Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More Enrico Macias Orientalia

When Gaston Ghrenassia left Algeria for France in 1961, he hoped to continue his musical career by playing the ma'louf repertoire of his master, Cheikh Raymond Leyris, in the company of his father Sylvain, who had accompanied the cheikh on violin. But French audiences greeted their performances with hostility and racism. So Gaston opted to try to make a career for himself by playing a more mainstream and acceptable genre. In Constantine, he had not only mastered ma'louf, learned through his apprenticeship of Cheikh Raymond, but he also had performed French variety music, particularly the sort of Mediterranean-inflected variety performed by the likes of Luis Mariano, Charles Aznavour and Dalida. In addition to playing with Cheikh Raymond, as a teenager Gaston joined a gypsy musical ensemble in Constantine. The band was led by a singer named Enrico, and in the group Gaston was known as “little Enrico.” While on the boat taking him into exile from Algiers to Marseille, Gaston composed a song about his sorrow over leaving Algeria, called “Adieu Mon Pays.” He recorded the song for Pathé-Marconi in 1962, adopting the recording name Enrico. He planned to use the last two syllables of his family name, Nassia, as his second name, but the Pathé-Marconi secretary with whom he spoke on the phone transcribed it incorrectly, so “Adieu Mon Pays” was released under the name Enrico Macias.

In October 1962, the song was broadcast on a national radio program focusing on the pieds noirs, the European Algerian settlers who left Algeria after it gained independence. It became an immediate sensation, selling 50,000 copies in just a few days, and Enrico Macias became the singer, in France, of the pieds noirs, who had only just left what they regarded as their “pays.”

During the course of his career from the sixties through the eighties, Enrico performed and recorded music that was frequently tinged with Andalusian sounds. On occasion, in concert, he would play ‘ud for one number, or feature belly dancers, or spotlight his father Sylvain on Andalusian violin for one song. He did not feel able to experiment in this vein a great deal, and the Andalusian element remained at the level of frills and embellishments rather than forming the musical basis for his work. Too emphatic an Arabic sound invariably incited negative reactions from French audiences. But if there were pieds noirs in the audience, they would greet Macias's use of Andalusian features (and even vocals in Arabic) with enthusiastic applause and shouts of approval.

In 1972 he put out the album À La Face de l'Humanité, which included the track, "La Fête Orientale." You can listen here. Enrico sings in French, and only adds "Arab" vocal embellishments at one point, at around 2 minutes into the song. But the instrumental opening of the song sounds like it is the start of an Arabic song, and it has this feel at the end as well. And right before Enrico shifts briefly into Arabic mode, we also hear very "Eastern" sounding ululations.

In March 1972, Enrico performed the song on television, in a quite different version, which you can see here.

The version here is twice as long as the original. And it opens with a slow, improvised introduction, known as the istikhbar or mawwal that is typical of Andalusian music. It starts with a refrain on violin from Enrico's father Sylvain Ghrenassia, some improvised oud playing from Enrico, a bit of improvisation on the qanun, and then vocals from Enrico, singing in French about the "fête oriental" but in Arabic style. The ensemble is a typical traditional Andalusian one, and the players are all dressed up in fancy "Oriental" style, seated on the floor in traditional style. The set has all the trappings of a staged "Oriental" scene as well. After the mawwal, Enrico proceeds to perform "La Fête Oriental" as he recorded it, but with the backing of an Andalusian orchestra.

The lyrics are as follows (grabbed from here). 

Alléluia,  c'est la fête orientale
Venez chez moi, je suis heureux
Laissez venir tous mes amis, tous mes parents
Et pour qu'il n'y ait pas d'oubli
Laissez la porte ouverte
Alléluia, que les foulards des femmes
Alléluia, dansent de joie

Alléluia, il faut de la musique
Car on est là pour s'amuser
Les musiciens ont dans leur cœur nos souvenirs
Et sous leurs doigts c'est le bonheur qui rythme la musique
Alléluia, suivez bien la cadence
Alléluia, des cris de joie

Alléluia que le festin commence
Tout le monde est là, n'attendez pas
Que l'on apporte les plateaux chargés de fruits
Une montagne de gâteaux, du vin et des galettes
Alléluia, c'est la fête orientale
Restez chez moi toute la nuit
Alléluia c'est la fête orientale
Alléluia toute la nuit

The lyrics could describe any kind of "Oriental" feast day, Jewish or Muslim. Note that the women are described as wearing foulards, or headscarves -- something that both Jewish and Muslims would have worn on traditional feast days.

And here is another TV appearance of Enrico on oud and his father on violin, doing another "Oriental" number. Unfortunately I'm unable to identify the song. 

Update, May 22, 2018: It's "La Folle Espérance, a song based on a folkloric Arab melody that Cheikh Raymond used to play. The song's lyrics praised Sadat's November 1977 visit to Jerusalem, and asserted, “we [Muslims and Jews] are brothers.”

A list of songs in Arabic that Enrico has performed or recorded over the years can be found here. Some are available for listening. Unfortunately the information is not very detailed. I intend to do more hunting and research.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Yes, Maharshala Ali is a Muslim -- an Ahmadi Muslim

Many are trumpeting the fact that Oscar winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) is a Muslim, but not noting that he is Ahmadi. For background on the important role that African-Americans converts to the Ahmadi brand of Islam played in jazz, you should check out Hisham Aidi's book Rebel Music. A few of the more illustrious names: Yusef Lateef, Ahmad Jamal, Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Abbey Lincoln, Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Yusef Lateef and McCoy Tyner were Grammy winners and Art Blakey elected to the Grammy Hall of Fame. 

