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|
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.
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