Sunday, May 27, 2007

Maurice el Medioni, French-Algerian music legend

If there is one Jewish musician who knows about breaking down barriers, it is the 78-year old French-Algerian pianist Maurice el Medioni - barriers between Jews and Arabs, between Europe and Africa, between musical genres and between the generations. In London to receive a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award, he was interviewed by Lemez Lomias in The Jewish Chronicle of 25 May.

"Born in the Derb, the Jewish quarter in the coastal town of Oran, Algeria in 1928, his music is a glorious flashback to a golden age of post-war optimism. (...)

"The longstanding Jewish community - records indicate Jewish presence in Algeria since at least the late Roman period - was stilll managing to tread the fine balancing line between the Muslim majority and their French masters, and local Jewish stars serenaded the crowds who flocked to the coastal clubs to hear love songs that flitted between French and Arabic, sometimes from line to line. (..)

"I play la musique orientale, la musique andalouse," (he said). "Us Jews, we call it judeo-andalouse; the Arabs call it arabo-andalouse. But there is no difference - it is a kind of traditional music that came to us from Spain after 1492, (the year of the expulsion from Spain of the country' s Jews) and it was kept alive all across North Africa." (...)

"Although much has been written retrospectively about this era as a golden age of coexistence between Jews and Arabs, Maurice is keen not to let nostalgia cloud his memories of the time.

"I was on good terms with everybody, because that is the type of person that I am. But I wouldn't say that the Jews and Muslims got on particularly well," he said.

"Relations were soon to reach their nadir in the bloody War of Independence in the 1950s and early 60s, and the Jewish community - who, unlike their Muslim neighbours, had been given French citizenship a century earlier - were suspected of having pro-French sympathies and ejected from the country in no uncertain terms.

"It was la valise ou la tete - to leave immediately or be killed. But when we left Algeria in 1961 - 62, we had the feeling that we were leaving our soul behind, our guts, our entrails. When we arrived in France, it was as though we had left a good land and we were being planted in cement, It was very difficult - a tree cannot grow in cement."

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