Wednesday, October 25, 2006


In my comments here I told TR that my next post would be on ‘turkopop’. Which I currently have a very unhealthy obsession for. Well I started by wanting to write a post on Turkish pop and raï, another genre of music I absolutely adore. I started with raï which I am more familiar with and have been listening to for quite a while now. And well, midway through writing the post I realised I had written enough to dedicate one long post to raï itself. So that’s what I will do. This post is about Raï. Turkish pop next.


I think I have a thing for world music. I love new sounds and I love songs sung in languages that I don’t really understand. Fusion is cool. No surprise then that I love Norwegian Wood (the book also) and the Buddha Bar compilations (though they have been getting progressively worse, the first couple of albums still sound unbelievably fresh). As of now my world of music is revolving around Middle Eastern sounds. I now have an entire play list of just Turkish and Arabic songs. Good reason for it too, it’s great music.

So, raï. It would be quite impossible for someone not to have been exposed to raï. Remember the song Didi(by Khaled)? That’s when the genre made its big break. I remember visiting my cousin in Bombay over summer vacations and all the silly teenage boys singing “Didi, didi, didi…”after the girls. What with the double entendre Hindi – Arabic meaning and all. (If you don’t know already, didi in Arabic means darling. In Hindi it means sister.) Or even more recently Desert Rose by Sting?

I really became aware of raï music as a genre, sub culture and a complete way of life when I visited Paris. It’s strange the clichés that one has of Paris, because if you look a little beyond the tourist traps and French bistros, the Algerian subculture is all over. A wrong turn somewhere near the Sacré-Cœur at Montmartre and you will find yourself in lanes with Arabic graffiti on the walls, women wearing hijabs shopping at street markets and boys in loose jeans looking like the stereotypical misguided youth. I think I was probably more aware of it because my favourite area of Paris was Le Marais (no, not because it’s the gay/lesbian area of Paris). It has such great atmosphere. Great Museums, the Place des Vosges, the innumerous number of maghrebi food stalls. I spent a ridiculous amount of time there. And then some at the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Paris Mosque (which, by the way, serves amazing mint tea). In all these places you will hear raï. It’s everywhere.

It is very difficult for me to describe how raï sounds but the beats, the instruments, the entire feel of it affirms its origins. You can imagine people singing this kind of music in the dry lands of Algeria; you can smell the salty sea breeze and imagine the sapphire blue of the sea. Well I’ve never been to Oran, but I’ve seen pictures. And read Camus. And when I listen to raï that’s what I see. Maybe, I just have an over active imagination.

In 1998 Khaled, Rachid Taha and Faudel, the three great raï masters got together for a concert in Paris. The live album 1, 2, 3 Soleils is a classic example of what great live performance should be like. Check out the video of one of my favourites Abdel Kader (actually youtube doesn’t do justice to the instruments and the music, so do try and get the track).

Oh and don’t miss Rachid Taha (pictured above) in the red shirt being his usual badass self. He is übercool. No one who has heard his version of Rock el Casbah would ever doubt that. He transcends genre. His track Ida is the perfect example. It’s a terribly bouncy and happy and the background instruments sound just like the bands from those loud Punjabi Delhi weddings - I kid you not. And somehow it sounds fantastic. It makes me want to jump around and dance and that’s saying a lot because I never dance. OK, not never, but I can count on one hand the number of times I have danced in my life. Now if they actually played music like this I wouldn’t be embarrassed to be part of a wedding baarat.
Damn, I wish there was some way I could upload some of these songs.

By the by, Aicha is still the most played song on my iPod. I’m amazed by the fact that I’ve been hearing it for years and am still not sick of it. No wonder they call Khaled the King of Raï. I made C listen to it and she really liked it. Though when actual Arabic raï (Ya Rayah) came on she said, “It sounds vulgar!” Well, it does not. It is fab. Maybe it’s just easier for me to digest because I am Indian and some of the sounds are so familiar.

Oh, and coming back to what I mentioned earlier, Paris is also the hub of raï because almost all the great raï artists live there. Reason? The Islamic fundamentalists back in Algeria oppose raï because you know, it’s irreverent and the songs are about romantic love, drugs, alcohol etc. And it’s not all threats either. In 1994 they murdered Cheb Hasni, a great raï artist.
Now, why do fucks like that exist? Does music bring people anything other than happiness?

Update: I tried to upload some raï but for some reason the hyperlink didn’t work. Anyway, I was googling for sites where you could listen to raï music and stumbled across this one. You can listen and download! Definite must.
Highly recommended Ana Oualache by Cheb Mami. Just listen to it. Simply fantastic. Full of soul. And to think it took forever to download and it’s just so easily available on the net!
Khaled is almost always good. My favourites: Aicha (but of course) and N'ssi N'ssi. Also Taha’s Oh Cherie Cherie. There are also some tracks from the 1, 2, 3 Soleils concert including Abdel Kader.
Hear them out. Tell me if you liked.


Anonymous said...

nice post. abdel kader is a REALLY good song. and i think i've heard the very version you've mentioned too. suggest some others, if you don't mind?

