Tunis - Moroccan Aznavour’s daughter, Yolland Amzallag: “The foundation is a symbol of harmony beyond ethnic and religious boundaries.”
Tunis – Moroccan Aznavour’s daughter, Yolland Amzallag: “The foundation is a symbol of harmony beyond ethnic and religious boundaries.”
Tunis – Yolland Amzallag is the daughter of a leading figure in Arab-Andalusian music, Moroccan Samy Elmaghribi, born Solomon Amzallag. Along with her professional activities (public relations and translation), Amzallag is very committed to defending cultural diversity and the Judeo-Moroccan tradition, especially through the Mémoires et Dialogue Association, which aims to promote reconciliation between Arab, Jewish and Berber communities in Montreal by drawing from Morocco’s multicultural model. In 2003, she received the prestigious Glassco Prize for translating from English to French a text titled “The Ethical Canary-of Margaret Somerville.”
She interpreted her father’s songs at various musical performances in Canada, Morocco, France, Israel and the United States. In 2008, she participated in the 5th Atlantic Andalusias Festival in Essaouira, Morocco, which was dedicated to the memory of her father and where she and her mother received a royal decoration on his behalf. “I believe that music and poetry in general are powerful vehicles of feelings that can influence people’s mood and frame of mind and… contribute to inspiring peace in the world,” said Yolland in an interview with Morocco World News on the official launch of the Samy El Maghribi Foundation.
MWN: Can you give us an idea of what the Samy El Maghribi Foundation is in a few words?
YA: The Foundation’s mission is to preserve, promote and spread the legacy of Samy Elmaghribi’s poetic and musical work as an integral part of the Andalusian culture of the Maghreb as well as a symbol of harmony between the diverse expressions of this culture, beyond ethnic and religious boundaries.
MWN: Why have you chosen to officially launch the Foundation on the occasion of the 7th anniversary of El Maghribi/Amzallag ? Correct??
YA: This was actually a coincidence, or rather a “convergence of planets.” I created the Foundation with my family a few years ago, shortly after my father’s passing. The Foundation took part in a few commemorative events, but it wasn’t officially registered until last August. In the fall, Dr. Stephanie Tara Schwartz, Research Director of the Museum of Jewish Montreal (MJM), presented me with the idea of creating an exhibition focusing on my late father’s life and work as part of the MJM’s participation to a Montreal event called “Nuit blanche,” which takes place every year at the end of February. This year, the anniversary date of Samy Elmaghribi’s passing, according to the Jewish calendar, was February 21. The opening of the exhibition around that date seemed like a good sign for us to assert the life and continuity of my late father’s work by publicly launching the Foundation.
MWN: What are the objectives of this foundation?
YA: The Foundation’s objectives are: to foster and promote links between Muslim and Jewish communities of the Maghreb through the music and personality of Samy Elmaghribi; to highlight and broadcast Samy Elmaghribi’s work throughout the world; to promote the public’s appreciation of Andalusian music through high-quality concerts, perpetuating the artist’s style; to contribute to research on Andalusian music and support the creation and interpretation of musical pieces in the genres adopted by Samy Elmaghribi (melhun, hawzi, ala, gharnati); and to promote the education of emerging talents in diverse Andalusian musical traditions.
MWN: During the royal decoration for your father, you said that he incorporated his loyalty to the Jewish-Moroccan culture in all facets of his work. How? Could you give some examples?
YA: My late father was always faithful to his Moroccan culture, and he was a custodian of the authenticity of its expressions, whether in the sacred or the secular realm. He made it a point to study Andalusian music from its sources, with the great masters of his time, like sheikh Mohammed Ben Ghabrit and sheikh Ben Aissa El Oufir. He also studied with masters of the melhun and hawzi genres before creating his own style of interpretation and composing his own songs.
His loyalty to the kings of Morocco, from Mohammed V, to Hassan II to the present king, Mohammed VI, stood unaltered throughout his life and migrations. He composed a series of patriotic songs, including Alef Hniya Ouhniya, which he wrote especially in honour of Mohammed V upon his return from exile in 1955. I guess it is this loyalty to the musical tradition and to the people of Morocco that makes him an ambassador of Moroccan culture and that explains why Moroccans, both Jewish and Muslim, identify so closely with his music.
MWN: How did your father, the Moroccan Aznavour, arrive to combine two opposing genres of music: secular and sacred? And what is the impact of this paradoxical but original choice to coexist between different groups?
Despite the fact that they performed in different settings, Samy Elmaghribi and Cantor Salomon Amzallag were one and the same person, whose integrity was never challenged by the apparent dichotomy between the sacred and the secular. His allegiance to God (Hashem) was matched by his allegiance to Art, and he aspired to spiritual elevation both as an artist and as a practicing Jew.
Throughout his career as a popular singer, he was often called upon to lead religious services, and taking a cantorial position in Montreal seemed to be part of a natural course of evolution for him. He explained this in a song titled “Enghenni Wenselli,” in which he says “ômri ma n’sellem fi fenni/naâbed Rabbi ou n’jhi enness” (I will never renounce my art/I will serve God (Hashem) and give joy to people). Obviously, he adjusted his lifestyle when he became First Cantor of a major Montreal synagogue (the Spanish & Portuguese Congregation), but this role never prevented him from giving concerts throughout the world.
As reflected in his songs, he was a defender of universal human values and was dedicated to all his audiences. I think the fact that such a popular star was able to reconcile the many sources and expressions of his own identity and to reflect this in his music sends a strong message of harmony and peaceful coexistence between different people who share similar cultural backgrounds.
MWN: How can Judeo-Moroccan and Arabic music in general contribute to peace in the world?
YA: I believe that music and poetry in general are powerful vehicles of feelings that can influence people’s mood and frame of mind. A military march and a romantic ballad certainly don’t elicit the same behaviours. The songs of the Andalusian repertoire shared by Jews and Muslims in the Arab world, whether they be medieval ballads in Arabic or biblical Psalms in Hebrew, are odes of praise to beauty, righteousness and benevolence. I believe that this wonderful music, and the timeless values it carries, can only contribute to inspire peace in the world.
MWN: What are your next projects?
YA: Our immediate project is to compile Samy Elmaghribi’s archives and to create a larger exhibition about him and his era, designed to travel throughout the world. In the medium term, we plan to organize a series of tribute concerts in Canada, Morocco, France, Israel and the United States. In the long term, the Foundation hopes to establish a music institute open to talents from all communities in order to ensure the preservation and continuity of the musical genres that inspired Samy Elmaghribi. We also have a long term documentary or biopic project, which cannot be undertaken until the Foundation is well funded.