A Brief History of ’80s-’90s Lyonnaise Algerian music

Most of Lyon’s musical scene is composed of men originating from eastern Algeria. This scene was organised around the Place du Pont, a square in the 3rd district of the city. There, the practice of music was cross-regional, with different North African influences but also with local traditions and influences. Music within the context of immigration was a perfect school for musical cosmopolitanism. Moreover, the city was part of a very dense and active network including Paris, Marseille, and other capitals throughout the Maghreb.

This scene exploded in the early 80s, with the development of new recording and creative technologies (audio tape, multitrack recorders; synthesizers, drum machines, effects) – that revolutionised people’s habits, exploding the musical market and accompanying the appearance of a global “pop sound”: electric guitars and derbouka could now coexist and synthesizers replaced the zorna or imitated the accordion, as much as raï or staifi were melted with disco rhythms or funk guitar riffs.

Simon Debarbieux of Sofa Records and Peroline Barbet compiled Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985​-​1997 – out now on Les Disques Bongo Joe.

Where does your love for Algerian music stem from?

I think that every young boy or girl that was born and grew up in France, during the 80s and 90s is familiar with Algerian music. In the case of raï for example, some tunes became true anthems! But most precisely, I discovered this scene when arriving in Lyon in 2014, through a very nice CD made by French radio producer and anthropologist Peroline Barbet, in the mark of a research project driven by a regional research centre (Centre Des Musiques Traditionnelles Rhône-Alpes: cmtra.org) since 2012. Some tapes where given to that center in the late 90s-early 2000 by a passionate musician and collector, Richard Monségu (the real man behind all this!), and Péroline added more tapes – and gathered a lot of information with the actors of this scene – to this fund through her research led by the CMTRA.
I met Péroline and we suggested that this material was worth a vinyl! She came back to me 3 or 4 years later and I we began to work on a new compilation, with shops/labels with which I was closely related: Sofa Records & Bongo Joe.

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

Regarding Lyon, it’s hard to choose; nevertheless, we though that Zaidi El Batni was the most outstanding. He was very popular amongst the North-African community in Lyon, and fully contributed to Edition Merabet success! Zaidi played also a key role in the “modernization” of chaoui music: adding drums, electric guitar, synths, bass… But most importantly, because of his political stance: from the mid-70s, immigration policies in France where hardened; in 1980, a law facilitated the expulsion of immigrants – and this is the theme of this (blood freezing) track.

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

Neither I nor Peroline are DJs – but definitely the tape from which the following track comes from is a killer! There are several killer tracks on this one.

Nordine Staifi – Disco Staifi

Nordine Staifi arrived in France at a very young age. As for many others, his nickname underlies it’s belonging – from eastern Algeria, near Sétif, a region that is the cradle of a popular musical genre, staifi. His artistic legacy was decisive and its modernity aroused admiration, until today: in many of his track, he adapted the very fashionable disco/funk repertoire and typical instruments of the 80s (like the TR-808) to the popular and traditional Algerian repertoires. As early as 1978! Strongly in demand amongst collectors, he’s now considered as pioneer in the blending of Algerian repertoire with funk & disco influence.

Zaidi El Batni – Malik y a Malik (Edition Merabet, 1986)

Zaidi El Batni arrived in France (near Saint-Etienne) during the 60s – where he played music for years in the cafés before being contacted by one of Lyon’s most important label, Edition Merabet. Author and composer of his own songs, they stand out by their vehemence as much as the content of the lyrics: he considers himself as a journalist and reported the social & political events of his time, often denouncing it! This song was written in 1986, after Malik Oussekine, a young Algerian student, was beaten to death by French policemen.

Salah El Annabi – Hata Fi Annaba

This song highlights two central themes recurrent in songs from the Algerian community in France: exile and direct address to relatives left in the home country. It talks about Salah’s hometown, Annaba, and directly addresses his mother. It’s specificity also lies in its refrain: Salah borrows to the Lyon-based composer and electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre the main theme from his world wide hit “Oxygène” (1976)! It shows how much these musicians where influenced by local practices, and interested in mixing it with their own repertoire and influences.

Tazi – 404 Kahla

This song was edited on a 7” in 1972. The title means “black 404” – 404 being a model of car developed by Peugeot from the 1960s. He talks about La Place du Pont, this square around which most of Lyon’s musical life was organized – also a open-air meeting point for the neighborhood’s residents – and the problems encountered by young Algerians bothered by French policemen. Tazi seemingly took his inspiration on true events that he witnessed in 1969. The theme of the car was also a recurring one: unaffordable for most, it was a mark of economical achievement.

Omar El Maghribi – Jen Ai Marre

Probably the deepest of the musicians from this scene! Of Moroccan origin, his nickname asserts a regional, unifying sense of belonging – whereas most of the musicians made use of local references (Staifi = Sétif; Batni = Batna; etc.). He was very concerned about the social and political role of the musician for younger generations: through music, through his texts, he recalls them where they come from, and connects them to the social & political context. The title of this song means “I Am Fed Up”, criticizing the conditions of life of the immigrants: racism, unemployment, discrimination, poverty…

Simon Debarbieux and Peroline Barbet compiled Maghreb K7 Club: Synth Raï, Chaoui & Staifi 1985​-​1997 – out now on Les Disques Bongo Joe.

Tazi & les Noise Frogs – Tbib
Rabah El Maghnaoui – Almouk Tessekrie
Salah El Guelmia – Ma Andiche Zhaar
Zaidi El Batni – Toufla Likouatni
Nordine Staifi – Rappel Sétifien
Mokhtar Mezhoud – youma Hanna
Samir Staifi – Amar A Chifour
Cheb Kouider & Chaba Fadela – Unknown Title
Chaba Nacera – Rouhou Ya Zayrine
Moktar El Djemmali – Ehili Ghasbouni
Chabati Le Jeune – Unknown Title
Amor Hafsouni – Ayit Man Saaf

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