Grammys: way ahead of Oscars when it comes to honoring US Muslims and their contribution to the cultural life of the country.

On a side note: articles about Mahershala Ali that have appeared over the last few months often leave out his important role in Free State of Jones. It is an excellent film that was too quickly trashed as a "white savior" narrative. I think this is a bad misreading of the film and the events that it deals with. If you think I'm wrong, then please read Cedric Johnson's review, published here. Johnson argues that
Free State of Jones "may be the most politically important film about the Civil War and its aftermath to appear in a quarter century."

One more side note: Mahershala Ali's grandparents were Communists, and his grandfather was fired from his job at the navy yards in Alameda because of it. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Enrico Macias in Egypt, 1979

In 2005 a chapter I wrote entitled "Against Hybridity: The case of Enrico Macias/Gaston Ghrenassia" appeared in a book I co-edited with Rebecca Stein called Palestine, Israel, and the Politics of Popular Culture
One of the things I wrote about was the appearance of Enrico Macias in Egypt in 1979, at the invitation of Anwar Sadat. I only just discovered that the concert he gave on September 22, 1979 at Gazira Stadium was actually released as an album, called Enrico Macias en Egypte, on the Phillips label, that same year. Ah, the marvels of discog.com and YouTube.

Here is the discographical information, and you can listen to the entire recording on YouTube here
And here is the tracklist: 

A1 La Musique Et Moi
A2 Aux Talons De Ses Souliers
A3 Solenzara
A4 La Folle Esperance
B1 Le Grand Pardon
B2 Kelbi-Btala
B L'Oriental
B4 Oumparere

Below I've excerpted what I had to say about Macias' visit to Egypt in 1979, and I discuss the song "La Folle Esperance" and the role it played in the trip. He only performs two "Oriental" tracks here: first, "Kelbi-Btala," which he describes as an "Algerian classical" number, featuring Enrico's father Sylvain Ghrenassia (who used to back Cheikh Raymond Leyris) and oud playing from Enrico and second, "L'Oriental," which he originally recorded in 1962. "L'Oriental" was originally made famous by the great Algerian Jewish singer Lili Boniche (I'm not sure in which year). It was composed by the Tunisian Jewish artist, Joseph Hadjedj, better known by his performing name, José de Souza. Here Macias gives it a more "Oriental" inflection than he did on his original recording of 1962, when, as he outlines in his autobiography, he was trying to make it as an artist in France and in order to do so, it was necessary to downplay his Algerian-Arab heritage.

Here's what I wrote in 2005:

In September 1979, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat organized a festival of peace, on the first anniversary of the Camp David Peace Accords. The Egyptian government invited Enrico Macias to participate, and contacted him--significantly--via the Israeli government (Monestier, Enrico Macias, 178). Clearly, President Sadat did not see Macias as simply a knee-jerk backer of Israel. During the seventies, Macias continued to insert small doses of Arabic music into his live performances and his recordings. In 1977, he composed and recorded “La Folle Esperance,” a song based on a folkloric Arab melody that Cheikh Raymond had played. The song's lyrics praised Sadat's November 1977 visit to Jerusalem, and asserted, “we [Muslims and Jews] are brothers.” Macias reports that, when he first performed the song, on French television, it was a big success, and that the studio audience included many Maghrebis, who clapped and sang along enthusiastically (Macias, Non, je n'ai pas oublié, 327). Another song Macias composed in the early seventies, “Le Grand Pardon,” expressed his hopes that the “sons of Abraham” would achieve peace. In a 1974 interview, Macias went so far as to assert his sympathy for the Palestinians, because they had been uprooted. He did not agree, however, that the Jews were responsible for the Palestinians' dispossession (Monestier, 145).

Macias writes that when Sadat met him in Egypt, he “said first he invited me because his people like me. But he also said to me, 'I made peace with Israel, but I want also to make peace with all Jews in all the world, and for the moment you are the representative of these Jews'” (Richard Cromelin, “Macias: Singer for the Dispossessed,” Los Angeles Times, November 22, 1985, part 6, p. 1). The fact that Sadat chose an Algerian Jew who spoke Arabic to represent world Jewry at the peace festival, rather than an Ashkenazi, is certainly significant; this was not a choice based on European notions of Jewish “representativeness.” Macias was warmly greeted in Egypt where, despite the boycott, his music was well known due to the underground market. In Egypt, Macias did not simply perform his variety hits, but felt comfortable enough to indulge in his Arabic repertoire. At a private concert, for instance, he performed a song by one of Egypt's most beloved stars, Farid al-Atrash, in Arabic. Macias played his third show in Egypt at Gazira Stadium for the general public, with his father Sylvain joining the band on violin. The crowd of 20,000 was enthusiastic, knew the lyrics to his songs, and went wild when Macias took up the 'ud (Monastier, 183). Macias and his father were invited to an audience with Sadat at his winter palace in Ismailiya, and Macias performed a few songs for the small gathering, including “La Folle Esperance,” which he sang in Arabic. Macias has called his encounter with Sadat “the crowning achievement” of his life (Monastier, 183).

(If you want to know my entire "take" on Macias, you'll have to check out the book chapter.)

Friday, February 24, 2017

"La Nuit de Possession" -- Gnawa

Very good documentary on a lila, or ritual of possession, of the Gnawa. This is filmed in Essaouira (where I spent part of summer 1999), and features the late, great Gnawa master, M'allim Mahmoud Guinea (1951-2015), and his wife Malika, a shuwwafa (clairvoyant), who is in charge of the ceremony. Directed by Frank Cassenti (2011).

You can find a number of great Mahmoud Guinea recordings at Moroccan Tape Stash.