Raï, Music genre originating in Algeria.

Raï image

Music genre originating in Algeria This article is about the musical genre. For other uses, see Rai.

Raï (/raɪ/, Arabic: راي‎), sometimes written rai, is a form of Algerian folk music that dates back to the 1920s. Singers of Raï are called cheb (Arabic: شاب) (or shabab, i.e. young) as opposed to sheikh (Arabic: شيخ) (shaykh, i.e. old), the name given to Chaabi singers. The tradition arose in the city of Oran, primarily among the poor. Traditionally sung by men, by the end of the 20th century, female singers had become common. The lyrics of Raï have concerned social issues such as disease and the policing of European colonies that affected native populations.




Raï is a type of Algerian popular music that arose in the 1920s in the port city of Oran, and that self-consciously ran counter to accepted artistic and social mores. It appealed to young people who sought to modernize the traditional Islamic values and attitudes. Regional, secular, and religious drum patterns, melodies, and instruments were blended with Western electric instrumentation. Raï emerged as a major world-music genre in the late 1980s.

In the years just following World War I, the Algerian city of Oran—known as “little Paris”—was a melting pot of various cultures, full of nightclubs and cabarets; it was the place to go for a bawdy good time. Out of this milieu arose a group of male and female Muslim singers called chioukhs and cheikhates, who rejected the refined, classical poetry of traditional Algerian music. Instead, to the accompaniment of pottery drums and end-blown flutes, they sang about the adversity of urban life in a raw, gritty, sometimes vulgar, and inevitably controversial language that appealed especially to the socially and economically disadvantaged. The cheikhates further departed from tradition in that they performed not only for women but also and especially for men.

The music performed was called raï. It drew its name from the Algerian Arabic word raï (“opinion” or “advice”), which was typically inserted—and repeated—by singers to fill time as they formulated a new phrase of improvised lyrics. By the early 1940s Cheikha Rimitti el Reliziana had emerged locally as a musical and linguistic luminary in the raï tradition, and she continued to be among the music’s most prominent performers into the 21st century.

In the early 20th century, Oran was divided into Jewish, French, Spanish, and Arab quarters. By independence in 1962, the Jewish quarter (known as the Derb), was home to musicians like Reinette L'Oranaise, ...read more

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