A brief history of raï

Cheikha Djenia Kebira & Hadj Zouaoui – El Ghadi

Raï is a form of popular Algerian music that emerged in the 1920 out of Oran, known as “little Paris” for its melting pot of culture and vibrant nightlife. After WWI, raï spoke to a younger generation looking for a change in traditional Islamic values and attitudes. Regional folkloric traditions merges with Western electric instrumentation and lyrical content that addressed social issues like disease and oppression from colonial powers in the region. Post-Algerian independence, the sound continued to modernise, bringing in influences from neighbouring Egypt, the US, UK and France, with the introduction of synthesizers, drum machines and electric guitars.

Over the next three decades, Raï’s reception continued to oscillate between the underground and mainstream depending on the government’s views on sexuality, alcoholism and cultural liberalism, of which raï dealt with directly. As such it continues to be seen as a form of protest music, steeped in the social and political history of Algeria.

Here, Acid Arab chart the history of a sound that heavily influenced their new album, Jdid, out 18th October on Crammed Discs.

Where does your love for raï stem from?

We’ve always been fans of all kinds of music, but only when we started out with our latest album project did we start to deeply look into this genre. We spend a lot of time digging and listening to music through internet or records, and we also try to do some research about the artists we like. Slowly but surely our knowledge is growing.

What marks out a raï record, compared to the rest of the genre?

Raï is about life experience. What makes a good Raï record, are the emotions (and their power / quality) that the artist manages to transmit through the music, the melody and the lyrics…and the mixture of all that.

What raï record has left the biggest impression on you as a DJ, and why?

Derna L’Amour Fi Baraka by Cheb Hasni, his first album in 1989. It gave us our first big emotions with this genre.

…and as producers?

Kutché by Cheb Khaled & Safy Boutella. It blends so many influences that we realised Raï could be much more than we thought.

Acid Arab’s brief history of raï in five tracks

Cheb Khaled – Sbabi

Obviously Khaled is the superstar of raï music, and there is so much to explore in his Algerian discography. We chose this song from his self-titled 1992 album, which marks the explosion of raï music in France, in England and soon all over Europe. We don’t like very much how his style evolved in France, but this breakout album recorded in the States still sounds up to date.

Rachid Baba Ahmed – Mahlali Noum

One of our main interests in raï is music! Lots of synths, beatboxe, 80s production… Rachid Baba Ahmed, from producing brothers Rachid & Fethi, was into modern gears and modern sounds, when his name is on the tape it’s a guarantee of good music. Here he delivers a surprising musical trip. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1995.

Cheb Zahouani – T’Nayfi

Zahouani is one of the singers who helped raï gained a proper bad reputation in Algeria, because of his alcohol song ‘Moul el Bar’. So shocking it became an immediate hit and probably created a long line of drink-related theme songs.

Kouider Bensaid – Andi Mesrara

Bensaid was among the first new raï singers in Oran, he was already there when Khaled or Mami broke out, but his success remained in Algeria. Though he’s an old school guy, we love this 1991 song that our keyboard player Kenzi has played a lot on the tourbus.

Cheikha Djenia Kebira & Hadj Zouaoui – El Ghadi

Unknown stars of traditional raï, they belong to the long line of genre experimenters who help to craft the Oran sound and styles. This song is special to us, since we used a bit of it for the rhythm of our track ‘Rimitti For’.

Acid Arab – Jdid LP is out 18th October on Crammed Discs.

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