[Intro Music: Khalouni Nebki (Let Me Cry) by Cheb Hasni, 1989]
The first time I travelled, I realized that one day I would try to settle in a foreign country. Being a foreigner could be a fetish. To get lost in the streets. Being lost causes curiosity, as if you could create a new memory, or replace your memory with a new one. Cities are like languages, it takes practice for you to become fluent in their streets, and their people. Each city has its own vocabulary and rhythm. Every city is a text. A text that can be epic or dramatic or elegiac or satirical. When you become fluent in your city, you try to learn another city, to travel to another language. When I feel that I need to travel or to move to another place, I listen to songs; songs have different dialects, accents and languages that I am not familiar with. My ears catch many words, while my mind recognizes only some. Later I understood that dialects are a particular form of language. Dialects are a rhythm of knowledge: knowledge transmitted into sound. Sound is an epistemic tool through which to conceive the core of words. Songs are poems; poems are the arrangements of words to construct lyrics. I prefer the Andalusian term Melhun, a short word formed from five letters, and it describes the operation of melodizing words.
[Khalouni Nebki (Let Me Cry) by Cheb Hasni, 1989]
Since I was 16 years old, I have listened to different genres of music; most of them were North African, and among them was rai. Rai, considered to be a genre of Algerian folk music, came from the traditions of different Algerian cities, including Oran. Rai is an Arabic word with a range of meanings, including: a way of seeing, an opinion, advice, aim or judgment. I was fascinated by this genre of music. I had no clear or particular reason why. I was like any other consumer of music, following what the new releases were, and digging into their history. Rai singers recite their rhyming verses by switching from one tongue to another in a single sentence, including Arabic, French, Amazigh, and English. It was difficult to understand. I had a passion for putting in the effort to get to the meaning, to get to the feeling. Through these short verses, I noticed that these songs discuss some serious issues.
[Bladi (My Home) by K-Rhyme Le Roi & Cheb Khaled, 1999]
El Assima el ghalia,
nassek mahi hania
Dear capital, your inhabitants
no longer have peace
A rayi kifah trouhi men akli ou galbi bkit ya
You are always in my heart
Ya rayi nrouh wenji, ou
manensash houmti ya
I leave, and I come back,
but I will never forget you
The distance from Cairo to Algiers is more than 3000 km. But through songs, I realized that a lot of everyday things are common, and there are plenty of common questions and common gestures. Through sounds, I combined images to create a portrait of someone I don’t know. I know that he looks like me, as if he were my alter ego, or the alter ego of someone like me or someone I try to imitate. All I can recognize is that the portrait is an image of a renegade.
Since 2013, I’ve been interested in collecting renegades’ biographies; for four years, I collected stories about the illegal characters of the past, the present and the future. While I was collecting those biographies, I formed my own criteria for what makes a renegade. For example, I only picked the characters who crossed the sea.
You have to cross the sea to become a renegade, you have to abandon the soil. In songs, a lot of rovers have crossed the sea to meet their lovers. I consider those rovers renegades.
[Bayda Mon Amour (Blonde Girl, My Love) by Cheb Hasni, 1989]
El baïda mon amour
Oh my blonde ‘ la blonde est mon amour’
El baïda mon amour w ana nabghiha bla sohor o yaa
She’s mine without charm
Samhi lya zarga
Excuse me brunette
Samhi lya zarga o maak malgit fayda w yaha
My life with you is useless
ya mandirhash hbibti wya
The brunette, my enemy, I would never love her
W lidar zarga fed el aam dar
problème w ya
What she made this year! Was a real problem
The lyrics of rai in general and Cheb Hasni’s lyrics in particular, provide a socio-political perspective of postcolonial Algeria. In most rai lyrics, the narrative functions as an allegory. Love, migration, eroticism, are notions that have a fixed relation in the context of rai. And what interests me is how the lyrics become a statement rather than a reaction; they become geographical rhetoric. The presence of mountains, the sea, cities and a heavy load of tradition has had a crucial role in grabbing the listener’s attention. Cheb Hasni and his lyrics compose an apparent dichotomy: resistance versus integration, tradition versus white modernity. He is not invoking tradition or even history; his references of time and circumstance are rather literal. In a very pragmatic attitude, Cheb Hasni’s lyrics have no memory; the lyrics attempt to avoid any nostalgic gesture.
[Hiroshima Mon Amour, video]
In Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) by Alain Resnais, the failure of modernity is expressed through the white woman. Love, war, suffering and forgetfulness are elements that reflect the woman’s relationship to the historically abused city of Hiroshima. A city, a woman and a man are the elements that compose this non-linear story.
[Intro: Nouar (Light) by Cheikha Rimitti, 2000]
I read an article about this young girl. While singing in a bar one night, she ordered another drink, uttering in French: Rimitti. Someone overheard her and made a comment, and since then she became known as Cheikha Rimitti or “give me another drink.” Cheikha Rimitti. Her lyrics are transgressive, bawdy and feminist; she is generally acknowledged to be the mother of rai. In the context of my quest, Cheikha Rimitti’s biography is history, and I am not intending to search for the history of rai. I think of the lyrics as a reference, a reference that can be used as a tool to understand the complexity of the relationship between the artist and his political conditions. Song/lyrics are textual forms, words combined, targeting particular audiences, telling them stories; these narratives carry cultural details that feed certain notions to the audience, and the accumulation of these narratives contributes to the human heritage. Song/lyrics are the products of a particular time and socio- political circumstances, loaded with epistemic questions and concerns. Songs/lyrics, like books or any other textual form, play the role of reference for the researcher. I use lyrics to produce speech, to illustrate speech. Lyrics are an image. An image that screams, an image that has a sound; a sound illustrated to replace an image.
