Khaled – “The King of Rai”

For millions of people across the world, rai musician Khaled is not just an artist; he’s a phenomenon and the long established star of Arabic popular music. Like many fellow Algerians, Khaled flee to France in the late 80s to escape the brutal civil war.

Born Khaled Hadj Brahim in Sidi-EI-Houri on February 29, 1960, in Oran, Algeria, Khaled sang and learned to play guitar, bass, accordion, and harmonica as a child. He enjoyed the sounds of Moroccan music and Elvis Presley. Though his uncle played the accordion, Khalid’s family looked down on his musical aspirations. His father, a policeman, disapproved of it entirely. Khalid’s debut recording, La Route De Lycee, came out when he was just 14 years old. After that, he dropped out of school, left home, and formed a group called the Five Stars, and started to perform at local weddings, parties, and clubs.

Rai music was originally heard in seedy Algerian bars in the 1920s. This “sinner’s music” was sung to the beat of light percussion and an ancient rosewood flute called a gasba. Khaled released a handful of self-produced rai cassettes before he teamed up with producer Rachid Baba Ahmed, who had a greater pop sensibility. Under Ahmed’s influence, Khaled’s sound increasingly began taking on more of a Western sound, incorporating such Western instruments as synthesizers and guitars. Khaled became the most well-known singer of the revived “pop rai” trend that first became popular during the 1960s. Excite online likened his stage presence and effect on Algeria’s youth to that of Elvis Presley on American teenagers in the 1950s. Though Khaled was embraced by Algeria’s disenchanted youth during the 1980s, not all of Algeria shared the same enthusiasm for rai, which offended the sensibilities of Islamic fundamentalists.

Until 1983, Khaled’s music was censored by the Algerian government for both his candid lyrics about romance and his lyrics against Islamic fundamentalism. The Algerian government attacked what it considered to be outspoken hedonism, and Khaled’s music was banned from Algerian radio and television. In 1985, though, he was crowned the “king of rai” at Algeria’s National Rai Festival in his hometown of Oran. In the late 1980s, sensing trouble in Algeria, Khaled fled to Paris, as did many other Algerian artists and journalists. The 1992 Algerian elections were clearly going to be won by Islamic fundamentalists, so the military government cancelled the elections and violence broke out. Terrorists targeted and killed many artists, including the popular “prince of rai,” singer Cheb Hasni.

The mass exodus of rai musicians to France resulted in a change in the traditional rai sound. Used to shoddy equipment and a strict government, the Algerian singers suddenly had creative freedom and access to France’s high-tech recording studios.

“Khaled”  –  (The Album)

Khaled was the first Algerian expatriate to break out in France with his love song “Didi,” a crossover hit for his French record label Cohiba. On this album Khaled, the singer continued to globalize the rai sound and even began to incorporate funk, hip-hop, reggae, and the French chanson—a song style from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Though his songs had taken on an international flavour, Khaled remained true to the Arabic sound with his “seductive phrasing and nasal, soulfully gruff voice,” wrote Margasak. Khaled’s records became popular in France, the Middle East, and India. In the mid-1990s, Khaled dropped “Cheb” from his stage name, a term meaning “kid” that was given to singers like Khaled to make them distinct from older, more traditional artists.

“Mauvais Sang” starts with the classic Algerian vocal/keyboard intro and gets more complex as melodic motifs are woven in. But the rhythm is driven by keyboard bass blats and a drum machine and the instrumental break features sax over thumb-pop funk bass and James Brown scratch-rhythm guitar before the final call and response between David McMurray’s throaty R&B sax and Mustapha Kada’s Arabic keyboards. To say that’s a blueprint of what Khaled wants to accomplish here is true on one level, but ignores the range and variety of the material. Algerian homeboys Kada (keyboards) and Mohsein Chentouf (derbouka) are on every song and Khaled himself plays keyboards, accordion, oud, and bendir on the Brook-produced tracks. Reggae pops into the bubbling rhythm undercurrent on “Ragda”; “Sbabi” works violin against an atmospheric, Robert Fripp-like lead guitar over Khaled’s voice and a funky, chunky groove. With its near-flamenco acoustic guitar and accordion, “Wahrane” has a French café feel, but “El Ghatli” and “Harai Harai” take it all the way home to Algerian tradition.

“Ne M’en Voulez Pas” is sung in French, with more café accordion set against organ, bass solo, and clattering percussion, and winds up in a near-go-go beat. The song is too busy and never quite makes up its mind what it wants to be, but it’s a unique, invigorating ride, which may be the best capsule summary for Khaled. Some artists are born to try this kind of cultural crossover, and in the context of rai, Khaled is both trailblazer and standard-bearer.

Lastly, an interesting documentary about the origins of Rai music (French only)

The Stranger by Albert Camus

“He wanted to talk to me about God again, but I went up to him and made one last attempt to explain to him that I only had a little time left and I didn’t want to waste it on God.”

 
Albert Camus was a French-Algerian writer best known for his absurdist works, including The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957. Camus started his involvement in political activities during his student years, joining first the Communist Party and then the Algerian People’s Party. As a champion of individual rights, he opposed French colonization and argued for the empowerment of Algerians in politics and labour.

