In the small town of Testour, one can visit a luxurious house called “Habiba Msika’s house”, named after a famous Tunisian singer. But truth is this 1920’s star has never set foot in there…
An elegant patio, delicate columns, shiny tiles… “Habiba Msika’s house” is rather unusual in Testour (80 kms west from Tunis
), a small farm town founded by Muslims driven out of Spain in the 17th century.
This house recalls the tragic fate of the first “star” of Tunis.
Born in a Jewish family, Habiba Msika committed herself to music very early. She went mostly for entertainment music.
Habiba Msika thrilled her audience with her charming voice, her naughty songs and her outstanding personality.
Singer and actress
But more than being a musician, Habiba Msika’s ambition was to be a great stage actress.
She began a theatre career in the company of Mohamed Bourguiba, who was the older brother of Habib Bourguiba, the father of Independence. She performed the greatest playwrights: Shakespeare, Molière, Victor Hugo…
In these plays, she often performed male roles, and people were sometimes shocked by her performance – for example when she played the role of the prophet Joseph, or when she was Romeo and kissed her Juliet on the stage…
With the Bourguiba brothers, she also shared nationalist convictions. She was even arrested by the colonial authorities one night after she chanted pro-independence slogans on the stage, with a Tunisian flag wrapped around her.
Among Habiba Msika’s fans was a group of young people from wealthy families. They called themselves the “night soldiers” (asker ellil) and claimed to be her protectors – as Habiba Msika's performances caused many scandals and put her in danger.
A tragic end
Among her admirers, to her misfortune, there was also an old man from Testour named Liahou Meimouni.
This man was rich and acted as her patron. He generously financed her international tours and songs recording.
But this generosity was not disinterested. He believed that she would agree to marry him and he built a small palace for her in his hometown… the house that is known today as Habiba Msika’s.
However, the star never intended to live in it. One day, the old man understood that she didn’t want him. So he decided to murder her by setting fire to her apartment.
That is how her career was tragically cut short on February 21st, 1930. She was only 27 years old.
Victim of the passionate reactions she triggered, victim of a jealous, possessive old man, Habiba Msika became a true myth of this effervescent period.
If you go to Testour, don’t forget sparing a thought for her and visit this strange house. Today, it is a cultural centre where young children can learn music…
A book: “Les Valeureuses : cinq Tunisiennes dans l’histoire” by Sophie Bessis, éditions Elyzad (in French)
A song by Habiba Msika: “Habibi lawel”