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Bar, Shlomo

(634 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Born in Rabat, Morocco, in 1943, Shlomo Bar (né Ben Ghoush) moved to Israel with his family in 1948, settling in the village of Be’er Yaʿacov, near Ramla. He dropped out of school at an early age and worked in construction, but sang and played the drums in his free time, absorbing the many musical traditions of the settlers in the Ramla vicinity (notably those from India). His breakthrough occurred in 1976 when he performed his own songs in Joshua Sobol’s Kriza (Heb. Crisis), a seminal play about the social discrimination against mizraḥi (Heb. oriental) Jews in Israel.A year later in 1977,…

Damari (Damārī), Shoshana

(827 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Shoshana Damari (Dhamar) was born in Yemen in 1923. The following year her family emigrated from Yemen to Palestine, settling in Rishon le-Tsiyyon. She began to perform at a very early age, accompanying her mother, a meshoreret (traditional Yemenite female singer), at weddings and parties of Yemenite immigrant families. Her brother Seʿadya (1913–1988) also became a singer, actor, and playwright.In 1936 Shoshana Damari studied singing and acting at the studio of the Shulamit School in Tel Aviv. There she met Shlomo Busami, the studio’s manager. They were married in 1939, whe…

Amar, Jo

(443 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Joseph (Jo) Amar (1933-2009) was born in Oujda, Morocco. He began his singing career while attending the yeshiva in Meknes. Moving on to Casablanca, he was invited to record for Columbia, marking the beginning of his rise to stardom. His repertoire already included a variety of genres beyond the Moroccan payṭanut (Heb. religious songs) he had learned in Meknes and current popular songs in Judeo-Arabic.Amar emigrated to Israel in 1956, by then well known to Moroccan Jews from his recordings. One of his first collaborations in Israel was with the Mizmor Shir Choir, founded by Yossef Be…

Zefira, Bracha

(923 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Bracha Zefira (ca. 1911–1990) was was born into a family of immigrants from Yemen who settled in Jerusalem in 1887 Orphaned at the age of three, she was adopted by Jerusalemite families of different ethnic backgrounds. This early multi-ethnic experience made an imprint on her career, as she acknowledged in a 1962 interview: “Since I was three years old, I wandered from home to home. . . . when a child is born without mother and father, without a home . . . he starts to cling to something that can st…

Aharon, Ezra

(483 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Ezra Aharon, né ʿAzzori (ʿAzzūrī) Shashoua (Shaʿshuʿa), was a famous composer and master player of the ʿ ud (Heb. oud). Born in Baghdad around 1903, Aharon was educated in the old Ottoman musical tradition in Iraq but was also familiar with modern Egyptian styles of Arabic music. In 1932 he headed the Iraqi delegation to the legendary Congress of Arabic Music held in Cairo. Two years later, in 1934, he settled in Palestine, arriving there much earlier than the larger contingent of Iraqi Jewish musicians that emigrated to Israel in the early 1950s.Aharon immediately began to compose so…

Levi, Isaac

(791 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Isaac Levy (1919–1977) was born in Manissa, near Izmir, in Turkey. In 1922, he immigrated to Israel with his parents. He studied voice at the Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem and performed as a singer throughout the country. At the same time, he composed songs on biblical and other sacred texts as well as children’s songs in modern Hebrew, some of which became canonical of this genre, such as “Bi-Mdinat ha-Gamadim” (In the Land of the Dwarfs).Very early in his career Levy became interested in collecting, publishing, and disseminating the Sephardi musical heritage. As he put it in h…

Murād, Laylā

(1,073 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
The distinguished singer and actress Laylā (also Laila or Leila) Murād (Mourad) was born on February 17, 1918 ) in Al Zaher in Abbasia, Cairo. Her father, Ibrahim Zakī Murād (né Mordecai), was a Jewish singer and composer of Iraqi (not Moroccan, as often said) origin, who flourished between the 1920s and 1940s, as well as the cantor at one of Cairo’s synagogues. Her mother, Gamilah Salmon, was of Polish Jewish ancestry. One of her siblings, Mounir (Maurice) Mourad, was an Egyptian actor and composer. The timing of Murād’s appearance on the Egyptian music scene coincided with th…

Hemsi, Alberto

(1,123 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Alberto Hemsi (Chicurel) was born in Kassaba, Ottoman Turkey, on December 23, 1896 and died in Aubervilliers, near Paris, on October 7, 1975. His musical talent was recognized at an early age, and in 1907 he was sent to the Alliance Israélite Universelle school in Turgutlu (New Izmir), where he studied Ottoman music with Shem Tov Şikyar and synagogue music with Isaac Algazi. At around the same time, as a member of the youth band at the Société Musicale Israélite, he was also exposed to Western music (flute, trombone, cornet, clarinet, piano, and composition). With the en…

