Let´s go for something a little bit more exotic than usual here tonight, you chebs and chabas... Rai (or raï) is the rebel music of Algeria and surrounding countries. Challenging fundamentalist, conservative beliefs in songs about sex, drugs (mainly alcohol) and fast cars, it´s a music that consequently has often been censored by the authorities. With a little imagination, you can call it the punk rock, roots reggae or hiphop of North Africa.
Rai literally means ´opinion´ in Arabic, but in this particular form of music it´s used as an exclamation meaning ´oh yeah´, much like the use of ´olé!´ or ´agua!´ in Spanish flamenco. The singers call themselves cheb (when male) and chaba (when female), which means young or kid, to distinguish themselves from the older generation of singers, the aged and respected cheiks and cheikas of the old order.
Cleverly mixing traditional instruments with western guitars and synths, it´s an art form that´s not only extremely popular in its native countries, but also in the big Western cities - Paris for instance - where many Arabs make a living. To give you a taste of the hypnotic beauty of rai, here are two tracks from the Virgin Earthworks compilation Rai Rebels, a very good introduction to the genre.
Chaba Fadela & Cheb Sahraoui - N´Sel Fik MP3
Chaba Zahouania - Sahr Liyali MP3