By: Micha Keynan
Minutes before midnight, before they extinguish the moon , and before turning off the lights, the phone rings from Paris, it rings in French. “Monsieur Keynan, Enrico Macias on the line.” Clearing of the throat. My French is stuck in my high school quicksand, “Comment allez-vous?” I hear Macias across the Atlantic. “Mercy, mercy, et vous?” Croaking frogs gulp, my eyes deviate from their sockets. “J’ai quelques questions?” (Walla, I flow.) “It’s Okay”, I hear Monsieur respond in English, and I am suddenly on solid ground.” We can do it in English or Hebrew!” he says with a thick accent.
Chansoner Enrico Macias lives in France, but his frequent visits to Israel and his warm relationship with the country reveal his heart. He will arrive here on December 1st to sing for a warm and loving Israeli audience at the Haim Saban theater (Haim will be sitting in the front row.)
Macias, born “Bemazal Tov” Gaston Guernsey at the city of Constantine, Algeria, was his homeland. His father was the violinist in Sheikh Raymond’s band. Sheikh Raymond also happened to be the father of Susie, Macias’s future wife.. Macias, born into music, followed his father’s path and studied guitar with Sheik Raymond. His friend named him Enrico, which grew to become his stage name. Enrico recalls, “Without Sheikh Raymond, I would not be today Enrico Macias”. His love affair with Suzie started when he was 15 and she was 13. Several years later, they married. Susie had suffered from heart problems and at the age of 18 had the first open-heart surgery ever performed in Paris. Although doctors told her she could not conceive she managed to give birth to two kids, a boy and a girl, against all odds.
Underground independence Algerian movement fighting burst against the French colonialism. Muslims slaughtered Sheikh Raymond and in turn, Macias, his friends, and many Jews understood that the homeland Algeria was not a safe place for them anymore. In 1956, Macias left for France. At age 23, he settled in Paris and began his musical career. He took his beloved Algerian songs and adapted them to the French taste. He was a poet of nostalgia for people, culture, places, and especially to his home where he was born and raised. At first he appeared in cafes and small clubs, gaining many fans; then finally in 1962, he made his first record.
Macias’s songs became the voice of longing of North African, Jews in France and Israel who abandoned their beloved homeland and adored his music. Macias became, in a few years, one of the top singers in France.
Macias toured and had great success, first in France and later throughout the world. His concerts filled auditoriums such as, “Olympia, Paris”, “, Dynamo Moscow Stadium,” “Carnegie Hall “in New York and “Albert Hall” in London; as well as, Japan, Canada, Spain, Italy, Turkey and of course Israel. His musical career over the years made him an international artist, admired and sought-after for 55 years and still going.
Among his hits all these years are:
Enfants de Tous Pays
Oh Guitare, Guitare
La Femme De Mon Ami
Les Millionnaires Du Dimanche
As an international success, Macias was considered a person that carries a universal message of peace and brotherhood among peoples and for that he was honored with “The mark of the Legion of Honor” by the French government in 1985, was a candidate for “World Ambassador for Peace and Protection of Children” UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 1997 and received a special medal from the Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz and Peres in 2006 to support Israeli troops.
Macias appeared more than forty times in Israel, his second home. From the mid-sixties on, his popularity grew. Enrico Macias became the soundtrack of many childhoods and leaves memories of the faces of our parents weeping by an old record player playing one of his wonderful nostalgic songs. “I am very proud for my small contribution to the history of Israel,” he answers my question about the special relationship to Israel, “I will continue to maintain a love relationship with Israel as long as I live, nothing can change my love for Israel, not money, not fame, or anything else. I’d give my blood and life for Israel.”
He appeared voluntarily in front of soldiers and joined the paratroopers, with whom he crossed the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur war. In 1978, he was invited by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Egypt to appear in front of the Pyramids to celebrate the peace treaty with Israel. From the 70’s to the 90’s Macias continued touring the world with his successful albums.
He wrote a poem in memory of Anwar Sadat’s assassination. Then the next song in 1995, sung in memory of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The sky fell on Macias, one bleak day in 2008, when his beloved wife Susie died after a long struggle with heart disease. Two months after the death of his wife, Enrico Macias, came to mourn and rest in his beloved city of Eilat. This brought him new and exciting insight. At that time, Macias was planning to go Eilat and set up a musical complex where with a recording studio, a place for artists, and the production of his next album. “My heart is always in Eilat,” Macias insists.
