When I first began to get drawn into the world of North African Jewish musicians, I often wondered (sometimes aloud) about the fate of Arabic-singing musicians in Israel. For the second to last night of Hanukkah, we listen to the sounds of one of those musicians: Petit Armand.
Petit Armand, sometimes referred to as Ptti Armo, Ptti Armon, or even Patti Armo, was born Armand (Amram) Peretz in Casablanca (?), Morocco in 1936. He began singing seriously at the age of 18, joining up with famed Jewish qanunist Salim Azra and performing at the still stately movie theaters of Casablanca at mid-century. Although it's unclear if he recorded throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he certainly made a name for himself both in the Maghrib and in France as he toured some of the larger venues at home and abroad. In 1967, Petit Armand, like many Moroccan Jews, made the move to Israel.
Petit Armand was a specialist of Salim Halali’s repertoire. This was not uncommon for his generation of vocalist. Not only did Petit Armand give close study to Halali but so too to Samy Elmaghribi, and other greats of the Maghrib. The result was often a Maghribi musical intertextuality that leaves the listener grinning from ear to ear. Take a listen to Petit Armand’s “l’Oriental,” recorded for the Azoulay brothers in 1970. Here Petit Armand gives us a beautiful take on the song originally written by Youcef Hedjaj, recorded famously by Line Monty and later by almost everyone - from Lili Labassi to Enrico Macias. And then, at the eight-minute mark, Petit Armand launches into Spanish and a Spanish-inflected mawwal, dips into Salim Halali’s "Sevillana" and "Rit ezzine" before dazzling us with one more pass at l’Oriental.
I want to also include a live performance of Petit Armand so that you can see the man in action. Here he is in Israel doing a killer cover of another Salim Halali hit: “Bin el barah ouel youm.”
Finally, for those who weren’t aware, Petit Armand also happens to be the father of Kobi Peretz, mainstay of the Mizrahi scene. Last year, the two did a very musika mizrahit take on Samy Elmaghribi’s “Omri ma nensak.”