Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, two Moroccan producers who changed the 70s music industry

Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo are two Moroccan-born producers and song writers who rocked the music industry in the 70s. Their approach to music has given birth to one of the most famous gay reference songs. Flashback.

Henri Belolo and Jacques Morali with the Village People in 1978./Ph. DR
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Disco lovers in the 70s probably knew that the «village-chiefs» of one the famous all-male band, the «Village People», were Moroccans. As surprising as it may sound, Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo, two writers and music producers born in Casablanca, co-founded the 70s ground-breaking band that once sang «Y.M.C.A». The two French-Moroccan young men met in the early seventies and had the idea of making disco a more mainstream musical genre.

Henri Belolo, born in Casablanca in November 1936, a French music producer alongside Jacques Morali, a Morocco-native songwriter, producer and arranger were both committed to writing the first chapters of disco music in the USA. Belolo debuted his career as a music producer and got into the music industry during the 60s in both Morocco and France. He was introduced to the world of music in the 40s in his homeland. In an interview published by Disco-Disco, an online platform that pays tribute to disco pioneers, Henri Belolo stated that when he «was living in Morocco as a young kid, Americans came during the end of World War II. And they established an American base and they had their own radio».

«So, I was very young and listening to the American radio. That's how I got exposed to American music at that time (...) American music was Glenn Miller, and all the music of the 50s».

Henri Belolo and the music industry

Belolo's love for music did not stop there and as he moved to France to pursue a higher education, the young man stumbled upon the opportunity and seized it. «I finished my studies and when I was in Paris I met a guy called Eddie Barclay, he was running a very large company, Barclay Records, that he ultimately sold to be Polygram», said Henri Belolo adding that the man «asked (him) to represent him in Morocco».

In the sixties, the young man flew back to Morocco working as a representative of Barclay Records, Atlantic and other artists and musicians. By the end of the 60s, he decided to go back to Paris where his career took a different turn. «I started to work with Polydor Records. I did almost everything there and in five years I ended up being one of the youngest presidents of a major company. It was about the end of 1970», Belolo told the same source.

At the beginning of the 70s, the Moroccan-French music producer decided to quit his job and work as an independent. He founded his own record company that he called «Carabine Music» that mostly «dealt in French repertoire, back catalog, Jazz and Classical», as he explained.

However, everything changed when Henri traveled to the USA in 1973. He visited New York, Philadelphia and had the chance to attend most of the trendy night clubs in the country. It was a new chapter for his company and also for the international music industry. In 1975, Belolo met Jacques Morali, who worked as a young composer back in the time.

Meeting Jacques Morali

In the same interview Belolo recalled their first meeting saying : «He ( Jacques Morali) came to my office to offer me his services. He was very enthusiastic and he always dreamed of going to America».

«I said to him 'Jacques, when you've got an idea, you come back to see me and I'll take you to America'. And he said 'Oh, I don't believe you'. I said 'yes. I will do it'».

Indeed, as promised Morali came back at the beginning of 1975 to see Henri Belolo but this time he wasn't empty handed. Based on Belolo's account, the young Moroccan-Jewish man had the great idea of working on a Brazilian song called «Brazil» from a musical sung by Carmen Miranda, a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, dancer, Broadway actress and movie star who was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s, and record it for the use of night clubs.

Producing disco music

The idea was well received by Belolo who took Morali with him to the USA to make his dream come true. «I took Jacques Morali with me and we flew directly to Philadelphia and to the studio, Sigma Sound. There I called all my friends and told them about the idea and within two weeks I did a casting», said Belolo. It was the start of their fame in America. The two friends founded the Richie Family, an American vocal group that managed to achieve several hits during the disco era. Their first hit was «Brazil» that conquered the discotheque scene in 1975. The song was the first to be among the top 5 hits in the Billboard charts for Disco records by three African-American girls namely, Cheryl Jacks, Cassandra Wooten and Gwendolyn Oliver.

After the big hit the two Moroccan-born men achieved with the Richie Family, they decided to move to New York, where another idea was born. «Jacques and I became songwriters (…) we were going every night to all the clubs including the gay clubs», recalled Belolo.

«I was talking to the gay community about what they liked and their lifestyle, what they wanted to listen to musically and what was their dream, their fantasy».

Village People

It is at that moment that the two producers and songwriters decided to do something to represent the gay community in the New York area who tried to expose their sexuality. Belolo indicated in the same interview that «this is how we came with that idea of putting together a group of five males where each one has his own character. And we named it the Village People, because we discovered these characters in the Village».

The Village, a neighborhood on the west side of Lower Manhattan in New York city was an iconic place for the gay community in the 70s and the Village People band brought it a new meaning. The disco band known for the costumes worn by its members was portraying an American masculine cultural stereotypes targeting the gay audience.

After casting the members of the Village People band, composed of Felipe Rose (dressed as a native American), Alex Briley (soldier), Mark Mussler (construction worker), Lee Mouton (leatherman), Victor Willis (police officer) and Dave Forrest (cowboy), they released their first hits.


The new band has enabled both Henri Belolo and Jacques Morali to successfully rock the music industry in the USA with songs like «Macho Man», «In the Navy», and their biggest hit, «Y.M.C.A.». The latter has become an anthem and a reference song for the gay community and movement in the 70s. Released in 1978, Y.M.C.A became number 2 on the US charts by 1979 and reached the first spot in the UK. The song, considered as the group's biggest hit, managed to sell 10 million physical copies worldwide.

However, despite their success, the two Moroccan friends split by the 1980s as the disco era had come to an end. «In '84 and '85, this horrible thing called AIDS began to show its face and Jacques was scared about it. So he decided to move to Paris, France. So, I moved back with him and we stopped producing in America», declared Belolo.

A few years later, Jacques Morali succumbed to his illness and passed away in 1991.

Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo remain, despite everything, a reference in the history of music and most precisely disco music. They will be also remembered for their interest in the gay community back in the 70s.

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