Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Claudia Cardinale, born in Tunisia, in Goha (1958), starring Omar Sharif

Claudia Cardinale, born in La Goulette, Tunisia, had her first film role at the age of 20 in Guha (1958), starring Omar Sharif. The film was made in Tunisia, directed by Jacques Baratier. Claudia had a minor role as Amina. Cardinale was raised speaking Arabic, French and Sicilian, and she only learned Italian later, when she started appearing in Italian films. When I first learned about this film, I had hoped that it would show Claudia speaking Arabic, but alas, the film is in French.

Claudia Cardinale (middle) in Goha

Like many people of my age, I had seen Cardinale in several films (among them, The Pink Panther, Once Upon a Time in the West, and Fitzcarraldo), but never knew she was born in Tunisia. Until I saw Tunisian director Férid Boughedir's 1996 film, Summer in La Goulette, where Cardinale makes an appearance, as herself. The best treatment I know of the various European populations of Tunisia is Julia Clancy-Smith's magisterial Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, C. 1800-1900 (2010). Highly recommended.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Franco-Arab music: Bob Azzam, Bruno Mory (Dalida's Brother), "Ya Mustapha," "Fattouma"

I first heard Bob Azzam's "Ya Mustapha" when I moved to Beirut in 1964, it was one of the very few songs in Arabic that any American kid would have been familiar with. It was a hit all over the Mediterranean, and I've posted about it previously. If you're not familiar with it, here it is:

I've since discovered a bit more about the song. First, it shows up in the Egyptian film "El Hob Kedda" (1961) which stars, among others, Salah Zo El Faqqar, Sabah and Abdelmonem Ibrahim. I'm not sure who is shown performing the song here, but it's the Bob Azzam's version. 

There is also another version, overshadowed by Bob Azzam's version, recorded by Dalida's younger brother Bruno Gigliotti, known in Egypt as Bruno Mory, and better known in France as "Orlando." Bruno had a brief career as an actor and a recording artist but then went on to become Dalida's artistic director and producer. It sounds much more "Egyptian" and less campy then Bob Azzam's version. 

It was released on record by the Egyptian label Sawt al-Qahira, and who knows, maybe it came out before Bob Azzam's version. Note that the lyrics are credited to Sa'id al-Masri, and the music to Muhammad Fawzi. According to an article from Rotana on "Franco-Arab" music, Bruno's version did precede Bob Azzam's.


Bruno's "Ya Mustapha" can also be found on a cassette, issued in 1978, called Al-Aghani al-Raqisa (Franco-Arab), or Dance Songs (Franco-Arab). I'd love to get my hands on this cassette.

The second song from Bruno on the cassette, "Fattouma," can be heard on YouTube (below). It's very very cool, more "Franco Arab" than his version of Mustapha.

"Fattouma" was released, according to discogs.com, in 1960, from the Egyptian label Misrphone. This song too was by Muhammad Fawzy and Sa'id al-Masri.

Finally, please check out the amazing scene of Bruno Mory, doing "Fattouma" while dancing the cha-cha-cha with the divine Egyptian actress Hind Rustom, from an online article from Rotana. Sorry, the article is in Arabic, it's the second video embedded here. Really, you must watch it. 

Bruno Mory and Hind Rustom in Fattouma, 1961

The scene is from the film of the same name, Fattouma, released in 1961. Here's a poster for the film. I've not seen it and don't know much about it.

And here is another poster for Fattouma, and note that it announces the participation of "Orlando" (on the right of the photo) in the film. (I cannot make out what it says above Orlando, sorry.)

That Franco-Arab cassette also has some songs from Karim Shukry, including "Take Me Back to Cairo," released on Sono Cairo, with lyrics in England. Not as interesting as Bob Azzam and Bruno's material, I don't think, but have a listen, you decide.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Hamza El Din, live in New York, 1989

Nubian Egyptian composer, oud player, tar player, and vocalist Hamza El Din live in concert at the Borough of Manhattan Community College Triplex Theater (now known as the BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center) on April 15, 1989, broadcast on WNYC's show "Folkwave."

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Some Cheikha Rimitti 45 RPM Record Jackets

This is one of Rimitti's earliest recordings, if not the earliest (and I have the good luck to own this one). One of the tracks, "Erraï Arraï, was, according to Andy Morgan, her first recording, in 1952, for the French Pathé label. But on a 78 rpm, so I'm not sure when this 45 rpm version was pressed. (It was made in France.) Note she was known at this time as Elrelizania (al-Relizania), due to the fact that she grew up in the town of Rélizane (Ghalīzān in Arabic) in Western Algeria. Side A: "Erraï Arraï" (in Arabic al-ray ya al-ray, or "rai o rai."), may be one of the earliest songs in the tradition with "rai" in the title. (Sorry, I'm not able to translate the lyrics.) The genre in which Rimitti performed at the time, however, was not known as rai but as "al-klām al-hazl" or “light, amusing, trifling, playful speech.” 

