Monday, October 06, 2014

Blaoui Houari, "Isma'a"

Blaoui Houari was born 1926 in the M'dina Jadida district of Oran. He became familiar with bedoui music by listening to records at his father's café; he learned piano and mandoline from his brother Kouider. During World War II he worked as a timekeeper at the Oran docks for the US forces, and meanwhile commenced his musical career backing up a Jewish friend named Sébouan, who sang in the style of Tino Rossi, on guitar. Houari subsequently teamed up with Jewish-Algerian pianist Maurice El Medioni, who had developed a distinctive Oriental boogie-woogie style of playing, with a bit of rumba thrown in, after meeting US servicemen (and particularly Puerto Rican ones) who brought their jazz records with them when US forces occupied Oran in November 1942. Medioni and Houari, the latter on accordion or guitar, started out performing French and American hits, and eventually began to develop a repertoire in Arabic. The genre of music developed by Houari (and also Ahmed Wahby and Ahmed Sabr) is known as ouahrani. Houari and Medioni developed a following in Oran, playing at the famous Café Salva.

Medioni and Blaoui performed as the Orchestre d'Oran. Here's a  youtube video showing their group backing up the well-known Jewish-Algerian singer and violin master of Andalusian music, Cheikh Zouzou, on the song "Djesmi fani." Medioni is on piano, Houari on guitar. This is probably a broadcast from colonial-era Algerian television, which commenced broadcasting in 1957. It shows how versatile these artists were, and also how fluid the categories could be between ouahrani and Andalusian, and other genres as well.

Houari recorded his first sides for Pathé in 1953. 

One of his most famous numbers from this period was "Isma'a" (Listen). Here are two fabulous youtube vids of Blaoui Houari performing the song, on Algerian television. Perhaps from 1957. They show that Blaoui Houari was a very engaging performer, and they also demonstrate how modern, how contemporary sounding, was ouahrani.

In this clip the pianist is most definitely not Maurice El Medioni. You can see the pianist, from the back, at around 1:22.

In this one the pianist is not visible. It could be Medioni, who knows?

Medioni left Oran for France after independence, where he enjoyed a long and illustrious career. He recently fell ill and moved to Israel.


L'Espadrille said...

Very nice opst about a great singer/musician ; just one precision, the Café Salva is (was?)located in Oran, not in Marseille!

Ted Swedenburg said...

thanks! I will fix that!