“The Stranger”, or sometimes translated as “The Outsider”,  is considered the best at highlighting Albert Camus’ philosophies towards life of absurdism and existentialism. The story has two parts. It follows Meursault, the main character, before and after he commits a murder.  The philosophical contemplations are embodied by Meursault, a pied-noir office worker, who appears as a blank canvas, barren of any real emotions.

 

The novel opens with the news that Meursault’s mother has died – something that he greets with his usual indifference – and goes on to describe his lack of grief at the funeral, and his subsequent relationship with Marie, a young woman he takes to the cinema the day after the funeral. Later, when he is befriended by Raymond, a man of dubious character, Meursault is drawn into obnoxiousness, which ends with his murdering an Arab. The second half of the novel is concerned with Meursault’s subsequent trial and incarceration and, more significantly, his awakening to the absurdity of life, and his passage, in the full knowledge of death, into authentic existence.

 

The Stranger touches on a number of philosophical schools of thought, and Camus borrows from his forbears, notably Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. Even though Camus claimed not to be an existentialist, Meursault undoubtedly embodies the existential spirit; he recognises that life is limited to this world and that death, the fate common to all mankind, is inevitable and final.

By embracing authentic existence, Meursault sets himself apart as the outsider. Meursault’s most striking characteristic is his strict adherence to truth; he lives without motive, with a complete congruence between his thoughts and actions. In perfectly embodying one of society’s moral ideals, he causes friction between himself and an hypocritical society who cannot themselves achieve the standards they set. That Meursault will not make concessions, will not bring comfort to others by buying into the illusion, is the true cause of his condemnation.

 

There are philosophical works that offer a deeper and fuller discussion of the human condition, and The Stranger can feel a little lightweight. However, the novel is so luminously constructed, the ideas presented in such an accessible and immaculate form, that it is indisputably one of the very best introductions to existentialism and the ideas surrounding absurdism and authenticity.

The enduring appeal of this work can be attested by the continuous disconnection that we as individual have with norms impose by society. The world that Meursault inhabits is a strange version of our own, and his attitude, his disconnect from society, still strikes a chord.

The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

Frantz_Fanon_The_Wretched_of_the_Earth

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”

 

 

In 1961 Frantz Fanon dictated most of his last book, Les Damnés de la Terre, translated as The Wretched of the Earth, from a mattress on the floor of a flat in Tunis. He was 36 years old and dying of leukaemia. The disease had recently blinded him for some weeks but he managed to complete the book in ten weeks in a race against death.

Fanon, who was from Martinique in the Caribbean, had ended up Tunisia after he joined the Algerian national liberation movement in 1954. He had joined the Free French Forces fighting the Nazis as a teenager and, as a result, had been able to study medicine in France after the war. He had specialised in psychiatry and had taken a post in a psychiatric hospital in colonial Algeria.

 

The Wretched of the Earth draws on Fanon’s involvement in the Algerian struggle against French colonialism as well as his travels around Africa as an ambassador for the Algerian national liberation movement. It begins with an account of the colonial city, ‘this world divided in two’, and goes on to examine the internalisation of colonial violence among the oppressed, the resulting violence among the oppressed, and the moment when violence is turned back on colonial oppression.

Fanon then turns his critical attention towards anti‑colonial resistance, stressing that in the colonial situation Marxism needs to be ‘stretched’ and paying particular attention to the political agency of ordinary people, including peasants and the urban poor. He is committed to forms of struggle that are genuinely mass-based and participatory.

The book’s third focus is an examination of the pathologies of the regimes that came to power in Africa after colonialism. In Fanon’s estimation they took over rather than undid colonial systems, demobilised the mass movements that had brought them to power and used their own political credibility to entrench authoritarian and predatory regimes. Against this, still committed to a radical humanism, he posed a refusal of technocratic approaches to development and the full involvement of the people in both political and economic life. The final chapter of the book, drawing on Fanon’s case notes from his period as a psychiatrist in Algeria, investigates the damage done to human beings by colonialism and violence.

The Wretched of the Earth was banned on publication in France and copies were seized from bookshops. But it was heralded in radical black circles in the US and taken up in places such as Iran and Sri Lanka. Fifty years later it remains the key text in radical circles in South Africa, where it is regularly cited by grass-roots militants.

Initial readings of the book often caricatured Fanon’s endorsement of violence against colonial regimes. Fanon’s support for violent struggle was often read outside the context of the extraordinary violence of French colonialism in Algeria and there has been a racist double standard in which Fanon is excoriated for endorsing violent struggle while white intellectuals, such as, say, Jean-Paul Sartre or George Orwell, are not subject to the same condemnation. Although he had been decorated for bravery while serving in the Free French Forces, Fanon had a personal horror of violence and was acutely aware of the damage that it can do to individuals and societies.

Many of the misreadings of The Wretched of the Earth are due to the way the book is developed as an unfolding narrative in which consciousness changes in the vortex of struggle. Statements affirmed with unqualified emphasis at one point are often questioned later on. This means that the book has to be read as a whole to be properly understood and that simply taking isolated quotes or extracts will not give an accurate impression of the author’s intentions.

Fanon left this world as The Wretched of the Earth entered it. Fifty years on, his final book retains an extraordinary political charge in countries where it remains necessary to oppose both new forms of colonial or neo-colonial power and new forms of elite accommodation with that power in the name of the nation.