The reverse side of the jacket describes the tracks as "Chant Oranais avec flûte." The photo on the jacket suggests "folklore." Side B, "Kheira Sali Anbi" (Khayra Salli ‘Ala al-Nabi) -- I'm not sure how to translate the title. Salli ‘Ala al-Nabi means "prayers on the prophet," but what "khayra" (good, choice) means in this phrase, I do not know. 

But note, however, that this is, at some level, a "religious" song, challenging the notion that became prevalent in the late eighties that rai was quintessentially secular. (The work of Marie Virolle is an excellent guide to the place of religion in rai lyrics of artists like Rimitti.) Both these tracks can be found on the CD, Aux Sources du Rai: Les Cheikhat.

The cover of this 45 also indicates "folklore," and this is how Algerian labels had to market the music post-independence, in the puritanical Boumedienne era, which lasted until 1978. This Rimitti record was put out by Triomphe Musique, based in France. This is not Rimitti's photo on the cover. I've seen no Rimitti release with her own photo on it prior to the late eighties, when she became a star on the rai scene, particularly in France, where she had resided since 1978.

This is a release from the Algerian label El Feth, under the rubric "Chants Folkloriques Oranais." I find curious the decision to use a picture of Djoser's Step Pyramid at Sakkara in Egypt on the cover, rather than a scene of Algeria. Side B, "Touche Mami," is a well-known Rimitti song, and it seems sexually suggestive: "touche mami touche, à droite, à gauche." Which is why the label "folklore" was necessary as a kind of cover for music that was considered vulgar by official state culture.

This one is from the French label, La Voix De La Jeunesse, and although the disc itself contains the rubric, "Folklore Oranais," by the time this comes out it seems that the folklore marketed is much more sexualized than that sold under the name Rimitti (or Remitti) in previous years. 

This one is from Voix Nouvelle, a French label that specialized in North African music. When rai cassettes began to be released, it was pretty common for European women to be the face on the cover of releases from female rai singers, the chabas. I've found no links to any recordings of these two songs or any mention of them except for on discogs.com.

I don't know anything about Atlas Records. This seems to be a re-release of "Errai Arrai," from the 1950s. I've not found a version of "Hak Tachroub Hak" anywhere.

This one is really eye-opening, eh? This is apparently from 1980, since it is called "Nouveauté Folk 80." When rai was being marketed as something sexy and outré. I don't find these two tracks anywhere either.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Wild 45 rpm record jackets: Cheikh El Afrit

I have no idea why this recording of Cheikh El Afrit appears in a record jacket featuring what looks to be a women's underwear ad.

Cheikh El Afrit was a well respected Tunisian Jewish singer (born Issim Israël Rossio) who lived from 1897 to 1939. Listen to his song "Ya nas hmelt" here. Nothing salacious about it. About his name, Chris Silver writes: "his adoption of the name Cheikh El Afrite (roughly translating as Master of the Devil) paid homage to his wit and was perhaps also a play on the word ‘ivrit, which happens to mean Hebrew in Hebrew." 

I've no idea about the label ZEY that put this disc out. It is, as Gomer Pyle would say, a poser.

A little more on Mahieddine Bentir

I looked a bit more at the short Algerian TV documentary on Mahieddine Bentir that I linked to in my previous post. (I realize that it's a problem that I can't make too much of Algerian dialect. But I can't control my obsessions.) 

Two things: First, there is a reference to a film that Bentir starred in, called Fous de musique or غرام الموسيقي

screenshot from the documentary

It's from the early sixties, filmed prior to independence, a musical, no doubt with some of the rock'n'roll that Bentir became famous for in the late fifties and early sixties. 

Second, please check out Bentir doing rock'n'roll, in 1959, on Algerian television, in the documentary, starting at 4:00. It's very lively, Bentir's dancing -- he does a couple of flips at around 5:00 -- strong backing by a couple sax players, trumpeter, piano and drums. Quite amazing.

Finally, I found, courtesy the blog of the great Algerian music scholar Hadj Miliani, an article about Bentir, from the magazine Femmes Nouvelles, published in Algeria (April 10, 1961). 

