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Algerian Jewish pianist Maurice el Médioni, 95, blended musical genres

He played with French artists, both Jewish and Muslim, throughout his career, as he kept up with his other livelihood as a tailor.

Maurice El Médiouni. Source: YouTube screenshot.
Maurice El Médiouni. Source: YouTube screenshot.

Maurice el Médioni, a celebrated Jewish pianist and composer whose repertoire blended musical traditions, died on March 25. He was 95 years old.

El Medioni was born in the Jewish quarter of Oran in French Algeria on Oct. 18, 1928. He came from a family of musicians; his uncle, Messaoud El Medioni, an Algerian band leader and the proprietor of Café Oran, was arrested in France by the Germans in 1943 and died at the Sobibor concentration camp. His father, Jacob, who ran the Café Saoud in the Jewish quarter, died young, leaving his mother, Fany, to raise him and his three siblings.

He began to learn piano at age 9 and grew his expertise in multiple styles, notably Latin, jazz and boogie-woogie. As his career developed, he started writing music and playing as part of the Jewish cabaret scene. All the while, he also used his skill as a tailor to make a living.

In 1953, he married Juliette Amsallem.

When the Algerian war began, El Medioni joined many Jews who fled the country, resettling in Paris and then Marseille in 1967. He had already gained notoriety at home and redeveloped his work outside his native country, particularly influencing younger musicians.

He didn’t start recording until his 60s, gaining attention for a fusionist approach with his 1996 album “Café Oran,” a tribute to his family and heritage. His next release, “PianOriental” would come in 2000, and a third, “Descarga Oriental” in 2006.

In 2007, El Medioni brought together Algerian Jewish and Muslim musicians for a film, album and concert series called the El Gusto Project. He played alongside Fench artists, both Jewish and Muslim, throughout his career, as he kept up with his other livelihood as a tailor. He also recorded with the New York City music group, the Klezmatics.

In 2011, in his 80s, he and his wife moved to Israel.

His memoir, From Oran to Marseille, edited by Max Reinhardt and translated by Jonathan Walton, was published in 2017.

El Medioni is predeceased by his wife, who died in 2022, and survived by three children and five grandchildren.

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