Elhadj Elarbi Bensari & Rodwane

Gharnata - Congres du Caire 1932

01 Touchia Raml Maya [x] (x) 5:40
02 Haraq adhana [x] (x) 6:05
03 Chems alachiya [x] (x) 6:03
Rani Nahwak [x] (x) 6:02
05 Ya ahla Andaloussine [x] (x) 3:00
06 Ya moqabli [x] (x) 3:00
07 Nas'har ala hadar [x] (x) 5:31
08 Kon fil ochqi ala hadar [x] (x) 6:15
09 Ala men takoun [x] (x) 3:09
Qatr ennada [x] (x) 3:16
11 Tahya bikoum [x] (x) 3:23
12 Qom tara ezzahir [x] (x) 3:03
13 Fah elbanafsej [x] (x) 3:20
14 Alwardou yaftah [x] (x) 3:11
15 Mal elghamam [x] (x) 3:14
Tlemcen yal aliya [x] (x) 3:11
17 Hajou aliya elafkar [x] (x) 3:02
18 Qatalouni min ghairi [x] (x) 3:00

CD total time: 74:25

Club du disque Arabe - AAA 098
P. 1995

Comment: Recordings of the Algerian ensemble at the Conference in Cairo 1932

English Liner Notes from the CD

Andalusian branch of classical arab music

The Tlemcen «Gharnata» School

Elhadj Elarbi BenSari and his son Rodwane

Recordings of the Cairo Congress of Arab music (1932)

Much research work into Arabo-Andalusian vocal music is
available nowadays, so we won't dwell upon its origin, history
and structures. Vocal music is called either sanaâ (profession) -
because of the strict rules governing its structures - or elala
(instrument), a means to distinguish it from country music that
makes use of no other instruments than drums and pipes. This
music is what has outlived the golden age of Muslim Andalusia, a
heritage handed down from generation to generation by the
people who were fond of it. Unfortunately, it has lost part of its
original splendour and purity, influenced as it was by the local
music of the different peoples it came in contact with. On the
other hand this traditional classical music accepted new styles
which, in turn, induced further developments. Thus, different
schools came into existence, those of Constantine and Algiers,
that of Tlemcen, topic of this our article.

At the beginning of this century the most famous artist of the
Tlemcen "gharnata School" was ElHadj ElArbi Bensari, born in
1857. His family, the Ouled Ali BelHadjs, had left the country to
live in town. He started as a musician under Sheikh Boudhalfa. At
the Sheikh's death, he took over conducting the ensemble. He
proved able to compete with any of the masters of that time
however great they may have been, such as Bakchi, Baghdadi,
Triki, Maqnin, Bendali Yahia etc...

Music, poetry and songs were much appreciated in Tlemcen
whose citizens were mostly craftsmen of all kinds. Yet, none of
these people wanted their children to become professional
musicians nor singers. But, taking no heed of the reprobation, an
increasing number of people wanted to become artists. Thus, the
traditions of Tlemcen spread westwards; they were particularly
well received in Nedroma which can boast that it has had many
masters of traditional classical music. We'll mention Sheikh
Almargouni, the inspired blind poet who composed many
qasidah-s that are still appreciated nowadays, such as «Ya
layemni fli'ati». Sheikh Rahal too, a contemporary of his, used
to write the poems he would set to music. A few years later
Sheikh Kaddour BenAchour Elidrissi became famous for his
qasidah «Ouelfi meriem». Unfortunately, his voluminous
collection of poems has not been published yet. Nedroma is still
known nowadays as the home of many artists, great poets and
brilliant singers, among whom we'll mention Sheikh Mohammed

To the east of Tlemcen, another town has kept the «gharnata»
tradition alive : Mostaganem, which has known many famous
artists too, such as the Sheikhs Ben Dadda, Mohammed
Bensaadoune, Hmida BenKedadra and the singer Si-Hmida
Snoussi, who all lived at the beginning of this century. A few
decades later, Sheikh AbdelKader Bentobji set to music the text
of the famous qasidah «Elmersoul» (Ah ya ouelfi effi ou qasri
ettihan) written by Sheikh Belkacem Ould Said Eldjennadi.
Born near Azazga in Kabylia, the latter was still very young when
he left his village for Algiers where he was taught music by
Sheikh Ben Ali Sfindja. Later he left for Mostaganem where he
stayed until his death (1954). In his lifetime he handed down the
«gharnata» tradition to many students who are presently the
masters of the genre - all well-known sheikhs : Mohammed Ben
Hmidech,Lazoughli, Kaddour Ben Slimane, Hadj ElGhali Ould
Bey, Ali BenKoulla.

The Tlemcen School has played an important part in the cultural
development of Algeria and in promoting its musical
heritage.This was done through the many clubs and associations
founded to ensure the keeping and teaching of the Algerian
classical music.

Sheikh Elarbi BenSari too has done his best to keep the genuine
characteristics of this music alive. He was first to have it recorded.
As an Algerian delegate, he took part in the proceedings of the
Cairo Congress of Arab Music (1932). He presented the
gharnata genre of Tlemcen which, according to tradition,
originated in Granada - hence gharnata. He was accompanied
by his son Rodwane and a large ensemble of remarkable
Algerian musicians.

It was as early as 1929 that Rodwane was given an opportunity to
have some of his interpretations recorded: it was on the occasion
of his father's recording sessions his accompaniment had «caught
the ear» of the musical director of the Gramophone Company.
No sooner were Rodwan's records released than the young man,
from being an unknown artist became a celebrated singer,
admired for his voice and original interpretation. From then on
he met with unfailing success. Yet, in 1954 he retired from
commercial music for personal reasons, and has lived in Morocco
ever since. We are told that, as a muezzin, he is heard now and
then calling for prayer.

In our days there are quite many famous artists in Tlemcen, a
town known for its great musical activity. Among them we'll
mention the following Sheikhs : Briksi, Saqqal, Bachir Zerrouki,
Mahmoud BenSari - another son of Sheikh Elarbi's -
Boumediene BenqBil, Abdelghani Malti and Boumediene
BenZineb who all have devoted their lives to both the gharnata
genre and a genre sprung from it : the hawzi genre.

M.E. Hachelaf
Algiers 1982

after «Anthologie de la musique arabe»
published by Publisud - Paris. Translated by M. Stoffel

Adapted for the web by Lars Fredrikson with the kind
permission of M. Hachelafs son,
Amin Hachelaf.
Copyright remains with the author!