Interview“I wouldn’t have gotten there if…” “Le Monde” asks a character about a decisive moment in his life. This week, the singer talks about his childhood in Algeria and his role as a channel for Arab-Andalusian music.
After a sixty-year career, Enrico Macias still fills theaters and sings, even when his voice plays tricks on him, like at the Olympia in early April. At 83 years old, the singer of peace and fraternity is also worried about the possible victory of Marine Le Pen in the presidential elections.
I wouldn’t have come here if…
… If he were not the son of a great violinist, who in Constantine played in the Raymond Leyris orchestra, “Cheikh Raymond”, the greatest representative of all time in Arab-Andalusian classical music. My father was not so in favor of me becoming a musician, although he was internally proud of playing the guitar.
During my little brother’s bar mitzvah, my father asked Cheikh Raymond to listen to me. I improvised in front of him, and he found it convincing enough to invite me to stop by his record store a few days later, a curious store, which only sold records of his orchestra.
I went there, but without a guitar. So he put an oud, an oriental lute, in my hands. I had never played this instrument before, but I was so afraid of disappointing him that I quickly understood how to use it. “Perfect, next week you play in the orchestra on the radio with us,” concluded Cheick Raymond. He had passed the test.
And here you are, guitarist, at 15…
It was quite unreal to play in such an orchestra. You had to have technique and a lot of memory, because this music, the malouf, is only transmitted orally.
Cheikh Raymond thus became my teacher and I his best student. He was a man as tender as he was severe, a bit like good bread: crusty on the outside, but soft on the inside. He wouldn’t have gotten there if he hadn’t noticed me, if he hadn’t seen the potential in me. And he certainly would have made me his heir if history hadn’t decided otherwise.
Did your father teach you to play the guitar?
No. I learned on my own. The guitar was given to me by my paternal grandmother, Djermouma, when she was about 13 years old. She also played an important role. My grandparents had lost a son, Gaston, at the age of 8 years. He was my father’s little brother. When I was born, my grandmother wanted to call me Gastón, like him. She tried to console herself for this duel and loved me with an inconsiderate love.
So I spent a good part of my childhood with her and my grandfather, in Jemmapes, today’s Azzaba, a town where they had a fabric store. This caused a bit of conflict with my mother. She understood her mother-in-law’s wish for her, but was frustrated that she didn’t have me with her. When my brother Jean-Claude was born, two years after me, my mother transferred all the love she had for me to him.
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