From A Revolution to Another: North African Music Labels In Paris



Impossible for The Funambulist to curate an issue on music without commissioning a piece by regular contributor Hajer Ben Boubaker, whose research on the history of Arab music in the Levant, the Maghreb, and within France’s immigration neighborhoods is crucial for many of us. In this text and the two associated maps, she provides a spatial and historical cartography of Maghrebi music labels in the Barbès-Goutte d’Or neighborhood and in Paris at large.

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Disco Music founder Mohand Anemiche in his shop in La Goutte d’Or, in the 1970s, where the label La voix du Globe used to be located. / Archives Génériques.

Trying to offer a musical cartography — a sonic map would have been even better! — of my Barbès neighborhood in Paris is, ultimately, trying to tell a double story: the story of exile, the exile of millions of North African workers who came to work in France during the interwar period. It is also about telling the story of a neighborhood’s rootedness, which in many aspects looks like a neighborhood in Algiers or Tunis — but is nonetheless a North African place of immigration with its own codes. The history of Barbès lies at the crossroads of four national histories (Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan, and French), millions of individual stories, and the essential element of North Africans’ historical role in the French labor world. Barbès is a working-class neighborhood and it is this social aspect — one of the immigrant lumpenproletariat — that will govern its history for decades. The neighborhood has long suffered from a bad reputation amongst white people, as it did among the wealthier families of North African immigration. It has nonetheless become central to the history of North African music, a history that can be defined as one of a revolution for cultural dignity.

The interwar period marks a turning point in the history of Arabic and Amazigh music in France. It is the beginning of an era when artistic directors and producers will make a lasting influence in the history of North African music, such as Ahmed Hachelef (Pathé Marconi), Abder Isker (Barclays), Boualem Titiche (Phillips), or Saïd Rezzoug (Teppaz). The musical effervescence of the 1960s offered Algerian artists the opportunity to come and settle in Paris to perform in ELAK’s (Émissions en langue arabe et kabyle, Broadcasts in Arabic and Kabyle) and ELAB’s (Émissions en langue arabe et berbère) before and during the Algerian war of liberation. These programs recorded for the ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française, the public radio and television agency in France between 1964 and 1975) have their equivalents on Radio Algier: where their working principle is that part of the radio programming is reserved for the natives since the beginning of the 1930s, in both Arabic and Kabyle languages. These broadcasts are motivated by the desire to influence the Muslim populations with access to a radio, in an Algeria marked by anti-colonial mobilizations of the interwar period. Interest in music production at that time also followed a colonial logic. Thus in 1958, in the midst of the Algerian war of liberation and at the request of the French government, the Lyon-based production house Teppaz put together one of the most important catalogs of Algerian music. This catalog includes the biggest stars, who have mostly embraced the struggle for independence.

The beginnings of a music industry in Paris revolved around Ahmed Hachlaf. Hachlaf had moved to France after the Liberation from Nazi occupation to study law. He was hired in 1946 by Paris-Inter radio, for which he was in charge of a daily program intended for North African workers. Guided by the Tunisian actor and singer Mohamed Abdelaziz Elagrebi, the director of the radio service, he learned the basics of the trade. Hachlaf replaced Elagrebi in his role when the latter returned to Tunisia, where he launched the beginning of Tunisian theater. Hachlaf’s radio career ended in 1956, during the strike of hosts responsible for programs in Arabic, who refused to participate in the anti-Nasser propaganda triggered by the Suez crisis. This dissent is a continuous feature in the history of the North African hosts of ORFT and Radio Alger: many of them were censored for broadcasting nationalist chants for the Algerian National Movement (MNA) and for the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN). Many, including Hachlaf, also joined the ranks of the FLN.

While Saint-Severin is a part of the Maghrebi musical history, the political and cultural heart of Maghrebi cultural dignity is the working-class neighborhood of Barbès.

While Saint-Severin is a part of the Maghrebi musical history, the political and cultural heart of Maghrebi cultural dignity is the working-class neighborhood of Barbès. For a long time, Barbès and its surrounding neighborhoods have been known to be shopping areas for the working classes. As early as 1856, Jacques Crespin decided to set up in the heart of this neighborhood, at 26 Rue de Clignancourt — the Galeries Dufayel, a shopping center for the inhabitants of the neighborhood that enabled working-class families to acquire, with their monthly welfare payments, furniture and other consumer goods. Indeed, the interwar period had permanently modified the neighborhood with the arrival of the first Algerian immigrants in the French capital. The businesses of North African nationals, more particularly Algerians, flourished with the arrival of community cafes and the opening of several jewelry and fabric stores by Jewish North African families.

