Sunday, October 28, 2012

Abdou el-Omari: Moroccan psych shaabi organ player

 One of the cool things that happened when I had coffee and crepes with Majid Bekkas and Brahim Fribgane a couple weeks ago was that I learned about some Moroccan artists who I'd never heard of before. One of them was Abdou el-Omari, who they told me was the first Moroccan organ player. Today, finally, I had a few minutes to hunt down some information about him.

From various sources, I learned that he was born in Tafraout, Morocco in 1945, and passed away on March 3, 2010 in Casablanca. informs us: "Abdou El Omari compte à son actif plusieurs œuvres musicales notamment "Zifaf Al Fadae", ainsi que des chansons qu’il a composées pour les chanteuses Naima Samih "Dani Rih" et "Khallani Ghriba", Fatima Mekdadi, Laila Ghofrane et Aicha El Waad."

I found three of his songs posted on youtube: "Raajat Layoun," "Fatine," and "Afrah el-Maghreb." They were all, it seems, recorded in 1976, and they are all quite trippy. I especially like "Afrah el-Maghreb," with its qaraqeb-propelled percussion. It is from his album, Nuits d'Été. You can download "Raajat Layoun" from the invaluable Radiodiffusion Internationaal Annexe here. The blog Arab Tunes has all three of the songs mentioned available for downloading.

I wish I could learn more, but at least I've now got those three great songs!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

"The Italians of Egypt": trailer

Trailer for an 80 minute documentary by Sherif Faty Salem, produced in 2011 for and Al Jazeera. One man interviewed in the trailer asserts that Italians lived mostly in Egyptian and not foreign districts. We learn that Italians had a major influence on the architecture of Alexandria (where most of them lived), and that Mario Rossi, the chief architect of the awqaf commission, built most of the city's mosques. One interviewee claims that there was equality between Egyptians and Italians (a rosy view, bathed in nostalgia).

Italians, like other foreign residents in Egypt, who played a major role in the economic development of Egypt from the reign of Muhammed Ali in the early nineteenth century, mostly left Egypt in the 50s and 60s, especially after Gamal Abdel Nasser's moves to nationalize the economy in 1962. The film interviews some of those who remained. The Italians, however, were distinct from other foreign communities in Egypt in that their community took a big hit during the Second World War, when the British colonial overlords rounded them up and interned them.

Among the famous Italian-Egyptians are the poets Filippo Marinetti and Giuseppe Ungaretti.

I look forward to finding this film and watching it in full.

More on Paco (RIP) and Nass El Ghiwane

Please read this great obituary on Paco (Abderrahmane Kirouche), the gnawi from Essaouira, and member (from 1974-1993) of one of Morocco's best and most beloved bands, Nass El Ghiwane. The obit, from The Audiotopia, is full of info about both Paco and Nass El Ghiwane. The piece confirms that Paco had an affiliation with The Living Theater. According to The Audotopia, Paco met up with them in summer 1966 while traveling in England. Maybe the group's encounter with Paco is what brought them to Essaouira, where they spent part of the summer of 1969 (July) in Essaouira. Who knows? I've read about The Living Theater's time in Essaouira in John Tytell's The Living Theatre: Art, Exile, and Outrage (New York: Grove Press, 1995). Tytell tells us that a group of Gnawa slept on the roof of the company’s group house and that they performed a purification ceremony and taught company members how to trance and stick knives into their bodies without drawing blood. Tytell does, however, specifically name Pacca. During their stay in Essaouira, the Living Theater were also visited by psychiatrist R.D. Laing, Stokely Carmichael, Anaïs Nin and Jimi Hendrix. The Audotopia claims that Paco jammed with Hendrix. I met other gnawa in Essaouira when I was there in 1999 who claimed the same thing. Caesar Glebbeek claims that this didn't happen, that Hendrix didn't even bring his guitar with him to Essaouira. Who knows, maybe someone handed him a guitar. The legend lives large in Essaouira.

Paco married a woman named Christine who was affiliated with The Living Theater, according to The Audiotopia, and the post comes with a picture of Christine. But he eventually divorced her. I'd like to track down more info on this.

Check out as well this blog devoted to the poetry of Nass El Ghiwane (in Arabic). Be sure to download the rare Nass El Ghiwane sides that The Audiotopia has posted with the obit. Finally, Tim over at Moroccan Tape Stash has recently posted some more recorded material from Paco. Allah yarhamu.

Majid Bekkas

Majid Bekkas was in Fayetteville (Arkansas) last week, as part of the Caravanserai program. He performed in a number of venues, together with his Gnawa ensemble and the multi-talented Brahim Frigbane ('ud, percussion) -- at Fayetteville and Bentonville High Schools, for several classes at the University of Arkansas, and at the Walton Arts Center. I was out of town for the WAC performance, alas, but I did see him perform at Fayetteville High, and I also got to spend a couple hours hanging out with him and Brahim at Arsaga's cafe on Dickson.

