This post was co-written with Clemence Hadad.We both had the pleasure to visit Maurice in his cozy apartment in Netanya.The intention of this interview was to raise awareness among the Jewish youth about the importance of Maurice and his music.
“While I am playing I always have flashbacks of the past, of all the great artists and friends I played with throughout time, some of these artists are long gone, memories from childhood and youth in Algeria also go through my mind when I play”. Maurice El Medioni.
Maurice El Medioni is a legendary pianist who has collaborated with some of the most famous musicians in the Arab world. He was born in 1928 in the Algerian city port of Oran, Born to a family of Sephardic Jews who were driven out of Spain in 1492,he has always carried the Andalusian heritage. Maurice is a Legendary Rai pioneer, and a piano grandmaster .
Maurice, how does it feel to be one of the last surviving artists from an entire generation of Algerian Jewish musicians from the Chaabi music scene?
I feel very satisfied that I was a valuable musician to some of the greatest musicians of the time, I was a pianist for the extraordinary Lili Labassi, Lili Bonice,Cheick Zouzou,the beautiful singer Line Monty, and the one and only Reinette l’Oranaise.
Your uncle Messaoud El Mediouni also known as “Saoud l’Oranais” is regarded by many as the grandfather of Algerian pop music. How did he influence you and what can you tell us about his last days in a Nazi concentration camp?
I consider my uncle “Saoud l’Oranais” together with Lili Labassi as important figures in the creation of Algerian pop music, all though my uncle left Algeria and moved to France when I was very young, I do have some memories of him, one of these memories is that he and my father owned a café in Oran, and that musicians would come to play music at the café, I’ve been told that as a little child I would grab a fork and would bang it trying to imitate the rhythm of the music they were playing ,everyone would tell my parents “Maurice will be a musician”.
Then my uncle decided to move to France in the 1930’s but when the Nazis invaded and occupied France my uncle had to go into hiding for a few years until the Nazis found him and arrested him in 1943, they deported him to the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland where he was gassed to death.
Another great legacy of my uncle was that he gave musical education to a 13 year old blind girl named Sultanda Daoud who would end up being one of the greatest singers of all times” Reinette L’Oranaise”.
Where did you learn to play such diversity of musical genres?
After Oran was liberated by the allies in 1942, there were many American soldiers stationed in Oran, black American soldiers were very friendly and they would invite me to the piano to watch them play and practice the boogie-woogie, I loved the sound so much that I wanted to learn it, therefore I would go home and practice it. My first experience with Latin Music also came from these soldiers since many of them were from Puerto Rico, it was thanks to them that I experienced Latin music for the first time. I fell in love with the sound of Latin percussion.
Who is your favorite Latino Pianist?
Cuban pianist Rubén Gonzales from Buena Vista Social Club.
How would you describe your relationship with Muslim musicians in Algeria?
I played with Muslims even before I played with Jews, I formed my first music band with three Muslim friends of mine, the first time we started improvising a very peculiar sound was born combining the sound of the Darbuka and Arabic percussion while I improvised Rumba on the piano, this is the first period in which I created a sound which people call “Oriental Piano”. In 1948 after the first Arab-Israeli conflict, behavior towards us started to change, they knew we Jews sympathized with Israel. As time went by anti-Semitism began to grow stronger,by 1962 the War of independence was over and most of the Jews had fled to never return, Algeria was no longer safe for the jews.
My relationship with Arab Muslim musicians has always been very good, I play with them and we respect each other mutually ,I feel loved and appreciated by them; we never discuss sensitive issues like religion, politics or Israel, they know I live in Israel and they also know I am Israeli. Currently I perform in Arab countries and I feel loved and respected by everyone.
Is it true that Algerian Jewish musicians would also perform religious Islamic songs ?
Yes, Algerian Jewish musicians would also perform traditional Islamic songs, Cheick Zouzou is an example of one of them, he was a blind jewish musician who was a very religious jew, yet he would also sing Islamic songs.
You are currently a important figure of “El Gusto Orchestra” (the Good Mood) which reunites old Jewish and Muslim Chaabi musicians from Algeria. Do you believe that your generation is the last to bring Arab and Jewish musicians together?
I knew half of the band from “El Gusto” from when I lived in Algeria, but we all lost touch for many years, due to the civil war in Algeria and also because of the Arab Israeli conflict. In El Gusto we reunite to play music and not to discuss politics.
I know cooperation among younger generations is happening and I don’t think it will ever cease to happen; many young Jewish musicians today are working and collaborating with Arab musicians.
In the present who are your favorite artists to perform and collaborate with?
Lior Elmaliach,Emil Zrihan,Amir Benayoun,Rabbi Haim Luok,David Broza.
What Is your advice to Israeli artists on how to achieve success?
Hard work, a support system and luck.
Can music help accomplish peace?
Our world is unpredictable; I don’t have an answer of what can lead the world to Peace.
Do you believe that by teaching the youth in Algeria about the rich Jewish musical heritage ,this might help prevent anti-Semitism?
The role of Jewish musician has been downplayed due to resentment, the youth doesn’t listen to our music and prefers to ignore us and forget about us. I think they know about Reinette l’Oranaise and Lili Labassi but they prefer to ignore them or downplay their importance.
To finish this interview we would like hear more about your hobbies,can you tell me a little bit?
Here in Netanya life is good, I live with my wife,we both like to sit in the terrace and drink coffee with my other Algerian friends, I also like using the Internet, watching TV and practicing the piano, I like to relax and also spend my days between these activities, I also have my children and grandchildren who I also dedicate time too.
Upcoming events of Maurice El Medioni:
- Maurice still performs actively and you can see his schedule for upcoming concerts by liking his official facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MauriceElMedioni This interview was made possible thanks to Yvonne Kahan the manager and friend of Maurice.