Rebels of Rai

I don’t know where I first heard the Rai Rebels CD maybe when Brian at CKUA played it in the late 1980s. It’s release date was 1988 and I had bought it around this time. However, I first heard of Cheb Khaled through my Oxford buddy, Mark Burns, who was a keen African music guy I used to stay with en route to Africa. I had recorded some of Andy Kershaw’s world music show on BBC in the early 80s. On one track was this Algerian guy whom Kershaw referred to as “an Algerian punk” who sang about un-Islamic stuff like women, booze and partying.

We subsequently went down to the local OXFAM shop in Oxford in 1986 that had a small world music section and Mark bought the Cheb Khaled LP. I didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until I was back in Canada that I got hooked onto the premiere Earthworks label Rai Rebels cassette. I was listening to it in 1988-89. This was before Cheb Khaled’s career took off in France. Khaled was called “the King of Rai” on the cassette. I might have a CD of it, but I gave away my original cassette to a girlfriend.

The music of “rai” or “opinion” was not acceptable to the Muslim Brotherhood during Algeria’s Civil War and the rai singers would soon become targets. One time when I was visiting Brain in Edmonton at “the cottage”, I had picked up a copy of the Guardian Weekly and one of the sidebars had a story on the shooting of rai rebel Cheb Hosni outside his family home in Algeria in 1994. It was only 6 months later that one of the influential producers of rai–rebel Pop Rashid, was also gunned down by Muslim Brotherhood assassins in 1995 outside his family’s home in Algeria. Things got so scary that all the remaining rai stars, Cheb Khaled, Chaba Fadella, Cheb Sahraoui and others sought exile in France where they continued to record. Apparently, many of the rai singers in effort to escape detection, covered themselves in hijab en route to the airport to avoid Muslim zealots.

On another visit to Edmonton, we went to check out various record stores and in particular, one in the Hub Mall which he frequented. As we walked in, our eyes caught a poster for a Rai Concert in Vancouver which was no less some 1000 kms away in a few weeks time. Naturally  we both jumped at the chance and bought tickets.

Time came and Brian took time off work to come down to Field to my Parks accommodation and we also enlisted another Parks worker who wanted a lift to Vancouver. We would take turns driving to Vancouver from Field which turned into a Fear and Loathing type roadtrip with mudslides and torrential rains blocking our way on the Trans Canada which momentarily held us up. I bootlegged the concert of Chaba Fadella and Cheb Sahraoui.

Both Brian and I bought a lot of rai CDs when we were working in UAE. I must have at least 15 CDs on rai. The last rai CD I bought was the 1,2, 3 Soleils which came out in 1998. It is a live performance of Cheb Khaled, Rachid Taha and youngster Faudel recorded in France. Khaled’s music had already gone mainstream in France but this one was one of the best sellers ever. It is easily one of the best performances by all three artists. Unfortunately, another rebel, Rachid Taha, died in 2018.

My fave CDs would be:

Rai Rebels 1 (Earthworks)

Rai Rebels 2 (Earthworks)

Cheb Khaled, Rachid Taha and Faudel (1,2,3 Soleils CD)

Chaba Fadella and Cheb Sahraoui (Walli CD)

Djam and Fam (1st CD) A concept LP.

Cheb Khaled (Kutche, Khaled, N’ssi N’ssi CDs)

Rachid Taha (Made in Medina CD) His track Barra Barra is used in one of the opening scenes of Black Hawk Down.

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