|Traditional North African drummer|
Rai music tradition and youth culture
Modern Rai music (Rai rhymes with eye) is very popular among young Algerians. The word Rai has a range of meanings, from a way of seeing or an attitude, to a plan or even just a thought (the thoughts are usually to do with love). Rai has danceable, driving rhythms, and since the 1960s younger artists have updated its sound using everything from electric guitars and wah-wah pedals to beat-boxes and samplers.
The roots of Rai lie in the distant past, and a form of poetry-singing called malhun. New Rai is seen as a reaction against conservative, traditional values, something through which young Algerians can express their feelings. This, coupled with the romantic subject-matter of many Rai lyrics, has provoked violent reaction from conservative Islamic groups. In 1994 the young Rai star Cheb Hasni was gunned down by Islamic radicals in the streets of Oran, the western Algerian city where modern Rai was born. Other major Rai artists, including Cheb Khaled, the king of Rai, have left Algeria after receiving death threats.
Modern Rai singers put the word cheb (young man) or chabas (young woman) before their names a bit like MCs in rap and dance music. In the past, women who performed traditional love-songs were widely disapproved of, and were associated with places where alcohol (forbidden in Islamic law) was sold or used. Even now, performing Rai is something of a rebellious thing for young women to do.
Traditional North African music is probably best known for the haunting, sinuous sound produced by various wind instruments. Among these is the shawm, a powerful instrument resembling a large oboe. Another is the qasabah, a kind of flute with a richly-textured, breathy quality. In Algeria the maqrunah, a single-reed Arabic wind instrument, is sometimes fitted with a bag called a mizwid (food-pouch) which turns it into a form of bag-pipes. Fretless, long-necked lutes with a skin-covered soundbox, snare drums, pottery hand-drums, and castanet-like clackers all feature in traditional music of the Saharan region.
Rai often uses North African and European influences to make beautiful music. Wahrani, a type of Rai which comes from Oran in North West Algeria, uses a French-influenced accordion sound with traditional reed flutes, European strings, and a mixture of percussion instruments.
Nomadic Berber music reflects the stark beauty of the desert, often consisting of just vocals and an accompanying drum made from animal skin. Many of the lyrics are about heroes, bravery, love, and sorrow. Among Berber and Arab nomads, women traditionally perform a high-pitched, trilling vocal music accompanied by hand-claps.
Read a traditional Kabylie Berber folk story
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