The city of Constantine and its Jewish community
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. Sometimes you may even see published tunes originally Ashkenazy or Portuguese for example. But what is true with the singers from Constantine is that they are attached to every detail of every song. And when I hear some songs in the synagogue nowadays, I can feel that some notes were forgotten, and that we should record these almost-forgotten notes and spread them
Additionally, you will find on this website many audio resources Jewish songs, including prayers, Psalms, Megilot, weekly Torah portions, etc.
Hi everyone! I’m Binyamin Meir Khalifa. I was born in 5750 (1989) and made aliyah in 5772 (2012) from Toulouse (in the south of France). When I lived in France I was praying at the Palaprat synagogue. The majority of the congregation there are Constantine Jews.
I consider myself an “International Jew”. I define this as a Jew who admires all Jewish cultures, from all countries and all categories, such as, cooking, music, dressing and history.
I met my wife in Jerusalem. She came directly from Mumbai, India, from a family of Bnei Israeli Jews. As of now, we have one son, baruch Hashem, who is a native Israeli (and Yerushalmi). 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 every culture they represent.
At first, my life was “couscous at every Shabat”, and then I met someone for whom it was “chicken curry at every Shabbath”. Since then, I have discovered people who are having gefilte fish, cholent, kubbeh, and many more different types of dishes at every Shabat.
Professionally, I am a front-end developer and web designer. My professional interests combined with my love of music inpired me to create a website spreading the knowledge of Constantine music in particular. I hope you will like it, enjoy it, and learn from it.
The tunes and the singers
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 😉
The Tehilim – The particularity of the Chazanut of Constantine
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”.
If you have anything to share, such as music, suggestions, comments or corrections, then don’t hesitate to contact me =)