Raymond Leyris better known as Cheikh Raymond, (born on 27 July 1912 in Batna of a Judeo-Berber father and French mother and assassinated in Constantine, French Algeria on 22 June 1961) was a renowned Algerian Jewish musician. He specialized in Andalusian music of Eastern Algeria (known as malouf) and was an expert virtuoso player (a "grand master") of oud (the Andalusian lute) and singer with an exceptional vocal range and widely respected by both Jews and Muslims and given the title of Cheikh (elder) as Cheikh Raymond with the accompanying fame and respect.
Algeria in the Mid- 20th Century
Algeria in the mid- twentieth century was a breeding ground for tension, animosity, and, eventually, violence. At this time, Algeria contained an overwhelming majority of Muslims (apx. 9 million). Many of these Muslims were infuriated with the negligence of the French government in that the Muslims received limited rights and opportunities compared to the Jews and European settlers in Algeria. Any efforts that attempted to socially elevate the Muslim-Algerian population were quickly thwarted. For example, In 1936 the Blum-Violette Law was proposed to give a limited number of Algerian Muslims citizenship; Parliament rejected this law and never implemented it. Many Algerian Muslims were frustrated with their circumstances and national sentiments began to brew within the population.
Cheikh Raymond's father was a Chawi Jew from Batna, and his mother a French citizen. He was abandoned by his mother during World War I when his father was killed. He was adopted by a very poor Jewish Algerian family from Constantine.
He studied the musical style of Arab-Andalusia or "Malouf" music under the guidance of the greats of Algerian music like Cheikh Chakleb and Cheikh Bestandji and launched a famous musical career establishing his own "Cheikh Raymond orchestra" and between 1956 and 1961 releasing more than thirty albums in addition to some singles.
Members of his orchestra included:
- Sylvain Ghrenassia (an expert violinist)
- Nathan Bentari
- Haim Benbala
- Larbi Benamri
- Gaston Ghrenassia (later the renowned international singer Enrico Macias).
The young Gaston joined the orchestra at the age of 15 encouraged by his father Sylvain. Gaston was soon dubbed "le petit Enrico" by the band, with Gaston eventually adopting it as its stage name during his musical career in France. Gaston soon married Cheikh Raymond's own daughter Suzy.
Cheikh Raymond was assassinated on 22 June 1961 by a bullet in the neck, by FLN Algerian nationalists, while he was shopping in Constantine's Souk El Asser (place Négrier) during the Algerian War of Independence. Some[who?] believe that he was targeted to send a message of fear in the existing Jewish community. The event of his death had an impact on the decision to emigrate to France for a great number of the Jewish Algerians, on the eve of Algerian independence.
Cheikh Raymond is still remembered today as an emblem of Malouf music and a martyr for the Jewish people originating from Algeria.
- Biography of Cheikh Raymond Leyris (Hall of Fame of Songs)
- Portrait of Cheikh Raymond (Mondomix)
- Archive of a concert by the Cheikh Raymond Orchestra
- Cole, Joshua. "French Algeria In The 20th Century." Lecture, Ann Arbor
- "Cheikh Raymond (1912-1961)." Cheikh Raymond (1912-1961) - Institut Européen Des Musiques Juives. Accessed April 11, 2018. https://www.cfmj.fr/fr/contenuen-ligne/biographies/cheikh-raymond-1912-1961.html.