He was born to an Algerian family in Constantine, Algeria, and played the guitar from childhood. His father, Sylvain Ghrenassia (1914–2004), was a violinist in an orchestra that played primarily maalouf
, Andalo-Arabic music. Gaston started playing with the Cheikh Raymond Leyris Orchestra at age 15.He pursued a career as a school teacher, but continued practicing the guitar. In 1961, the Algerian War of Independence was raging, and the situation became untenable for the Jewish and European residents of Constantine. Of immense effect on Gaston Ghrenassia was the assassination in 1961 of his father-in-law and musician Cheikh Raymond Leyris by the National Liberation Front (FLN), which appears to have been due to his opposition to the independence of Algeria from France. Gaston left Algeria with his wife, Suzy, on 29 July 1961, eleven months before the end of the Algerian War of Independence, and went into exile in mainland France. He has not been permitted to return to Algeria ever since.
First living in Argenteuil, he eventually moved to Paris, where he decided to pursue a career in music. At first he tried translating into French the maalouf
numbers which he already knew. Later on, he developed a new French repertoire that he performed in cafés and cabarets. He remained, though, a popular interpreter of Arab-Andalusian music and Judeo-Arab songs in France.He adopted the name Enrico Macias. Enrico comes from him being called "petit Enrico" when he joined Cheikh Raymond's orchestra. Macias comes through an error of the record label with which he eventually signed. When asked about his family name on the phone he said "Nassia" (Ghrenassia), but the receptionist misheard the name and wrote Macias. Thus the name Enrico Macias.He made his first recording in 1962 after a meeting with Raymond Bernard of Pathé. The result was the recording of "Adieu mon pays" which he had composed for his beloved Algeria on the boat on his way to France. He appeared on French television and became an overnight sensation. This led to a first tour in 1963 as a second act with Paola and Billy Bridge. His daughter, Jocya, was also born that year.In spring 1964, he performed in the first half of the Les Compagnons de la chanson
show at the Paris Olympia and then undertook a successful tour of the Middle East, performing with great success in Israel, Greece and Turkey, especially in the latter where he still has a huge following today. In Turkey, many of his songs were translated and interpreted by Turkish artists. In 1965, he was awarded the Prix Vincent Scotto, and the following year he sang before 120,000 people at the Dinamo Stadium in Moscow, performing concerts in more than 40 other Soviet cities. He also toured Japan, where he was impressively successful. He recorded titles in Spanish and Italian and was popular in both countries.His American debut, at a sold-out Carnegie Hall, took place on 17 February 1968. He continued to tour the United States, singing in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. In Canada and Quebec, he was warmly welcomed as a francophone artist.In 1971, he returned to the Paris Olympia, then went to the Royal Albert Hall in London, and back to Japan, Canada, Italy and Spain. A second US tour culminated in a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1972. In 1974, he gave ten shows at the Uris Theater on Broadway, and also at the Olympia for the sixth time since his debut.He toured France and went twice to Israel in 1976 and 1978. He was invited to Egypt by the Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat to sing for peace. This came after Macias having been banned from Arab countries for many years, despite keeping his popularity with Arab and ethnic audiences in the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, he sang in front of 20,000 people at the foot of the Pyramids. After Sadat's assassination, he wrote a song dedicated to the late president entitled "Un berger vient de tomber
".In 1988, he had a big hit with "Zingarella
", particularly in Israel and Turkey upon his tour in both countries in addition to South Korea.In April 1992, he tried acting in a play adapted from English, called Quelle nuit
. He also had a role as a local judge in the French TV film Monsieur Molina
.Enrico Macias lost much money through dubious financial services offered by the Luxembourg subsidiary of an Icelandic bank, now under investigation. He is currently trying to recover it. This may be one of the reasons why he came out of retirement.