There is a lot of information about Bentir's life (born in 1934, in the commune of Ménnerville, grew up in Algiers, worked for the PTT (Postes, télégraphes et téléphones). When he played guitar and sang for some of his friends at the PTT and one of them helped get him in touch with the RTF (Radiodiffusion Télévision Française) and he appeared on the show "Rendez-vous à 13 heures" of Françoise Espel and Jacque Bados. He performed with a band called Orchestre Chenouf, composed of musicians with full-time jobs (station master, anesthesiologist, cabinet maker), who must be the ones who appear in the documentary (and in the clip on my previous blog). 

According to the article, Bentir composed in a variety of genres: "Negro" spirituals, waltzes, jazz, chansons réalistes. And it claims he was the first to launch rock'n'roll in "Oriental" music. His records sold in Alexandria, Rabat, and throughout Algeria. 

As of the date of the article, he had recorded four songs: "Youp! Ya Aoud" (rock), "Sinbad et Amira Cha-Cha" ("cha cha cha oriental"), "Ya mama chérie" (cha cha cha bolero) and "Anaya Bouhali" (style not specified. 

He was also translating some French popular songs into Arabic (I don't know whether these were ever recorded other than "Ana bouhali") and was preparing songs for a singer named Samira -- cha cha cha, waltz, and jazz. 

A more recent account of Bentir, from January 2018 (Reporters: Quotidien national d'information -- Algiers) reports on an hommage to Bentir, and states that Bentir's rock'n'roll song "Scooter" dates from 1955 (there is no mention of the song in the 1961 article) and that the songs Bentir performed on television (see the documentary were "Cha Cha Cha Chechia" and "Anaya Bouhali," a remake of Darío Moreno's 1959 recording, "Le marchand de bonheur" -- this is the clip on my previous blog post. (Moreno was a Turkish singer who made his career in France in the fifties and sixties.)

This article also claims that Bentir made some banners attacking colonialism and because he was sought after by the security forces, he took refuge in Tunisia with the liberation army. Perhaps, although it seems somewhat unlikely, given that the article cited above was published in April 1961. It states that the musical Bentir was to appear in (certainly Fous de musique) was to be filmed in May and June, and we can see from the movie poster reproduced in the Bentir documentary, that the film was in fact released. Algeria gained its independence in March 1962, so the timing does not seem right. But even if Bentir did not flee to Tunisia for anti-colonial activity, he nonetheless continued to enjoy a musical career in Algeria after indpendence.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dalida in Algiers, 1965, on the same bill as Mahieddine Bentir

Oh, to have seen this show in November, 1965 in Algiers, just three years after Algeria gained its independence! On the 11th anniversary of the launching of the Algerian revolution, organized by Algeria's national tourism office (ONAT). The divine Dalida, born in Shobra, Cairo, and a star throughout the Mediterranean.

One guesses of course that Dalida played her greatest hits, including those that hit the charts in France in 1965: 

"Viva la papa" (#10)

"La danse de Zorba" (#8)

"Bonsoir mon amour" (#5)

And my favorite from that year, "Amore scusami" (#13)

I find it quite amazing that Dalida was welcomed to Algeria in 1965, given that according to wikipedia, and other sources, Dalida had performed for the French colonial troops in Algiers in summer 1958. It's rather amazing how forgiving the Algerians were, given that hundreds of thousands of Algerians (the figure is not agreed upon, but perhaps Horne's number, 700,000, is a plausible number) were killed in the war of liberation (1954-62). Here's a photo of Dalida with one of the colonial soldiers, snapped by a fan.

In thinking about Dalida in Algeria, I came across an article by Barbara Lebrun, "Daughter of the Mediterranean, docile European: Dalida in the 1950s" (Journal of European Popular Culture 4(1), 2013). It argues that the Egyptian-born singer's Mediterranean identity was carefully crafted, as her career was launched in France in 1956, to occlude her origins: "Because Dalida’s early success in France coincided with the Algerian War, the singer’s oriental provenance was strictly ignored, and her ‘Mediterranean’ identity instead remapped onto the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea." (Note: I've only read the abstract, and am waiting to receive the full article.) 

Apparently by 1965 her handlers thought it was okay for her to be seen as associated with Algeria. But note that she did not record in Arabic until 1977, with "Salma ya salama."

What really excited me about this concert was the fact that she was on the bill with Mohieddine Bentir. I've blogged about him previously, but let me both recap and add some more details. Born in 1930, Bentir recorded a terrific rock'n'roll song, "Scooter," apparently in 1955.  

In 1959, there was "Ana Bouhali," a cha-cha cha, done Cuban style, very, very hot. Check this out, from Algerian television, broadcast during the colonial era. (Added November 4: It's a remake, in Arabic, of a song recorded that same year by Dario Moreno, "Le marchand de bonheur," the Turkish singer who made his career in France during the fifties and sixties.