Attias, Moshe (Cheikh Mwīzo)

(942 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Moshe Attias, the son of Yaʿaqov and Rina Attias (b. Meknes, 1937; d. Kiryat Ata, April 30, 2020), known as Cheikh Mwījo, was a composer, poet, singer and instrumentalist born and educated in Meknes.  One of the most authentic voices of Moroccan Jewry of his generation, he performed and recorded extensively secular and sacred songs in Judeo-Arabic and Hebrew. LifeMany Moroccan Jewish performing artists and composers could trace a musical ancestry back several generations. Mwijo was no exception;  both his grandfather and father, who hailed from Fez, had…

Elmaghribi, Samy (Amzallag)

(753 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Samy Elmaghribi (El Maghriby, El Maghribi), né Salomon Amzellag, was born in 1922 in the Moroccan town of Safi. In 1926 his family moved to Rabat, where he became interested in music while still quite young. By the time he was seven he had  taught himself to play the oud.  In later years he studied Andalusian music at the Conservatoire de Casablanca as well as with the leading masters of the time.Elmaghribi’s complex repertoire typified the multiplicity of styles and genres commanded by Maghrebi Jewish musicians of his generation. He sang Hebrew piyyuṭim (liturgical poems), traditiona…

Leyris, Raymond

(300 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Raymond Leyris, who was known professionally as Cheikh Raymond, was born in Algeria on July 27, 1912 to a French Catholic mother and a Jewish father from Batna. After his father perished in World War I, he was adopted by a humble Jewish family from Constantine. Early on he began to frequent the fondouks (caravansaries) favored as gathering places by enthusiasts of malouf (Ar. mālūf), the Andalusian musical tradition of Constantine, and there he learned its more popular derivative genres. His mentors were two of the great masters of malouf of the previous generation, Abdelkrim Bestandji…

Algazi, Isaac

(1,281 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Born in Izmir on April 24, 1889, Isaac Algazi was the son of Salomon Algazi and Sara Mizrahi. The family traced its origins back to Rabbi Salomon ben Abraham Algazi (ca. 1610–1683; see Algazi Family), and Isaac was the third in a line of cantors that began with his grandfather, Ḥayyim Menahem, and continued with his father, who was known as Bülbüli Salomon (Salomon the Nightingale). Isaac Algazi attended the local school of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the Talmud Torah (religious school), and the Hillel Yeshiva under Rabbi Abraham Palache, Izmir’s haham başı (chief rabbi) and on…


(13,827 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
Music is the field of cultural productivity in which Jews and the peoples of Islam (Arabs, Persians, Turks, Berbers, Kurds, Tajiks, Afghans, etc.) converged in the closest and most prolific manner. Jews have played a major role as composers and performers of music, mostly in urban genres, since the inception of Islam and throughout its vast territorial domains, under the Arab, Persian, and Ottoman empires as well as in the modern nation-states that emerged from them. At the same time, the musica…

Kuweiti, Salah and Daud, al-

(673 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
The brothers Dā’ūd (1910–1976) and Ṣalāḥ (1908–1986) al-Kuweiti (al-Kuwaytī) were born in the Sūq al-Yahūd (Ar. Jewish quarter) of Kuwait City to a family of Iraqi Jewish origin. When Ṣalāḥ was ten years old and his brother was eight, they were given a violin and an ʿūd (Ar. oud) by their uncle and began studying music. Their talent was soon evident, and they quickly became prodigies on the Kuwaiti music scene. Ṣalāḥ began to compose in the Kuwaiti ṣawt (Ar. voice) style, a genre of popular instrumental music that accompanies men’s dances in the Persian Gulf area, while D…

Cordova, Moshe

(329 words)

Author(s): Edwin Seroussi
The composer and singer Moshe Cordova, the son of Rabbi Nissim Cordova, was born in Edirne in 1881 but grew up in Istanbul. He learned to play the oud and the piano as a child, and began to compose music at an early age, becoming a master of the classical Ottoman maqām . As a young man, parallel to his musical interests, he pursued a successful business career in the textile industry (hence his nickname “Kazmirci” from cashmere).In Istanbul, Cordova was associated with the Mafṭirim choir, as were Isaac Algazi from Izmir and other Turkish cantors. The music he composed for…