In the decades following the advent of the phonograph at the end of the nineteenth century, thousands of shellac records circulated across the Middle East and North Africa. Etched between their grooves were a stunning array of popular, classical, and folkloric songs, sketches and monologues, and the otherwise sublime sounds of an extended era of profound change. At mid-twentieth century, in the midst of decolonization, mass migration, as well as the appearance of vinyl, most of the region’s earliest phonograph records disappeared––or at least were thought to. This presentation focuses on a particular aspect of that musical history: the birth of the recording industry in French colonial North Africa and the outsized role played by a minority of Arabophone Jewish musicians and impresarios therein. To do so, it provides a case study of Gharamophone.com, an online archive launched in 2017 to recover, digitize, and provide historical context for the Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian 78 rpm records that animated more than half a century.
-Dr. Christopher Silver, Segal Family Assistant Professor in Jewish History and Culture, McGill University; and curator, Gharamophone.com
The Kitab Talk series is a program of the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies and the University Libraries at UNC-Chapel Hill.