Lili Labassi – Mazal Haye Mazal

“She’s Still Alive”

That is the English translation of today’s track from the great Lili Labassi (spelled L’Abassi on the label, and also known as ‘Lili El Abbassi’), a well-known Jewish chaabi singer and violinist from Algeria. This piece was released in the early 50s on the French Pacific label in their “Collection Musique Orientale” series, and was likely distributed in both North Africa and Algerian enclaves throughout 1950s Europe (Marseilles, for instance).

Labassi began his 78rpm-era recording career in 1929 with HMV. He later recorded with Polyphon in the 1930s, Columbia, and finally Pacific. Chaabi, what Labassi is known for, is a loose term essentially meaning “popular” or “of the people.” There is chaabi from Algeria, such as we have here, but there is also chaabi from Morocco as well. Algerian chaabi developed in Algiers and is indelibly linked to the masterful Hadj Mohamed El Anka, considered the father of the genre. His chaabi was an older style, employing rootsy folk melodies and poetry. But by the mid-1950s and the start of the Algerian War (1954-1962), a modern chaabi style had become popularized.

Labassi was a contemporary of El Anka, but I think this piece seems to fall right in between the rootsy and the modern. Playing violin and singing, Labassi is accompanied by oud, piano, kanun, and percussion. Both sides are included on this track, and you’ll hear why I decided to include both – not just because it’s a lengthy piece and it would be necessary to include both sides anyway, but because the second side (beginning at about 2:47) is the more improvisatory side, with Labassi showing off his considerable vocal skills. This was very common in recordings in North Africa and the Middle East, when it came to extended, 2-sided songs – time would nearly always be made for improvisation, or a brief ‘taxim.’

Lili Labassi – Mazal Haye Mazal

Technical Notes
Label: Pacific
Issue Number: CO 7036
Matrix Number: AI-0372-2/AI-0373-2

Thanks to Karim Boughida for the title translation [updated and changed 10/14, as Karim listened to the song and realized that the title’s meaning was different]! For more Lili Labassi, try the Secret Museum’s North Africa volume. In 1998-1999, two volumes of a CD set of Labassi’s work titled “Le Genie Du Chaabi” was released, but it seems all but impossible to find now. I have no idea about sound quality, either…

And the new Honest Jons release is upon us. It looks wonderful, and it includes a track by the one, the only, Rizeli Sadik. Hmmm, I wonder where I’ve heard that name before…

9 thoughts on “Lili Labassi – Mazal Haye Mazal

  1. Thanks for this — great to hear the roots of contemporary chaabi. Much of the contemporary stuff I’ve heard sounds pretty similar to this. Fewer differences than I would have expected, aside from the recording quality.

  2. I love the Algerian dialect as sung by Lili el ‘Abbassi, and the variety of energies found in both parts of the song. Wait! I will listen to it again before my heart ever forgets!

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