Later, he was doing twists, most famously, "Optimiste Twist," from 1964. I mention some other tracks on my earlier blog.

If you check these three tracks, you could get an idea about what a terrific performer Bentir was, and, wow, I just can't imagine (again) how cool it would have been to see him opening for Dalida in Algeria. 

If your Algerian Arabic is good (and mine is minimal), check out this report on Bentir from Algerian television, broadcast in 1994. I wish I could track down more.

Addendum (11/3/18): Kareem tweeted this at me: Bentir talks about his show with Dalida in the video (at 15:00). When they went to dinner she asked him to ask if there were fava beans. A real Egyptian I guess :-).

Monday, October 29, 2018

Cecilie's Petula Top: kufiyaspotting

I've posted about the Danish designer Cecilie and her kufiya fashion designs previously (back in 2014). Most of her designs (but not all) are kufiya patterned, and she has been doing this consistently for several years, since 2011. She seems to be pretty successful at it, and I have to say I am quite amazed, and somewhat mystified, by the longevity of her project. Maybe someone in Copenhagen can explain it to me in future. I know that kufiyas are quite commonly worn in various ways in Scandinavia, and that a kufiya is called a Palestinasjal in Sweden. But on her website Cecilie never mentions Palestine in reference to the origin of the pattern that is the basis of most of her clothing offerings.

In any case, I just became aware of what I considered a notable new offering from Cecilie, from her Autumn/Winter offerings: the "Petula Top," with bare shoulders and wide collar. My guess is that the Petula referred to is Petula Clark, but after a brief survey of photos of Petula from her heyday, I do not see bare shoulders and wide collar tops as iconically Petula. It's a mystery to me. In any case, you'll find below a model in the kufiya patterned Petula Top. For more shots of the top, priced at $165, go here. For more on Cecilie, go here

Kufiya nails

Kufiya patterned Palestine nails -- take this design to your nail salon lady and you can have them too.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Record covers: Boussouar El Maghnaoui

Record covers of previously obscure recordings are much more readily available these days, due to various sources: discogs.com, ebay auctions, and FaceBook groups. This was vinyl single from pop-rai singer Boussouar El Maghnaoui was recently auctioned on ebay. Unfortunately I was not able to secure it -- such recordings, from Algeria in the seventies, when pop-rai was being invented, have become eminently collectible.

Boussouar El Maghnaoui was a second-tier figure in the pop-rai scene that developed in western Algeria from the mid to late 1970s, less well remembered than figures like Messaoud Bellemou, Belkacem Bouteldja, or Boutaïba Sghir. On his recordings he was usually backed by Groupe El Azhar, from Oran. Other lesser (but nonetheless important) lights backed up on pop-rai recordings during this period include Gana El Maghnaoui, Hocine Chabatti (AKA Cheb Hocine), Boutaïba Sghir's brother Afif Bashir and Mohamed Mazouzi. El Maghnaoui hailed from Oujda in eastern Morocco, symptomatic of the substantial cultural contact across the border between the east of Morocco and the west of Algeria. (During the colonial period many Moroccans migrated to work in western Algeria during grape harvest season.)

I don't have access to these two songs from El Maghnaoui, but there are several that you can find on YouTube, including this one.

It is very much in the mode of the pop-rai produced in the same period by Bellemou and his group, based in Aïn Témouchent, and my guess would be that Bellemou set the standard which others then imitated. According to maghrebunion, who posted the video, it features Ghana El Maghnaoui on trumpet (playing Bellemou style) and "Kassem" from Oran on saxophone. 

Check these out as well, courtesy the blog Phocéephone.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Kufiyaspotting: Madonna with Child

A friend posted this one on FaceBook. It looks like it could be a reproduction of an icon. Modern vintage, no doubt, with Jesus wearing a shirt in kufiya pattern, and Mary wearing a shawl with traditional Palestinian embroidery. The artist appears to be al-‘Abd al-Hati Samir Khuri.

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.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Kufiyaspotting: Asia Argenta at the Women's March in Rome, January 21, 2018

This is the photo of actress and director Asia Argento that appeared in the New York Times report on the millions who demonstrated in the Women's Marches around the globe, on January 20 and 21, 2018.

Argento is one of many actresses who have complained about being sexually assaulted by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Her complaints have not been well received by the Italian mainstream, but the New York Times reports that Argento was welcomed enthusiastically by the women at the Rome demonstration.

I don't know anything about Argento's politics, but her current boyfriend is Anthony Bourdain, who did a segment of his TV series Parts Unknown in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 2013. In 2014 he expressed public criticism over Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip. I assume Argento isn't wearing a kufiya just to be "stylish."