The Legacy of the Black Tunisians

Featuring Salah el-Ouergli

Par les chemins productions, 2011 {PLC101}

Media book

48 pages color booklet

French/english text

7 tracks/total lenght 45’53”

The CD


Salah el-Ouergli, last master of the Stambeli

  1. Puce Sarkin Koufa [04:59]

  2. Puce Debdabou [04:57]

  3. Puce Tabla [05:59]

  4. Puce Les Saints [11:31]

  5. Puce Bousaadeya [07:04]

  6. Puce Bahriyya [07:11]

  7. Puce Gambara [05:32]

Salah el-Ouergli:

gumbri, gambara, ṭabla, vocal

Belhassen Mihoub:

shqasheq, bendir, vocal

Nouredine Soudani:

shqasheq, gaṣaa, vocal

Lotfi el-Hamemi:

shqasheq, kurkutu, vocal


Matthieu Hagene

Artistic coordination:

Soumaya Hagene

Liner notes:

Richard C. Jankowsky

Play list

Audio samples

The stambeli of Tunisia, a music and trance healing tradition close to the algerian diwan or the derdeba of the moroccan gnawas, is about to sink into oblivion.

Often sidelined of the tunisian social life, sometimes even despised or persecuted, the stambeli kept a depth and an authenticity that make it still one of the most fascinating music of Tunisia.

After the death of the yenna (master) Abdel Majid Mihub in September 2008, his only disciple, Salah el-Ouergli, is now the stambeli’s secrets custodian of Dar Barnu, a former communal house in the medina of Tunis.

With the phasing out of stambeli, it is a whole part of the tunisian black community’s culture that will disappear. This disc presents a unique and to now unreleased sample of a vast repertoire consisting of songs praising the “white” saints of the Maghrebic Islam and evocations of “black” sub-Saharan spirits in Hausa or Kanuri languages. To the sound of gumbri, this three-stringed lute with powerful bass, or the tabla, a double-headed barrel drum, accompanied with the shqasheq, the iron clappers, the yenna is sending down the spirits among the assembly and make them dance...

At first he was a mere spectator, then participant in the secrecy of his room where he ceaselessly tried to reproduce the melodic sequences he heard at Dar Barnu on a small gumbri he made himself. He later learned the words when Abdel Majid Mihoub took him on as apprentice. Unknown to his master, he also took part in ceremonies led by other masters, who allow him to play the gumbri from time to time, both amused and amazed by the young boy’s abilities. Instead of running after a football with the other kids of his age, he preferred to spend his days and nights listening to the stories told by his elders, musicians, healers or simple followers, thus taking in a rare and priceless stock of information. Little by little, Salah takes his place within the society and is honored to be named yenna (master) by his elders. After the death of Abdel Majid Mihoub, even though there are still a handful of gumbri players in Tunis, he is today the unique representative of a musical, cultural, and spiritual knowledge that is in danger of disappearing.

Salah el-Ouergli was not born at Dar Barnu, the last communal house that served in the past as site of refuge for freed slaves and other displaced sub-Saharans, but in the house across the street. Being so close, and as a young child intrigued by the comings and goings of these disturbing yet fascinating characters, he decides to cross the threshold of the house and enter into the world of Stambeli.

Look through the booklet