At the club of hotel Harrods Macias was invited to the stage, taking up a microphone, the familiar sounds of his immortal hits began playing. Macias’s singing ‘Oh Guitar, Guitar, caused the guests to get consumed by pleasure. Only his friends realized the strength required for the grieving Macias to grab the microphone again, and yet they were convinced that this was the best cure. In the past, this was music that helped him get over the murder of his wife’s father, Sheikh Raymond, one of the greatest musicians of Algeria. On that day, the music stood by him again, helped him get over the immense pain of separation from the daughter of Raymond, his late wife, Susie. “Music is a drug,” says Macias. “I thought I couldn’t sing again after Susie’s death, but it’s stronger than me. The first time I came to Eilat, was in 1964,” Macias recalls, “It was quite deserted, with only one hotel, a Moroccan restaurant and Rafi Fifson, my first friend in the whole planet who became my promoter in Israel. Fifson recalled the first concert in the amphitheater: “The hall was packed, there was tremendous enthusiasm and somehow, no one had bought a ticket at the box office, everybody just came.” Macias fell in love with the southern city and began visiting regularly. The French population in the city adored him.
Although he had achieved international fame, countless concerts and records, Macias was and still is, a simple man, with overwhelming human and large doses of Parisian charm. He smiles from the heart, tenderly touches his friends, never patronizing and easily creates warm relationships. In Eilat beach, for example, you could find him playing backgammon with a friend. “All great men I’ve ever met - Shimon Peres, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Abba Eban, all were simple,” he explains the attraction. “When I am on my own, it’s a catastrophe,” he admits. “I miss Susie, she was a wonderful woman, generous, with a good heart. All the time she was concerned for children and friends, a fantastic woman.” Three years ago after the death of his wife declared Macias: “I want to live in Eilat, I want to make “aliya”, coming here alone first and then bringing the whole family. At first, they will be here on vacation. I hope they fall in love with Eilat like me and decide to move here as well.”
“Why did you want to live in Israel”? I ask, “I can go to America, or anywhere else,” explains Macias, “but I want to die in Israel. Since Susie died, death does not scare me anymore. I will not die where there is anti-Semitism, Like Jacob and Joseph were in Egypt. They were like kings, and still, Jacob said, ‘When I die, take my bones to Israel, our roots are there. “When are you coming to live in Israel?” I insist on the phone, a minute of silence on the line and then come the answer, “When God wants, when he would give me a sign”. This is not the first time that Macias informs of his desire to live in Israel. Several years ago, he told the Israeli public that he bought land in Rishpon and he intends to live there. At the same time he was told that the plan was constrained because it is agricultural land that cannot be built upon. The difficult bureaucrats may play in favor of Eilat and bring Macias to choose the southern city as their home.
Do not get confused with all this talk about death. Age 73, the sight of Macias does not reveal anything about his age. He created a charismatic international career and is still filled with his Zionism. Macias was always identified with Israel and supports it wholeheartedly and pays for this political identity, even professional prices: “I have canceled concerts, I was not allowed to enter Algeria and even President Sarkozy who is a friend of mine could not help me obtain the visa,” says Macias. “During Operation ‘Oferet Yetzuka’ in Gaza, I was the only Jewish artist who participated in a show of support for Israel in Paris. Immediately afterwards, this decision cost me one of my concerts,” he says and does not regret for a moment the support and the price he paid. My alliance with Israel comes first, when God gave us back the land of Israel, to me it symbolizes the return of the messiah. In my eyes the Messiah is IDF. ”
Macias recently, released a new record that moved many of his supporters. He sang in Yiddish. He learned to memorize the songs. “I did not sing like a fool who does not understand the words and sings like a parrot”. And why is this sudden revolution? I wonder, “I want the Ashkenazi Jews to love my songs as if I’m also an Ashkenazi. And that the Ashkenazim and Sephardim will love each other and prove to the world that the Jews are able to give an example of brotherly love”.
Jewish and Israeli fans in Los Angeles have been waiting eagerly for the arrival of their favorite singer. The town has been buzzing in excitement.