At the same time, other neighborhoods were experiencing a new economic and cultural boom with the arrival of new communities: Belleville’s neighborhood quickly became a place of commerce for Tunisians with the arrival of the first Jews from Djerba and La Goulette, while Gennevilliers and Asnières appeared as the flagship towns of the Moroccan community became known as “Little Agadir.” Barbès, nevertheless, retained its character of “capital” by mixing together all the communities. La Goutte d’Or was the scene of the first riot in the history of Paris since World War II, on July 30, 1955 on the day of Eid, when Algerians of the neighborhood besieged the local police station to protest against yet another violent arrest, during the tense atmosphere at the start of the war of liberation. Even before armed struggles began for the decolonization of Maghreb in the 1950s, the neighborhood became a meeting and recruiting place for political activists from the North African Star and the various pro-independence parties, before naturally becoming a rear base for the FLN as well.

Ben Boubaker Funambulist 2
Zoudj Mdafaa by Mazouni produced by Cleopatre label in the Goutte d’Or. / Photo by Hajer Ben Boubaker.

It was in this working-class neighborhood that a real musical and cultural revolution was born — it is also in Barbès that the first shop specializing in Maghrebi music was located. In 1946, the Madame Sauviat boutique had specialized in classical music and sheet music, but when made aware of the potential represented by the North African workers in the neighborhood, decided to sell Maghrebi music. It was a phenomenal success. In the aftermath of the war, French labels abandoned their Arabic catalog, giving way to North African producers. In 1958, the Algerian producer Ahmed Soulimane opened La Voix du Globe at 120 Boulevard de la Chapelle in order to compete with Madame Sauviat. The maps in the following pages attempt to read the musical industry by mapping some of the historical music labels of Barbès. The majority are located on Boulevard de la Chapelle, which is the gateway to the neighborhood. The Rue de la Charbonnière, at the entrance to the Goutte d’Or, also hosts several labels. Here, we can understand that this street is also an important shopping point.

Through these two maps, I wanted to pay tribute to the record stores and producers who, since the 1940s, have allowed my people to listen to songs from our countries.

This still-incomplete mapping is part of a desire to tell both a local and transnational story of music, and such long-term work speaks to the desire to write a more local and daily history of immigration through the neighborhoods of the 18th arrondissement. The information collected over time was thanks to my private collection of vinyl records, as well as that of Bachir, of the DJ duo Toukadime — great specialists and “vrais kiffeurs” of Maghrebi music. These archival sources were crossed with biographies and testimonies of producers such as the Algerians Kamel Hammadi and Mohand Annemich, as well as the Moroccan Brahim Ounassar, and former activists of the Arab Workers’ Movement who contributed to Radio Soleil Goutte d’Or. I also consulted some catalogs and records when I was working in the Arab music department of the National Library of France. The two maps on the following pages only partially cover the era of cassette, an era which produced work undoubtedly at even more colossal proportions, as this medium was about the free circulation of music. The cassette fascinates me perhaps even more because it is part of a capacity to bypass the rules and to emancipate oneself, which is common to my community in its French migratory history. Finally, through these two maps, I wanted to pay tribute to the record stores and producers who, since the 1940s, have allowed my people to listen to songs from our countries. Hence this map is a visual means to reinvent our imaginations and sounds, spatial and emotional connections. ■

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Ben Boubaker Funambulist 4
Map of labels at the scale of Paris. The Goutte d’Or frame indicates the location of the zoomed map on previous pages (see keys with their captions below). / Both maps by Léopold Lambert based on information collected and drafted by Hajer Ben Boubaker (2021).


01 /// DISCO MUSIC, 120 Bd de la Chapelle: Mohand Anemiche is a music producer. He was the owner and operator of record companies such as Disco Music in Barbès located at the same location as La Voix du Globe, since he bought the label from Si Ahmed Souleimane. Disco Music is where he sells records, cassettes and albums from the Maghreb and the Middle East. He is also a producer of Kabyle music and owner of the Numidie Music label.

02 /// SAFI, 51 Bd de la Chapelle: Label of Algerian music belonging to an Algerian named Mr. Safi. The collection of Algerian music includes music from the Aurès. He has also signed some Moroccan artists.

