufiya shorts, from Zara. This one found at Carolines Mode blog, from Stockholm.

So I guess kufiya fashion is really going strong in Scandinavia, eh?

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Excellent introduction to Mizrahi music

By Leeor Ohayon, published by Stamp the Wax. It's here.

If you've read Amy Horowitz's excellent book, Mediterranean Israeli Music and the Politics of the Aesthetic, you will probably know much of this story. But Horowitz's book only takes us up to the early 90s, prior to the mainstreaming of Mizrahi music, the success of artists like Eyal Golan. And it mentions more recent developments, like the Jaffa bar Anna Loulou, and the fabulous singer Neta Elkayam. The article mentions one artist I was not familiar with, a pioneer figure in the movement, Ahuva Ozeri. Check out her song ‘Haikhan ha-Khayal?’ (Where is my soldier?) here.

 Anna-Lulu resident DJ Khen Ohana Elmaleh (photo Leeor Ohayon)
(the photo hanging on the right is of Salim Halali)

I particularly liked Ohayon's summary of what happened to the Jews from the Arab countries who ended up in Israel after 1948:

Mizrahi is the subsequent result of Egyptian Jews befriending Moroccan Jews who married other eastern Jewish communities from Algeria to Dagestan within the ghettos of peripheral Israel, creating the Israeli ‘ethnic other’. Mizrahi is the result of side-lined communities, uprooted, destitute and further victimised in a state that told them not to be ‘too Arab’. A state built on Ashkenazic foundations, under a Eurocentric educative system that sought to pressurise Mizrahi Jewry into leaving their Middle Eastern cultures at the border and adopting a new Ashkenazi-Israeli identity. All this subsequently resulted in a dichotomy that only served to create a form of identity-based schizophrenia amongst Mizrahi Jewry.