The Blind Luminary of Arabo-Andalusian Music - World Jewish Congress
The Blind Luminary of Arabo-Andalusian Music
Reinette Sultana Daoud (1918 – 1998)

Reinette Sultana Daoud (1918 – 1998), more popularly known as Reinette l'Oranaise, was born in 1918 in the town of Tiaret, Algeria, into a Jewish family, Reinette's life narrative takes form as a captivating symphony of talent and unwavering determination. Despite losing her vision at the young age of two due to smallpox, Reinette overcame her disability, emerging as a musical luminary of her day. 

Her transformative journey from a young girl adapting to blindness to an accomplished musician of international acclaim began at an institute for the visually impaired in Algiers. A pivotal moment arose when her mother, recognizing the potency of her daughter's voice, encouraged her to explore the realm of music. This marked the turning point that would chart Reinette's path towards musical greatness. Under the tutelage of the influential Saoud El Médioni (Saoud l'Oranais), a prominent figure in Arabo-Andalusian music, Reinette mastered instruments like the ʿoud, mandolin, and the derbouka (hand drum). The culmination of her mentor's guidance and her inherent talent led to her emergence as a virtuoso musician. 

All the French colonization of Algerian created greater distance between Jews and Muslims, in part due to the 1870 Crémieux Decree, which extended French citizenship to Jewish but not Muslims. Music was an important forum for Jewish-Muslim collaboration in Algeria. Throughout her career, Reinette performed in both classical Arabic and the local Algerian dialect, although her main everyday language of communication was French. 

Reinette's musicality extended beyond mere technical skill; her memory became a treasury of intricate poems and classical songs she had memorized, a testament to her dedication to the art. Additionally, she adeptly immersed herself in the vibrant raī style of music, renowned for its ability to captivate and uplift audiences. This mastery of diverse styles highlighted her versatility and solidified her reputation as a musician of exceptional caliber. 

The transformative 1940s marked a defining period for Reinette. Joining the all-female orchestra led by Myriam Fekkaï, Reinette's captivating voice found its platform through bi-weekly broadcasts on Radio Algiers. Her enchanting performances garnered admiration and solidified her status as a musical luminary. During this phase, she also established a significant artistic partnership with pianist Mustapha Skandrani, whose melodies harmonized seamlessly with her vocals. 

Among her notable successes, the ethereal "Qum Tarā" (Get Up, Look) stands as a testament to Reinette's mastery of traditional Arabo-Andalusian music. This iconic composition seamlessly merged the richness of classical melodies with her heartfelt delivery, captivating listeners with its emotional depth. 

The period between 1954-1961, in which the Algerian National Liberation Front fought for Algerian independence from France brought tremendous uncertainty to all Algerian Jews as they held French citizenship and were inextricably associated with French colonialism. Ultimately the situation for Reinette and her husband Georges Layani, who she married in 1955 became until and they chose to emigrate in 1961. Like the majority of Algerian Jewry, they settled in France. Reinette went from playing packed concert halls and regularly appearing on the radio to being limited to intimate gatherings catering to the North African Jewish community in Paris and its environs. 

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A revival of Reinette's legacy unfolded in 1985 as France's curiosity about North African culture and its musical heritage surged. Media coverage rekindled fresh interest in her remarkable journey, resulting in invitations for performances on grander public stages. Among these moments, her enchanting performance at London's prestigious Purcell Room shone brilliantly. The presence of the Algerian ambassador underscored her enduring importance and  impact within North African musical traditions.

On November 17, 1998, Reinette Sultana Daoud's melody reached its final crescendo as she departed in the heart of Paris. Her legacy, however, continues to resonate through time. Reinette's life story stands as a testament to unwavering determination, resilience, and an unswerving dedication to her craft. Beyond her technical virtuosity, her ability to seamlessly interweave various musical styles showcased her musical finesse, bridging the gap between traditional Arabo-Andalusian melodies and the crowd-pleasing raï genre. 

Reinette Sultana Daoud's influence on Algerian music remains immeasurable. Her melodies, whether in the intricate compositions of classical songs or the soul-stirring renditions of raï, have touched hearts across cultures and generations. As the echoes of her melodies reverberate through time, Reinette's legacy endures as a tribute to the universal language of music, capable of transcending boundaries, uniting souls, and etching an indelible mark upon the canvas of musical history. 

  • Sweeney, Philip. “ Obituary: Reinette l’Oranaise,” Independent, London ed. (January 28,1999), arts & entertainment sec.
  • Teboul, Annie. “Les musiciens,” in Les Juifs d’Algérie: Images et textes (Paris: Editions duScribe, 1987), pp. 278–279.
  • Sasha Goldstein-Sabbah,“Daoud, Reinette Sultana (Reinette l'Oranaise)”, in:Encyclopediaof Jews in the Islamic World, Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman.Consulted online on 22September 2022
About Algeria

The coastal region of Algerian Jewish communities has been central to the history of Algerian Jews for centuries. From the Roman period, when Jewish traders first navigated the ports of North Africa, to the thriving communities of the Ottoman era, Algerian Jews have been an integral part of the region's fabric.

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