Sunday, September 09, 2012

A musical foray through Marseille's Lower East Side

Jewish Morocco blog makes a fascinating foray into Marseille's Belsunce quarter, for years the hub of a thriving North African music scene. (With thanks: Michelle)

For North African music lovers, Damien Taillard's blog Phocéephone is a must. Damien, originally from Toulon but through and through a Marseillais, has dedicated his time to documenting the thriving North African music scene in Marseille from at least the 1950s through the end of the 1970s. His research focuses on the Cours Belsunce quarter, one of Marseille's oldest neighborhoods, a hub of North African Jewish and Muslim immigration for at least the last 50 years, and home to its Arabic music scene for decades. Damien has patiently and diligently collected North African records produced and recorded in Marseille and has posted many of these to his blog.

Damien and I had emailed back and forth for some time before I told him I was coming to Marseille. We met for the first time in person at Galette, the record store he works for in the alternative Cours Julien neighborhood. We chatted for a long while. Damien kindly came bearing gifts including a number of Algerian and Moroccan Jewish 45s of which he had multiple copies. I also picked up a rare Cheikh Zekri LP on the Dounia label from the store before making a plan with Damien to meet the following week. We were going to try to meet with the master oudist and native son of Marseille (via Oujda in Morocco) Raymond Azoulay aka Raymond Oujdy. Raymond was a giant to me and many others. He started his own labels in Marseille (Oujdiphone and Oujdisques), played with the likes of Reinette l'Oranaise and Blond Blond, and had a deep respect for his Muslim musical counterparts.

Raymond Oujdy on his label Oujdisques circa 1979
Damien called me the next week and told me that Raymond was unavailable but that he had another idea. He proposed a tour of Cours Belsunce and I quickly jumped at the opportunity.

We met at the famed Alcazar Theatre now turned public library and the site of a future exhibition Damien is putting together on Cours Belsunce. As we meandered through the tiny streets filled with wholesale fabric stores, inexpensive housewares merchants and store front places of worship I couldn't help but compare it to New York's Lower East Side.

Belsunce was the first French home that many Jewish immigrants from North Africa knew. They were joined there by their Muslim counterparts. Most of the Jews have since moved out of the neighborhood but a few still operate shops there. We stopped by one such shop, Chez Youssef, before venturing on. I could imagine Youssef and other merchants closing their shops for midday prayer. Youssef and others would then hurry to a number of neighborhood synagogues, non-descript from the outside but filled with men chanting emotional liturgy on the inside.

Read post in full


Anonymous said...

La musique adoucit les mœurs!
If one considers all the present-day Jews' contribution to music, literature, philosophy etc, one would understand the genius of our people
vidal sultana

Sylvia said...

Fascinating site.

Speaking of music, there is a trend these days to return to the Sephardic sources. The poems of the Jewish poets of Spain, Yehuda Halevi, Shlomo Ibn Gabirol are put to modern music and played in public media, and there is a definite inspiration from Sephardic liturgical music.

We hear a lot of the familiar "Slihot" "tunes" throughout this month preceding Rosh Hashana on radio (Sephardim say Slihot every night for the whole month) and Sephardic tunes are great favorites.

And speaking of Holidays. There are as everyone knows, many families in need these days particularly in the so-called developed countries who will not have the basics for the holidays.

So please, wherever you are in the world, help someone that you know is in need: friend, neighbor, relative, colleague, or organization.

And please remember the advice of Maimonides that the highest form of charity is to help people help themselves as in the form of a loan so as the dignity of the recipient remains intact.

Happy New Year.

Sylvia said...

DFM Ayalon at the First International Conference on Refugees from Arab Countries held today Sept 10 in Jerusalem in the presence of Parlamentarians from around the world : “We will not rest and we will not concede until the Jewish refugees from Arab countries are recognized by the international community and the Arab League.”

Jerusalem Declaration on Justice for Jews from Arab Countries:

Anonymous said...

Larry Derfner criticizes Israel's "I Am a Refugee" campaign: