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.
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.