Lovers’ (or Sentimental) Rai is the least studied and least appreciated style of Rai outside of Algeria. It had none of the markers of the other Rai styles that captivated Western audiences and commentators — it was not “traditional,” a “music of protest,” and did not show “World Music eclecticism” — but it was the most popular style of Rai in the ’90s in Algeria. Abdel Halim El Hachimi’s interview of one of its most popular singers turns needed attention to Lovers’ Rai.
After the departure of Khaled and Cheb Mami to France at the end of the 1980s, two other singers became the figureheads of Rai music in Algeria. One was the late, great Cheb Hasni and the other was Cheb Nasro. These singers specialised in a newer and slower form of the music, which often became known as “sentimental Rai”. It is impossible to exaggerate the impact that Hasni and Nasro had across the Maghreb and both were enormous stars in their homeland. However, neither were signed by international record companies and their fame was almost solely among north Africans and their compatriots in France, Belgium and Holland.
With its lack of international crossover success, this new generation of Rai music did not gain the recognition it deserved. Partly this was because there was no promotional machine behind the artists and also because the musical production values had slipped quite a lot. Although there were still great musicians living in the country after the outbreak of civil war from 1991, it became increasingly difficult for artists to develop their careers and live performances dwindled away. What is clear is that amongst westerners, there barely exists any knowledge or understanding about the last twenty years or so of Rai music and the artists who made it.
A few days ago, I conducted an extensive interview with Cheb Nasro himself and he talked very candidly about his career and his experiences. This is a story that has never been told before and gives us an illuminating insight into the harsh reality of Rai music in Algeria. [To read more go to Tales from Bradistan]