קונסטנטין – העיר
Constantine is a city in Algeria. You would think, perhaps, that Constantine Jews mean Algerian Jews. Nope. The Jews from Constantine are from a unique and special community in North Africa.
According to my little research, Constantine is one of the oldest Jewish communities in North Africa, as it can be traced from the Roman Empire. Jews came to Constantine after the destruction of the second Temple and settled there. They were also joined later by Jews coming from Tunisia, and Jews coming back from Spain and Portugal (after the Inquisition). The music of Constantine comes from Maaluf, Sefardic, Arabic, and Hauzi music, plus more. It’s completely different from the better known Moroccan and Mizrahi musical styles.
In 1962, the Jewish community of Constantine (and of Algeria in general) disbanded, with at least 90% of them moving to France at the end of the Algerian war.
After I moved to Israel, I went from synagogue to synagogue to listen to all types of music. I discovered many: Ashkenazi, Carlebach, Yerushalmi… After some time, I realized that no one really knew much more than Yerushalmi, Carlebach and Moroccan styles. Even when I met other descendants from Constantine Jewry, they also did not know much about their own culture.
I often feel that people of different cultural groups disdain the music of other groups, or may even not enjoy themusic of their own culture. However, when I was studying and living in the Ulpan right after my aliyah, I lead a minyan on Erev Shabbath. I wouls sing in the tradition of Constantine Jews, and it was special – everyone liked it. I’m not saying it’s better. But it’s different.
There are already websites about Maaluf music, cooking and traditions. I want to build a website focused exclusively on the music we sing in the synagogue, which includes prayers, songs, torah reading and more.
I am dedicating this website to those wanting to discover the tunes of the Jews of Constantine, but also for the people from Constantine who want to learn more their heritage.
All the content published is not specifically from Constantine. Some pieces can be common to all Algeria, all North Africa or even the whole Sephardic world. But what is true with the singers from Constantine is that they are attached to every detail of every song. And when I hear them, I can feel that some notes were forgotten, and that we should record these almost-forgotten notes and spread them
You will find on the website many audio resources about anything that can be sung. It includes the prayers, psalms, meguilot, parashiot, etc.
Hi everyone. I’m called Binyamin Meir Khalifa. I was born in 5750 (1989) and made aliyah in 5772 (2012) from Toulouse, south of France. I used to pray at the Palaprat synagogue, with a majority of Constantine Jews.
I consider myself as an “International Jew” which I define as a Jew who admires all Jewish culture, from all countries, from all categories, cooking, music, dressing, history, etc. I met my wife in Yerushalayim who came directly from Mumbai in India, from a family of Bnei Israeli Jews. We got, at the time I’m writing, a first son born in Yerushalayim, barukh Hashem. Most of my friends are from Brazil, the United States or Israel. But I have many other friends from all over the world and I like to see the beauty in the culture they represent. I lived on couscous on Shabbath, and I met someone who lived on chicken curry on Shabbath. Then I discovered what is living on gefilte fish, cholent, kubbeh, etc.
I am a front end developer and web designer. The fact to love music and Constantine music in particular and to get the knowledge of how to make a nice website pushed me to create this project. I hope you will like it.
From the fact that I’m not a native English speaker, please forgive me if I make some mistakes in English or if the Hebrew translation comes late.
You will find here different types or tunes: first, Constantine tunes simply, and it is the base of this website. These tunes can be sung in a basic way, as we sing it as a group, but also sometimes in a customized way as a Chazan singing alone would do. Finally, we will also include tunes that are not coming from Constantine, but that the Constantine Jews were singing while they were living in France. They can come from Sephardic tunes, Moroccan, or even Ashkenazi or Portuguese!
I try my best to find chazanim who have a good knowledge of singing, who remember the notes and can play on the variations of the song. Baruch Hashem, I was able to know amazing people. The resources are for most of them recorded with a Blue Yeti microphone and have a good quality, they are then saved into FLAC files but you will hear sometimes older versions taken from old K7 or from recordings older than the purchase of the microphone. The chazanim, sometimes advanced in age, also have their technical difficulties but always do their best to give the best experience to the audience 😉
התהלים – הייחוד של החזנות של קונסטנטין
All chazanim agree on one thing: Constantine has the particularity to transfer something that no one else can through the Tehilim.
The Tehilim have, like in the rest of the Tanach, precise rules regarding taamim. These ta’amim differ from the rest of the Tanach (Taamei Emet, Iyov-Mishlei-Tehilim). Besides didactic rules, there is no real specified tune for each taam like for the Parasha or Haftara where a Rabia stays a Rabia in the notes. There is a basic tune, which we can listen during a classic “Lechu Neranena”, based on a specific musical scale (maqam – in this example, Maqam H’sin).
Every singer can allow himself to use a Maqam as a base, then choose the notes that he wants. He will respect the breaks and the taamim of continuation (mesharetim), and will be able to transplant his personality in the tehilim which he’s singing and pass a very particular feeling which he will choose and will be defined by. It gives infinite possibilities to present th Psalms of the King David in the most beautiful way.
This type of construction of singing is also utilized in other songs, the most famous being Nishmat Kol Chai.
The Rav Yaacov Guedj gave me this description: “The cantillation of the Psalms is all specific to the Constantine community. One of the reasons seems coming from a musical influence coming from the Maaluf on one hand and from a certain Saharan musicality on the other hand. The emphasis of the voice seems to come from a desert horizon”.
The content is first published in English and copied on the other languages as is. The translation will be done as soon as possible. It is possible that you see a page in Hebrew with English content first and later on in Hebrew. This affects only the inner content of the pages (descriptions, etc). The musical content stay the same and the titles are always translated before publication.
טיפה על שירה
Just a little personal note about singing: I will agree with the fact that not everyone can get a voice. But I will say that everyone can sing properly enough with a bit of training.
There are some basic rules I would like to share in here that are quite important and it looks like a lot of people forgot these small principles:
- Not everyone can sing from the stomach. But it’s not a reason to sing from the nose. Everyone can sing from the throat at least. I see now children who, after seeing adults singing from the nose, sing also from the nose and think it’s the normal way!
- While singing a song, one should stay on the same tone. We do not begin a song on a specific register and in the middle go higher or lower. Same thing when people sing together in the synagogue: at the same time or even when one person sings after another tehilim on Shabbath morning, we should not change the register of the synagogue (we’re not talking about the case when one is not able to adapt too much his singing)
- We should follow the lead of the Hazzan. He is the one who gives the tune and he is the one who gives the tone. We should not change the tone he’s singing on or impose our tune on him.
How the words are written on the website. I’m still figuring out the simplest way depending on the language (English, French). Even though sometimes the letters are different and written in English the same, it’s not for grammar purpose but only for simple search in the website. For now, here is what was decided:
- “ח” and “כ” will be written “ch”.
- “ש” (shin) will be written “sh”
- “צ” will be written “tz”
- The first sheva will be written (tefilot instead of tfilot)
- Letters are limited (shabat instead of shabbath)
- At the end of each word finishing with the sound “a”, we will write “a” and not “ah” (Hagada)
- The “ה” will be translated into “h”
- The name of G.od (the shem havaya or Tetragrammaton) will be written Hashem
If you have anything to share (music, suggestion, comment, correction, etc), don’t hesitate to contact us =)