RAI: THE REVOLUTION
Popular Rai artists (L to R): Cheb Hasni, Cheikha Rimitti, Khaled
This past weekend I went to Anahid Sofian’s Saturday class (www.anahidsofianstudio.com). Anahid is the best because she exposes us to all different forms of Middle Eastern and North African dance and music, like Rai. In the past I have danced to Rai, and Saturday she brought it back – woop!
SO WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH RAI????
Rai is cool because of it’s content and it’s beat. Rai literally means “opinion,” it’s full of passion and expression. It’s rebel music, sung by the youth for the youth about poverty, police harassment, survival, alcohol, sex and love. In a way, in terms of message, it can be compared to hip-hop in the early 90’s – Tupac, Biggie, Nas, Public Enemy… that kind of thing.
Anahid explained to us that Rai rhythms are mostly 2/4 and 4/4 with the heavy beats on the 2 + 4 like Western music instead of the 1+ 3 like Middle Eastern music. When dancing to Rai you use your whole body to express yourself, it’s very loose and free with African tribal influences when appropriate.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM???
Rai originated in Oran (“Wahran” وهران) Algeria in the 1930’s a city that holds a special place in the hearts of Rai artists. There are many songs about Oran, we love this anthem all about Wahran by Khaled click here for English translation.
Oran was divided into quarters in the 20th century: Jewish, French, Spanish and Arab, which gave the music scene lots of flavaaaaa.
Rai singers are called Cheb(m)/Cheba(f)or”young,”. Cheikh(m)/Cheikha(f) signifies “old”. Their names change during the course of their careers according to their age for example Cheba Rimitti is now Cheikha Rimitti.
REBELLION AND REVOLUTION
In the 1920’s there was a strict code of conduct for women in Oran. If you didn’t follow the code, you were an outcast, like the Chekhas: a group of women known for their alluring dress and their provocative lyrics. One of these women was Cheikha Rimitti, “The Mother of Rai.” Read more about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheikha_Rimitti
By the 1970’s (post Algeria’s independence) there was more imported music like Reggae (shout out to Bob Marley!) and music from the U.S., Europe and Egypt. This led to the addition of trumpets, electric guitar, synthesizers and drum machines turning into what is called Pop Rai.
Pop Rai spread like wild fire worldwide and was/is especially popular in France, not just in the Maghrebain community, but also to non- Arabs.
1/2 of the Belly Blog Team spent a bunch of time in France and from personal experience can say that most French people know Khaled and Cheb Mami as their music regularly passes on the radio. After having lived in Paris and becoming close to both Parisians and Maghrebains alike, it can be confirmed that Rai music is totally a part of the pop scene in France and its a big deal. These Rai stars are also known for their public scandals and bad boy image.
In the 1980’s Rai reached the peak of its popularity. The government tried to ban it by banning the import of blank cassettes. They also confiscated the passports of Rai musicians, but this couldn’t stop the progression of Rai – fight the powers that be!
In 1988 Algerian youth flooded the streets in protest of state-sponsored violence, high cost of staple foods and to support the peoples Algerian army. “El Harba Wine”, a Rai song by Khaled, (about running away from your country, but where are you going to go?? The song was a re-make of an amazing song by the famous Algerian-Berber singer Idir— the original song was called Zwit Rwitt ) was adopted as their anthem.
President Chadli Bendjedid blamed Rai for the uprising that left 500 dead….sound familiar *cough* hip-hop *cough*
THE BIGGIE OF RAI
In the 1990’s restrictions were placed on Rai. If you did not submit to the restrictions you were forced to exile.
One exiled Rai singer was Cheb Hasni, he rose to fame when he was asked to record with Cheba Zahouania. Their song “Beraka,” put them on the map. Hasni performed mostly outside of Algeria like many other Rai performers. He was known for his “Rai Love” style (other singers of rai love are Cheb Tahar and Cheb Nasro). Hasni received death threats from Islamic fundamentalists and extremists because of the controversial lyrics to his songs. On September 29th, 1994, he was the first Rai musician to be murdered outside his parents home at the age of 26 . The following year Rai producer Rachid Babal Ahmed was assassinated in Oran.
WHY I <3 IT:
I love Rai because of its spirit of revolution and its quest for change!
Check out my Spotify playlist of some of the best Rai songs!
GOULOU LMAMA Cheb Rayan Feat Jalal El Hamdaoui
Khaled – “Chebba”
*Gazelle= post contributor.