First in a series of reposts from the always insightful History is Made at Night blog:
‘A moderate revolution is a contradiction in terms, though a moderate putsch, coup or pronunciamento is not. However limited the ostensible aims of the revolution, the light of the New Jerusalem must shine through the cracks in the masonry of the eternal Establishment which it opens. When the Bastille falls, the normal criteria of what is possible on earth are suspended, and men and women naturally dance in the streets in anticipation of utopia’ (Eric Hobsbawn, ‘Thomas Paine’, New Statesman, 1961)
‘Do as you please. You are free to dance, sing, and celebrate in all squares throughout the night. Muammar Gadhafi is one of you. Dance, sing, rejoice’ (Gadhafi, February 2011)
The festive character of the uprisings sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East has been widely noted (see previous post on Egypt). Just as Hobsbawn wrote of earlier revolutions, everything seems possible as the old regimes crumble and people have literally been dancing, as well as fighting, in the streets. In Libya at the moment it is the fighting that is dominant, hopefully victory and further celebrations won’t be too far behind…. (Check out the rest).
Excellent article by Ted Swedenburg on Khaled and rai — debunks prevalent misconceptions about both. Brilliant! Check out Ted’s HawgBlawg — well worth the time.
Cheb Khaled, the Algerian rai singer who is probably the best-known Arabic singer on the planet, was selected this summer as one of NPR’s 50 Great Voices. Banning Eyre, a regular commentator on World Music on NPR and producer for Afropop Worldwide who has worked tirelessly to promote music from Africa, including the Maghreb, introduced Khaled to the NPR audience. Unfortunately, his introduction of Khaled repeated several unfortunate and misleading myths about rai music. Eyre presents a picture of an exceptional artist who favors tolerance and peace, and whose courageous positions have angered many Muslims and forced him to take refuge in the West. Eyre depicts Khaled as well as a kind of “bad boy,” in the image of a U.S. rock’n'roller. Khaled, from “a land [Algeria] torn apart by intolerance and violence,” says Eyre, “stood out as an artist who embraced openness and peace.” The real story of Khaled is more interesting, one rooted in Algerian politics and in its large and vibrant musical scene.
via Khaled and the myth of rai (Ted Swedenburg @ The Middle East Channel)
It took a little while to post (and it will move to Afropop.org’s front page later this week) but here is my review of Watcha Clan at the finale of the 2010 Jewish Music Festival in San Francisco. And be sure to check out the links to Charming Hostess, the opening band that was truly astounding.
Never judge a band by a single performance. The first time I saw the Marseilles-based Watcha Clan was in July 2009 at a small club in San Francisco and the performance fell flat. The songs lacked the moments of unpredictability that worked so well onDiaspora Hi-Fi, the arrangements felt hackneyed and stale. I left feeling Watcha Clan was just another electronic band that created interesting studio work but was out of its element live (check out my interview with Lado Clem of Watcha Clan on Afropop.org in 2009). I’m here to report that this is one of those times when I’m happy to be wrong. I saw Watcha Clan again on Sunday July 18, 2010 in a very different setting and they killed.
Watcha Clan, headlining the finale of the 25th edition of the Jewish Music Festival in San Francisco, turned in an exciting musical performance where, surprisingly, everything clicked. The staid, buttoned-down performance space of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is not an ideal setting for a “world & bass” band. YBCA books some interesting and innovative musical acts (just take a look at a fascinating installation by Oakland’s musical iconoclasts Charming Hostess) but it feels like what it is: a room tacked onto a museum. The lines of folding chairs set up in the room (for the rest…)
In 2002, I spent the year researching the emergence of an alternative music movement in Morocco. Made up of a collection of genres that lie on the periphery of mainstream culture — hip-hop, electronica, rock/metal, fusion — alternative music had yet to break through. 2002 was its year on the cusp. In 2003, it would make its move to center stage and, within a few years, hip-hop and fusion bands would become major players in Moroccan pop culture.
My dissertation, French Fries in the Tagine: Re-imagining Moroccan Popular Music (UCLA, Department of Ethnomusicology, 2006), which focused on fusion, examined this change in the musical playing field, how it happened and what it meant. I’m posting this link to share the work and ask for feedback. I’m currently writing a book on Moroccan alternative music that will hopefully bring this fascinating story to a wider audience.
All the best,
Jeffrey Callen, Ph.D.
Now for a little music:
The exoticizing of the non-Western other in World Music is a continuing phenomenon — freely used in marketing and eagerly accepted by most fans. “Music of resistance” is one sub-category of that phenomenon. In a recent preview of a San Francisco concert by Tinariwen, I avoided emphasizing their music as born out of resistance (it’s only part of the back story) but the headline my editor wrote included “rebel music” as a descriptor (see: It’s only rock ‘n’ roll – also links to two other recent pieces on Tinariwen).
Today (February 20, 2010), the Touareg website Temoust posted an enlightening interview with sociologist Denis-Constant Martin of the Cité de la musique museum in Paris. Martin discusses the “musics of resistance” phenomenon. Must reading for World Music fans.
Musique touaregue de résistance : La marchandisation des sons (reposted from the Cité de la musique website: )
“Un mythe, voire une mystique de la résistance s’instaure à partir de discours tenus sur la musique qui ne correspondent pas nécessairement à ce que l’analyse musicale pourrait elle-même déceler.”(“A myth or a mystique of resistance is established from discourses about music that does not necessarily correspond to what music analysis itself could detect.”)
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.
The Cheb Nasro Story
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]