I had seen Bekkas perform with a Moroccan jazz ensemble (a kind of Gnawa-jazz fusion) at the Salé festival in Morocco in summer 1999, and since then I've acquired a number of his recordings. But seeing him perform again here as well as speaking with him made me appreciate even more how serious and multi-talented a musician he is. At the high school, besides performing his Gnawa repertoire (singing and playing guimbri), he also played the kalimba (the African thumb piano), and played it incredibly well. (And I think his vocals might have been in Zulu. Not sure.) No doubt he learned to play on one of his tours of sub-Saharan Africa. Here's a taste, from his performance in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.

He is also a very accomplished 'ud player, as demonstrated below, as he performs the song "Louhid," from his latest album (highly recommended), Makenba.

Another of my faves from Makenba is this song, "Bambrouia," which features Majid on guimbri. On the album the song has a very African feel. Here it sounds somewhat different, as he performs with a sax player and a drummer.

Majid has recorded three albums (Out of the Desert, Kalimba, and Chalaba) with the very talented and respected German jazz pianist and saxophone player Joachim Kühn, with Ramon Lopez on drums. So far I've only heard Out of the Desert, which is very, very fine and one of the best gnawa "fusion" recordings ever done. I asked Majid how he started working with Kühn. He said that Kühn saw him in concert in Europe, came up after the show, introduced himself, and suggested that they try working together.

Here's the trio playing live, performing the song "Sandiye" (recorded by Majid on his African Gnaoua Blues album).

Finally, here's a photo of Majid and his group performing at Fayetteville High School on October 17. He's in the center, on guimbri, and Brahim Fribgane, on 'ud, is at the left.

Here are his qarqaba players and dancers.

Majid at Arsaga's cafe, Fayetteville, October 16.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

BBC World Service: Arab Jews - A Forgotten Exodus, Episode 2

Inside El Ghriba synagogue, Djerba, Tunisia

First broadcast on October 20, 2012.

Jewish communities that have survived in Arab countries for centuries are under a new threat. In the second part of a two part series Magdi Abdelhadi tells the story of the last few thousand Jews that remain in Arab countries and how they are surviving in “hostile” territory.

Travelling to Tunisia, he visits one of the oldest and most traditional Jewish diasporas in the world, a society that has stared threats in the face for centuries and is now being endangered once again. 

Following the revolution that took place in the country eighteen months ago, an alarming brand of extreme Islamism has emerged. There have been a number of Salafist demonstrations calling for death to the Jews and attacks on synagogues, which have spread fear and concern amongst this 1500 strong Jewish community. 

Magdi looks at how they are coping, whether their existence is under threat and what the future now holds for them as this new Islamist threat increases. 

Listen here

Palestinian dub from: Ministry Of Dub-Key - Dumyeh Plastikieh دميه بلاستيكيه

Dub-key -- get it? (dabkeh, the Palestinian national dance.)

Great vid, featuring (among others) Mahmoud Jrere and Suheil Nafar of the Palestinian rap group DAM, and Mahmoud Shalaby, of the first Palestinian rap group, MWR, from Acre, now defunct. Shalaby is also a very accomplished actor. I recently saw him, as Algerian Jewish singer Salim Halali, in the terrific film Les Hommes Libres (Free Men). The film is based on the true story of how the Great Mosque of Paris sheltered and saved many Jews (mostly of North African background) during the Nazi occupation of France in the Second World War.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Abderrahmane Paco, Gnawi, member of Nass El Ghiwane: RIP

The great Paco passed away over the weekend. Trained as a gnawa m'allim in Essaouira, he was a key member of Nass El Ghiwane in its heyday, bringing the sound of the guimbri/hajhouj and Gnawa influences in general into the distinctive ghiwanian mix. Here's a short obit from Libération (Morocco). Here, thanks to Tim, is an example of Paco's work with Nass El Ghiwane.

Here, at Moroccan Tape Stash, you can find, and download for free, a couple Paco cassettes and a rare casette of Nass El Ghiwane featuring both Paco and the late Boujemâa.

Monday, October 15, 2012

BBC World Service - Arab Jews: A Forgotten Exodus

"Magdi Abdelhadi meets Jews from Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and discovers what life used to be like for them, how they got on with their Muslim neighbours and what prompted the disappearance of these ancient communities." Listen to the entire episode (1 of 2) here. First broadcast on October 13, 2012.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Yasmine Hamdan's new (May) album on soundcloud

Listen to it here: yasminehamdan.

It was released in France in May, still not out in the US.

"El Gusto": trailer, reviewed by the New York Times, screened in Cairo

 I've been blogging about the film El Gusto ever since I met the director, Safinez Bousbia, in Essaouira in November 2007. The film was released in France, finally, a little less than a year ago. Elaine Sciolino gave the film, and the tour of the El Gusto orchestra, a very nice plug in the New York Times on Friday. The film screened at the 5th Panorama of the European Film festival in Cairo on October 8, and given that the film is about the reunion of Algerian Muslim and Jewish chaabi musicians, I'm quite impressed. Hani Mustafa gave the film a nice review in One thing I learned from Mustafa's review is about the 1995 Tunisian film, Habiba M'sika, a documentary about a Tunisian-Jewish singer of the same name.