[Nouar (Light) by ] Cheikha Rimitti, 2000]
Ana w ghzaili ya lala
Me and my suitor
Ana w ghzayli fi jbèle
nlaguète fi Nouar
Me and my suitor on the top of the mountain, are picking the light
In my studio, I often listen to songs. I don’t listen to music as entertainment; my choice has architectural motives. My studio is 4m x 4m in size; songs help to extend the studio space. Songs help to extend the studio space into mountains, sea coasts and yellow deserts. Mountains withdraw, and frontier cities rise at the horizon. The other coast is a city, and in this city there is a ghetto and a child is carrying heavy bags.
Calling for his uncle ...
His uncle, Karim
Has a dream to go beyond the mountains
And other places and names and things appear ...
Home, soccer team, cars, port, boat, drum, Nike shoes, TVs, CDs, Playstations, money and Michael Jackson.
[Tonton du Bled (Uncle from the Land) by 113 & Rim’K, 1999]
Hey, uncle The bags are too heavy
Go on, get in Bilal
Get in Moulay Othmane Come on, let’s go, let’s go
Uncle Karim is going back home
For all the Kabylie [Berbers] Daughters/sons of my country
I wanted to stay in the ghetto But my father said to me No no no
In that case I’ll take all my friends No no no
So in one week’s time I’ll go back to Vitry supermarket No no no
I’ll go end my life over there Yeah yeah yeah
Rai and rap meet in the diaspora. Both are discourses, both music productions. Rap singers were mostly from the 90s, a new generation of singers and members of a hip-hop culture. The meeting point is the diaspora, the cultural diaspora, and forms of migrant music. It’s as though a third generation, positioned at a distance from history, is now digesting tradition and maneuvering modernity. It’s as if we are facing a generation that has decided to move beyond the historicism of the colonial era, and become wrapped up in contemporary issues, which for them, are more urgent.
Rai decided to survive by integrating with rap; while rap utilized rai as a reference to preserve its surface as something of a non-western production.
[Parisien Du Nord (Northern Parisian) by Cheb Mami ft. K Mel, 1999]
Comme ça, vous m’avez trahi
Like that, I felt betrayed
Hakada dertouha blya hakda
This is how you tricked me. This is how
Hakda l’aabtouh blya hakda
Because of my appearance you
Ala wejhi n’kartouni ou étranger Kouni hasseb di bladi nua
Did not accept me, you called me a stranger I felt I was in my own country and that I would die here
Mon choutèkouni walit gh’rib
I saw you, and I became a foreigner, no parents or relatives
Pourtant zaid h’na had c’chi h’ram
Knowing that I grew up here, this thing you do against me is shameful
Parisien du Nord, clando d’abord Un titre dans la musique, sans passeport
I am a Parisian from North Africa, first of all, clandestine My title is music, without a passport
[Sahra (Desert) by Cheb Khaled, 1996]
Sahra blad ramla,
Sahra blad etemra
A desert, land of sand, Desert land of dates
Sobri sobri ya layli
ta yefarraj Rabbi
Be patient, be patient Until the Lord relieves us
Although in the country where I live, more than 60% of the total land area is desert, I still like to observe deserts in other countries and lands.
The first time I saw a desert was in Pakistan, the Balochistan desert, as a tourist. The vast yellow landscape and lack of foreground forms was fascinating.
But this massive iron thing was more interesting than the desert. My English didn’t help me to call this thing a boat, a ship, a cargo or whatever this giant is called.
At the Gadani ship-breaking yard, I had many conversations with laborers about how ships dysfunction and expire.
We discussed how we can’t imagine being inside this thing, and if it’s even possible to cross such a sea. We were sure that it was impossible, even if just in our imaginations, because while it’s not possible to cross the Indian Ocean, or the Arabian Sea, the Mediterranean is effortless to cross. All you need is a small boat, a ferry or what in Algeria, they call the Babour. This is what I noticed through listening to rai songs: the ferry has its own lovers, who flirt with her, flirt with the ferry or flirt with the Babour.
[Intro: Partir Loin (Going Far Away) by 113 ft. Taliani, 2005]
Elle est où Joséphine!
Where is Joséphine!
Allez laissez moi de toi!
Go and leave me alone!
Ah bon c’est comme ça!
Ah good, so it’s like that!
Don’t annoy me
I wondered: Who is Josephine?
Who is Josephine who is mentioned at the beginning of the song?
Yal babour ya mon amour
Oh my beloved boat
Kharejni mel la misère
Get me out of this misery
Fi bladi rani mahgoure
I’m ignored in my country
Eyit eyit tout j’en ai marre
I’m tired, and it’s enough
Ma nratich l’occasion
I wouldn’t miss this chance
Fideli sa fait longtemps
I’m thinking of it for a long time
Hada nessetni qui je suis
She makes me forget who I’m
Nkhdem aliha jour et nuit
Night and day working for this
In 2004, Cheb Taliani left Paris, telling his girlfriend:
ma derti fiya
Josephine, Josephine, what have you done to me?
Aatini soualhi ou nakaouti
nrouh el darna ou ya
Give me back my passport, so I can go back to my home
Roumiya roumiya ma derti fiya
Oh French girl, oh French girl, what have you done to me?