Category Archives: Maghreb culture

Rai music

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Raï is a music style that originated in Oran,Algeria in the 1930’s,from Bedouin shepherds. It appealed to young people who sought to modernize the traditional Islamic values and attitudes. Regional, secular, and religious drum patterns, melodies, and instruments were blended with Western electric instrumentation.

Singers of raï are called cheb (shabab, young) as opposed to sheikh (shaykh, old), the name given to Chaabi singers.

In the 1980s, raï began its period of peak popularity. Previously, the Algerian government had opposed raï because of its sexually and culturally risque topics, such as alcohol and consumerism, two subjects that were taboo to the traditional Islamic culture.

The government eventually attempted to ban raï, banning the importation of blank cassettes and confiscating the passports of raï musicians. This was done to prevent raï from not only spreading throughout the country, but to prevent it from spreading internationally and from coming in or out of Algeria. Though this limited the professional sales of raï, the music increased in popularity through the illicit sale and exchange of tapes.In the 1990’s, restrictions were placed on raï, and those who did not submit to censorship faced consequences such as exile.

The first musician with international success in the ’80’s was Cheb Khaled followed by Cheb Mami.

Later in 1990’s,  funk, hip hop, and other influences were added to raï, especially by performers like Faudel and Rachid Taha, the latter of whom took raï music and fused it with rock. Taha does not call his creation raï music, but rather describes it as a combination of folk raï and punk.

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