MockTurtle said...

Thanks for the pointers - I have to search for some raï on my Russian mp3 store now.
As for music bringing happiness only, it can also be a great tool to promote social change - remember the 60's?

nitin said...

Um... the link to the wikipedia article for Raï is broken.
I can totally relate to your love for foreign music. Back when I was in the Middle East, I loved listening to the local radio. Their play-list usually mixed Arabic pop with traditional music and it made me very happy.
Over here I'm usually tuned into this traditional Persian online radio station that plays excellent music along with another station that plays staggeringly impressive contemporary classics. Consequently, my cousin thinks she's in a restaurant whenever she enters my room.

Szerelem said...

cyberswami: :D It is good. Actually the original is sung by Khaled but I have only heard the concert version. It has so much energy, I don't think the actual version could match up.
Try the songs I mentioned in the update. Rachid Taha's Barra Barra is on the soundtrack of Black Hawk Down and is a great arabic rock.

MT: Very true. In fact raï means opinion and is in a sense similar to rap. I think Rachid Taha is great exapmle of a musician who brings up a lot of important issues in his songs. No wonder the Islamic fundametalists dont like the genre.

Nitin: Fixed the link...thanks! I would be very happy too if the radio played Arabic pop and traditional music!
And oooh Persian music!!You must give me pointers on artists to follow if possible.

Panacea said...

Great post! I've never been too much into this kind of music and I have to admit that Khaled is the only big rai artist that is actually present on my itunes and I really like him.

I should go and get hold of some of the songs you've suggested :)

nitin said...

Here's the link to the radio itself. It works best on Winamp, but it aint necessary.

km said...

Great post.

BTW, the dudes over at Rough Guide (the travel books) do an excellent job at compiling music from various regions. Their collection of Rai/middle eastern music is simply brilliant.

And yeah, Le Marais rocks.

(Not-so-minor nitpick: world music? Why must we continue to use that word?)

Szerelem said...

Pan: If you like Khaled do try the link I posted in the update. (It was broken before and I fixed getting sloppy). It has some nice stuff. And I think you would really like Ana Oualache. Tell me if you do hear some of the songs.

Nitin: Thanks for the link! haven't hear much yet but it does sound good.

km: thanks for the reference to the Rough Guide compilation. Will try to get my hands on it.
Ah, I was waiting to be nitpicked about the use of world music. Well, I used the term only because I could think of no other way to get my point across at that t ime I wrote that. Suggestions?

chandni said...

I love Abdel Kader! and maa'm, the tag's done :D

hedonistic hobo said...

i never knew it was called rai, anyway loved it and thanks so much for giving me some kind of start in exploring these sounds. brilliant!

and i loved rock el casbah!!
by the way the wiki link works.

hedonistic hobo said...

and half the songs i heard have been reguritated out by bollywood music dir's as their original scores! i swear i haven't yet heard a single melody that i can't trace back to a recent bollywood film.

roswitha said...

What an absolutely marvellous post. You have my heartfelt kudos. :)

Anonymous said...

khaled's didi album had some really good tracks. there was a particularly nice one called el arbi. wonder if you've heard it. if not, get get.

Anonymous said...

I really liked this post... I love the fact that you did some good research before writing this. :)

Tabula Rasa said...

finally got around to this. seeing khaled's face made me smile again like it always used to. we'd put up a pretty good parody of ne m'en voulez pas back in the day :-)

thanks a lot for the orientaltunes link. i bookmarked it. ana oualache was nice except for the god-awful overdubs. khaled's a little more sophisticated that way -- at least his music's integrated (and for me a poor bassist is a deal-breaker). overall i wasn't very familiar with the genre before this so thanks a lot. i like the bits when they decide to stay authentic, not internationalize it with the pop feel or the dubs. they should stick to what they are.

Szerelem said...

chandni: :D

hobo: Rock el Casbah well, rocks!!And, I know exactly what you mean about the Bollywood tunes. I think a lot has to do with the instruments and beats of Indian music being very similar but yeah since when has bollywood been known for its originality?

Ros: Thank you! :D Praise from you makes me blush in embarrassment.

Cyberswami: have heard. is good :D

Abhishek: Thank You! Actually I didnt do much research per se. Just what I have been reading about the music and some of the artists over the last year the post was written in one go.

TR: finally! hmmm so how old were you when Khaleds Didi came out? =P
I know what you mean about Ana Oualache but I really like the overall tune of spite of the gospel choir bits.
Also agree about Khaled but I do think some of the raï - rock fusion (esp. by Taha) is really good.

Tabula Rasa said...

funny funny funny :-)

if you ever decide to check out some serious music, i'd suggest sketches of spain by miles davis. it's got the heat, the soul, and the feel. you might like it.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard Sigur Ros? They're an Icelandic outfit and you might like them.

-Surly Girl


PS: Your blog is really interesting!

Szerelem said...

Surly Girl: Wow...this is really weird. Someone told me the very same thing a few days back. So I guess I really should check them out.
And thank you!

rumi said...

listen to wahran wahran from Khalid one more example of excellent beats from the rai master... youtube version is not that great though