Traversing Continents and Cultures with Music - World Jewish Congress
Traversing Continents and Cultures with Music
Samy Elmaghribi (1922 – 2008)

Samy Elmaghribi, born as Salomon Amzallag on April 19, 1922, in Safi, Morocco, emerged as a luminary in the realm of Jewish-Moroccan music, leaving an indelible mark on the cultural tapestry of his homeland and beyond. His life's journey, traversing various continents and musical landscapes, shaped him into a maestro who seamlessly blended diverse traditions and melodies, enriching the musical heritage of both Morocco and the Jewish diaspora. 

Born into the Amzallag family, Salomon was the youngest of three sons born to Farha and Amram Amzallag. The family's move from Safi to Rabat in 1926 laid the foundation for his musical voyage. At the tender age of 14, after the untimely demise of his mother, the family relocated to Salé. It was in Rabat that Salomon's ardor for Arab-Andalusian music began to flourish. Self-taught in playing the oud, he soon became a resonant voice within the local synagogue, his melodious chants echoing through the sacred space. 

His unyielding dedication to music led him to the hallowed halls of the "Conservatoire de Musique" in Casablanca, where he further refined his musical acumen under the tutelage of esteemed Algerian masters of Andalusian music. By the age of 20, Salomon Amzallag had relinquished his role as a sales manager, opting to immerse himself fully in his passion for music. His prodigious talent and distinctive voice garnered the attention of none other than King Mohammed V of Morocco, solidifying his position as a favored singer. 

In 1955, while in Casablanca, Elmaghribi embarked on an ambitious endeavor, establishing his very own record label, Samyphone. Initially, the records were pressed in France. The early 1960s saw a partnership with the Israeli record label Zakiphon, renowned for its specialization in Maghrebi Jewish music, which took up the task of pressing and distributing Samyphone albums in Israel. The late 1960s witnessed Pathé reissuing several Samyphone albums from the 1950s, introducing his enchanting melodies to the French audience.  

 "In 1956, post-liberation, 'Allah, wa-Ṭani wa-Sulṭani' became Morocco's anthem, blending devotion to God, country, and Sultan, embodying national pride. (Translated by Chris Silver)"
"In 1956, post-liberation, 'Allah, wa-Ṭani wa-Sulṭani' became Morocco's anthem, blending devotion to God, country, and Sultan, embodying national pride. (Translated by Chris Silver)"

Amidst his burgeoning fame, Salomon faced personal challenges. Whispers of a romantic liaison between the Jewish singer Samy Elmaghribi and a high-ranking Moroccan woman ignited rumors and threats, casting a shadow over his life. Yet, amid the tumult, one figure stood as his pillar of support: King Mohammed V of Morocco, a testament to the transcendent power of his music. 

The year 1960 marked a pivotal juncture as he embarked on a new chapter, venturing to Montreal. By 1967, he had become the inaugural cantor of Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of Montreal, where his melodic reverberations filled the sacred halls for an illustrious 16 years. A subsequent sojourn led him to Ashdod, Israel, in 1984. Here, he sowed the seeds of the Merkaz Piyyut Veshira, a center dedicated to Sephardic music. Serving as its music director from 1988 to 1994, he nurtured a student choir that metamorphosed into the renowned Israeli Andalusian Orchestra. 

His return to Montreal in 1996 heralded a phase of continued global resonance. He graced audiences with his melodious renditions, his voice transcending borders and cultures. In the twilight years of his life, he served as a cantor at the Beit Yosef Sephardi synagogue in New Jersey, while also sharing his expertise on Sephardi liturgy at the esteemed Yeshiva University in New York. His passing on March 9, 2008, in Montreal marked the end of a chapter, but his legacy continued to resonate through his music and teachings. 

The legacy of Samy Elmaghribi endures through the hearts of his progeny. In homage to his teachings and his profound love for music, his children established the Samy Elmaghribi Foundation in Canada. Through his melodies and teachings, Elmaghribi built bridges that transcended cultural, religious, and geographical divides, leaving behind a legacy that ceaselessly inspires, unites, and preserves the harmonious spirit he shared with the world. 

  • Roda, J.; Schwartz, S.T. Home beyond Borders and the Sound of Al-Andalus. Jewishness in Arabic; the Odyssey of Samy Elmaghribi. Religions 2020, 11, 609.
About Morocco

In the winding medinas of Fez and Marrakech, Moroccan Jews have been part of the Kingdom’s vibrant fabric for centuries. The Jewish coexisted with Muslims flourishing as scholars, artisans, and traders from the time of the Phoenicians. By the 1940s, Morocco had the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world.

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