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Born in Oran, Algeria, in 1928, El Medioni grew up in a Sephardic community. His father and uncle ran a cabaret nightclub in Oran's Jewish quarter, not unlike Rick's Café in the film Casablanca. Taking musical cues from French pop songs and the Jewish/Arabic Andalusian music around him, El Medioni taught himself to play the piano at the age of 9. Then as a teenager during World War II a bar owner hired him to play for the American soldiers who had arrived to liberate Algeria from German occupation.