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.