03 /// LA VOIX DU GLOBE (SAWT EL ALAM), 120 Bd de la Chapelle: First music store owned by an Algerian in Barbès. Founded by someone who is designated as Si Ahmed Souleiman (Si is an honorary mention of respect in Maghrebian Arabic) in 1958, when he first distributed records produced by other labels before launching his own musical production. He was close to many artists such as Egyptian musician Abdelhalim Hafez, and gained considerable wealth. His name was mentioned as the author/composer of several of the songs produced by the label. The transfer of copyright from the artist to the benefit of the producer against payment of an upfront fee was common at the time.

04 /// MADAME SAUVIAT, 123 Bd de la Chapelle: Madame Sauviat’s shop which sold records and musical scores. The owner was surprised to observe many Kabyle workers entering her store and asking to listen to Algerian music. This is how, one day, she advised one of them to go meet the artistic director of large music company Pathé Marconi, Ahmad Hachlaf. This worker was Slimane Azem who later became the biggest star of Kabyle music. He recorded his first title, A meuh, a meuh around 1947-1948. Madame Sauviat later continued to advise and inform Ahmed Hachlaf of musical trends in the neighborhood.

05 /// CHANDOR, 116 Bd de la Chapelle.

06 /// PARIPHONE, 116 Bd de la Chapelle.

07 /// SANTANA, 102 Bd de la Chapelle.


09 /// كازافون CASAPHONE, 32 Rue de la Charbonnière: Casaphone was a Moroccan label based both in Casablanca and Paris.

10 /// SAWT HILALI, 8 Rue Caplat.

11 /// LA VOIX DE LA JEUNESSE, 18 Rue de la Charbonnière: Algerian Label.

12 /// DISQUES KARIM, Rue de Chartres: Label headed by Si Ahmed Ben Ali. The address was also the headquarters of the Menebhi sub-label, which published records of music from the Aurès and the Sahara. The shop is the exclusive distributor of the Algerian label El Kawakib

13 /// CLEOPATRE, 14 Rue de Chartres: Opened in 1971-1972 by Moroccan Brahim Ounassar, former photographer and illustrator of 45 rpm vinyl records. He then began to produce on his own, in particular the first 45 rpm vinyl records of the queen of the rai, Cheikha Rimitti. Cleopatre was the distributor of several labels from the three Maghreb countries in France, but its production is essentially centered on Moroccan music.

14 /// SONO L’AUBE, 2 Rue de Tombouctou: Maghrebi music label.

15 /// RADIO SOLEIL, 35 Rue Stephenson: The first free immigration radio station founded by former members of the Arab Workers’ Movement (MTA). It was the first Parisian radio station to broadcast raÏ and to offer a program of Arab and Amazigh music. The development of immigration radio stations contributed to the popularization of artists during the era of cassettes. Nevertheless, radio recording was able to compete with record stores. The 1980s were a turning point in Maghrebian song: it is the end of the “song of exile,” a musical genre specific to North African immigration to France.
This theme is no longer addressed in the songs, especially thanks to family reunifications obtained during this time.

16 // TRIOMPHE MUSIQUE, 39 Rue Doudeauville: Triomphe Musique, whose logo is an arc-de-triomphe under a blue sky, was a label specializing in Kabyle music that published records, cassettes, and albums.

17 /// SONODISC, 10T Rue Bessières: Paris-based label and company created in 1970 by Marcel Perse and Michel David. SonoDisc stands for “Société nouvelle de distribution des disques.” It appears on releases mostly as distribution company of African, Caribbean, and “World” music.

18 /// BAZAR KOUHOU, 67 Rue des Moines: Moroccan record sellers, in particular of the El Feth label.

19 /// FATIFILM, 72B Rue des Martyrs: Directed by Monsieur Soulimane, sells records.

20 /// EDITION AZWAW, 55 Rue Marcadet: Kabyle music label in one of the entrance gates of the neighborhood. The label released records, cassettes, and albums.

21 /// DAR EL ADEB, 70 Bd de la Villette: Algerian label

22 /// LES ARTISTES ARABES ASSOCIES, 27 Rue Mercœur: In 1972, Ahmed Hachlaf, former director of the Arab catalog of Pathé-Macorni, created his own company: Les artistes arabes associés (AAA) associated with the famous slogan “Le club du disque arabe” (The Arab Record Club). He produced many Arab and Kabyle artists and distributed over a thousand songs. He was one of the most famous specialist in Arab music. He was the author of the first anthology of Arab music in French and published Anthologie de la musique arabe, with his brother Mohamed El Habib, in 1993.

23 /// BORJD EL FEN, 6 bis Passage Raguinot: Algerian label based in France, managed by Said Louahche.