I've not yet seen El Gusto myself, and who knows when I'll have the chance to. In the meantime, the album El Gusto is terrific -- but seemingly only available in the US as a download.

And here's the trailer for the film. Let's all cross our fingers that both the Orchestra and the film will be touring extensively in the US, and soon. And let's play for El Gusto's pianist, Maurice El Medioni, who was hospitalized with a stroke in August.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Notes of Exile - Maurice El Medioni documentary movie

Teaser for a documentary about the great Algerian-Jewish pianist Maurice El Medioni. Medioni is also part of El Gusto. He has a great sense of humor, a great interview subject.

Occuper Tahrir en chantant

Music from the Egyptian revolution. Eskenderella, Ramy Essam, rapper Mohammed el-Deeb. Shaikh Imam and Sayyid Darwish. Ahmad Fouad Negm. Great stuff, courtesy France 24. French subtitles.

Interview with the poet Ahmad Fouad Negm

This is quite wonderful. Negm talks about his poems, his career with Sheikh Imam, and about the January 25 revolution in Egypt. We see a number of contemporary Egyptian artists (including Eskenderella) interpret his and Sheikh Imam's songs. Subtitled in French. From the France 24 web documentary, "Tahrir, je chante ton nom" (

Clips from a French documentary, featuring "mahragan" ('techno shaabi) music

These are great clips, with subtitles in French, featuring DJ Omar Haha, Sadate and Vigo. "Lots of people criticize this music, but it's spreading like a virus."

Don't Panik! Islam and Europe's 'Hip Hop Wars' by Hishaam Aidi

From the always insightful Hishaam Aidi. Yes, it's from back in January, but it's still essential reading.

Don't Panik! Islam and Europe's 'Hip Hop Wars' - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Chicago's Charter Schools Fail the Math Test

From Naked Capitalism, October 8.

I found this bit very telling:

In the 1970, teacher starting pay in New York City was only $2000 below that of starting salaries at top law firms. But now, as the relative status and pay of public school teachers having declined, so too has educational achievement among teachers. A recent McKinsey study found that nearly half of the K-12 teachers in the US had graduated in the bottom third of their college classes. It recommended increasing starting teacher pay from an average of $39,000 to $65,000 in high needs classes in order to attract instructors who had graduated in the top third of their classes.

So why should we be surprised that charter schools, which pay teachers less than public school teachers in the same geographic area, are having trouble delivering the educational goods?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Alexandrians: Eric Hobsbawm (Egyptian Jew by birth)

The Guardian published a great obituary on Hobsbawm, who died on October 1. He was born in Alexandria in 1917, and moved to Vienna with his family in 1919. His father Leopold worked in a shipping office in Alexandria. A fitting birthplace for this noted cosmopolitan leftist.

Wadad: Lebanese-Jewish singer

One of my lovely FB friends (I forget who) turned me on to the Lebanese Jewish singer Wadad (Bahiya Wahbeh) and her terrific song, from 1962, "Tindam" (You'll regret). Listen here.

وحياة عيوني بتندم
بدك تقهرني؟ طييب
غبلك شي غيبة وجرّب
ولما بترجع يا حبيّب يا حبيّب شو بدك تندم
يا كويس شو بدك تندم

According to Angry Arab Bahiya Wahbeh was originally from Aleppo. Wadad was one of the few Lebanese Jews who remained in Lebanon through the civil war, and she passed away in Beirut in 2009. She was married to the famous Lebanese composer Abdel Jalil Wahbeh, and, again according to Angry Arab, she never converted to Islam, and yet all the obituaries about her never mentioned that she was Jewish. (When the much more famous Egyptian singer and actress Leila Mourad passed away in 1995, the Egyptian papers for the most part did not mention her Jewishness either.)

There is a documentary out about Wadad called "Un instant mon glamour," directed by Shirin Abu Shaqra. It looks gorgeous, at least from this extract. Arabic title: لحظة أيها المجد.

I also found one other Wadad song on youtube besides "Tindam": دور يا حبيبي العين ضياء (Dor Ya Habibi al-'Ayn Dia'). It's a great one too. Music by Tawfiq al-Basha, lyrics Sami Sidawi.

Wish I could find out more about this great singer.

"Jews of Egypt": new documentary film by Amir Ramses

The film was screened at the Galaxy Theater in Manial, Cairo on October 6, as part of the Fifth Panorama of the European Film festival, sponsored by Misr International Films (Youssef Chahine).

Arabic title: عن يهود مصر.

Naira Antoun did a fine review of the film in today's Egypt Independent.

The film website is here.

Here's the English trailer:

Here's an even more substantive review by Joseph Fahim, from Variety Arabia.

Too bad the director didn't interview Joel Beinin, author of the definitive study of Egyptian Jews.

More Saidi Hardcore from Mutamassik

From her new (August) LP, Rekkez

"Wishik" (Your Face)

"Dr. Aida."

My 2005 review of mutamassik's Masri Mokkassar: Definitive Works is here.