Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Rai’ Category

Abderrahim Askouri — Moroccan Pop Innovator

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In 2002, I spent a year in Morocco researching the emerging alternative music scene in Casablanca. Most of my attention went to the creation of a new genre of  Moroccan music that soon carried the  label “fusion.” Heavily influenced by French fusion bands, such as Gnawa Diffusion, Moroccan fusion blended Moroccan genres (cha’abi, gnawa, houari…) with rock, rap, salsa (and other international–mostly Black Atlantic–genres). Fusion also built upon earlier musical blendings. One of the roots of fusion was the music of the ’70s, which included the folk revival that included bands such as Nass el Ghiwane. Less remembered were solo urban artists, such as Abderrahim Askouri, described to me as a “musician’s musician” from Hay Mohammadi in Casablanca who influenced Nass el Ghiwane and other folk revival artists and also Khaled who spent a couple of years refining his chops in the clubs of Casa before returning to Oran and becoming a rai superstar.

Record producer Maurice El Baz played me some Askouri tracks but despite an evening searching cassette shops in popular quartiers of Casa, I never obtained my own copy of Askouri’s work. I just stumbled upon a posting by Abdel Halim El Hachimi on his Tales of Bradistan on Abderrahim Askouri and had to pass it on. Now, I got to get a copy of the cd Abdel so luckily found.  A final note Abderrahim Askouri’s nephew Younes Askouri is a very talented singer-songwriter working in Casa today, a member of the 21st century fusion scene (YouTube clip below).

Abderrahim Askouri -- click on album cover to read the story


Written by Jeffrey Callen

February 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Another interesting article on Rai (from Hawgblawg)

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Another interesting article on Rai that dispels or at least “problematizes” some of the widely-accepted ideas about Rai as a genre (at least our conceptions of Rai in the West). I don’t agree with everything Ted (Swedenburg) writes but most of it is spot-on. From Ted’s Hawgblawg, which is always interesting and often provocative — check it out!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Some Myths and Misconceptions about Rai Music

There have been few posts on this blog of late in part because I’m trying to focus on the manuscript for my book, Radio Interzone. Lately I’ve been working on the chapter on rai music, to be based in part on articles published previously, some with Joan Gross and David McMurray others on my own. (See the bibliography at the end.) Lately I’ve been reading or rereading a number of articles on rai, both journalistic and academic, gathered over the last three years or so. In the course of doing so I’ve noticed a number of myths and misconceptions, that keep being repeated, over and over, in the literature. I attempt to correct the record here, as best I can. Or maybe I should say, I attempt to problematize the truisms that circulate, endlessly, about rai. Some of what I write re-states what I/we have written before. (And I must admit, I/we are responsible for circulating some of the errors.)

1. Rai means “opinion” in Arabic. From this claim flows an understanding that the lyrics of rai convey the opinion of the singer, in a fairly straightforward and unmediated way. Such “opinion,” moreover, is for the most part, direct, and, by implication, oppositional.

Rai of course literally means “opinion” or point of view. But in this musical genre, the significance of the word is not so much its literal meaning but that it functions, in many songs, as a word or phrase like “oh yeah,” “yeah, yeah,” or “tell it like it is.” That is, it serves to emphasize whatever point is being made. (see Mazouzi, 269) [to read on click here].

Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 18, 2010 at 11:48 am

Posted in Genre, North African Music, Rai

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The Cheb Nasro Story — Interview of "Lovers' Rai" Star by Abdel Halim El Hachimi (Tales from Bradistan blog)

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Lovers’ (or Sentimental) Rai is the least studied and least appreciated style of Rai outside of Algeria. It had none of the markers of the other Rai styles that captivated Western audiences and commentators — it was not “traditional,” a “music of protest,” and did not show “World Music eclecticism” — but it was the most popular style of Rai in the ’90s in Algeria. Abdel Halim El Hachimi’s interview of one of its most popular singers turns needed attention to Lovers’ Rai.

The Cheb Nasro Story

After the departure of Khaled and Cheb Mami to France at the end of the 1980s, two other singers became the figureheads of Rai music in Algeria. One was the late, great Cheb Hasni and the other was Cheb Nasro. These singers specialised in a newer and slower form of the music, which often became known as “sentimental Rai”. It is impossible to exaggerate the impact that Hasni and Nasro had across the Maghreb and both were enormous stars in their homeland. However, neither were signed by international record companies and their fame was almost solely among north Africans and their compatriots in France, Belgium and Holland.

With its lack of international crossover success, this new generation of Rai music did not gain the recognition it deserved. Partly this was because there was no promotional machine behind the artists and also because the musical production values had slipped quite a lot. Although there were still great musicians living in the country after the outbreak of civil war from 1991, it became increasingly difficult for artists to develop their careers and live performances dwindled away. What is clear is that amongst westerners, there barely exists any knowledge or understanding about the last twenty years or so of Rai music and the artists who made it.

A few days ago, I conducted an extensive interview with Cheb Nasro himself and he talked very candidly about his career and his experiences. This is a story that has never been told before and gives us an illuminating insight into the harsh reality of Rai music in Algeria. [To read more go to Tales from Bradistan]

Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 17, 2010 at 11:16 pm

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