tounsia“‘Stwanat Pacific, al mutriba Louisa Tounsia.”

Those words begin our second, and long overdue, selection originating from Tunisia. Despite being one of the most renowned vocalists in Tunisia during the mid-20th century, very little in English has been written about the great Louisa Tounsia. She was part of the deep tradition of Jewish singers of the Maghreb, along with her fellow countrymen Raoul Journo and Cheikh El-Afrit, among others. Jewish immigration into North Africa began as early as the 6th century BCE, and there was a large migration of Sephardic Jews into the region in the 5th century, then later in the 15th and 16th centuries, following expulsions from the Iberian peninsula. Ashkenazi Jews also were present in the region, beginning in the precolonial and colonial periods.

Louisa’s first sessions appear to have been for the French Polyphon label in 1938. She then made a few sides for Columbia immediately afterwards, and then recorded at least 25 songs for HMV starting in the mid-1940s. Her final sessions on 78 – at least from my documentation – occurred around 1950, for the Pacific record label, an independent. This track, for which I’ve combined both sides of the “suite” as it’s labeled, stems from those sessions. She’s accompanied here by an oud player, kanun, and percussion, with the second side being more of a jam. The title, “Ya Bent El Nass,” translates to “Oh Daughter of the People.”

I’ve always liked North African music from the mid-20th century more than Egyptian mid-century music – just a personal preference really, but I think it has something to do with a perceived looseness in the music, on my part. Or, perhaps it’s a means to escape the ubiquitousness of Umm Kalthoum, Mohammed Abdel-Wahab, and Farid el-Atrash, the popular and inescapable triumverate of mid-20th century Egyptian music (but, really, they’re national treasures, and each recorded some fantastic material).

Since this was recorded ca. 1950, it was recorded originally on tape. There’s a subtle, funky tape problem on this track and I’m not sure how you would define it, but it’s not really noticeable enough to detract. These are the issues, once again, that crop up when dealing with independent 78rpm labels, who, though they often employed an abundance of musical talent, they did not have the same advantages as the major labels had in terms of equipment and pressing materials.

Louisa Tounsia – Ya Bent El Nass

Technical Notes
Label: Pacific
Issue Number: 7114
Matrix Number: Part 10819/10820, AI 1335/1336

For more Louisa Tounsia, check the North African volume of the Secret Museum series.

raoul.jpgWhen I first received this record, I thought, “Gee, could a record possibly be in worse condition?” I had purchased it for a cheap price knowing that it was heavily battered, which is pretty uncommon for me. I don’t often want to go down that road of buying records that are destroyed simply because they are rare. Not really my style. It has less to do with feeling high and mighty, and more about conserving space! However, this was Raoul Journo, perhaps the greatest male Tunisian singer ever, so I made an exception.

It paid off in a way. Yes, this record is heavily worn, but it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it looks, with its wasteland of grey grooves, thousands of scratches, its myriad of “digs.” Like everything else I offer on this blog, it has never been made available in any format as far as I know (although I’m betting he re-recorded it later in his long career). And, again – did I mention that this is Raoul Journo we’re talking about? In short: my apologies for the sound, but I thought it was worth it in this case. These are not common.

Journo (1911-2001) was a Jewish Tunisian singer, and I believe this stems from one of his earliest sessions, in 1935 for the Polydor company. He’s accompanied by percussion, violin, and oud – plus, there’s a nice qanún solo in the introduction.

Also – I included BOTH sides of the record this time (Parts 1 and 2).

For more of his work, try the Secret Museum’s fantastic North African compilation. This outfit offers some later releases, as does this one. And here’s another site of interest.

Raoul Journo – El-Oua’che-Ouel-Ghorba

Technical Notes
Label: Polyphon
Issue Number: 46.402
Matrix: 0212-ACP/0213-ACP

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