When it comes to music, Algeria is probably most well-known for raï music. Starting in the 1930s, it borrowed the styles and forms of Spanish, French and Arab music. Raï singers are called “cheb” which means “young” in Arabic. I think of it like how some hip-hop artists and rappers use “lil” in front of their names.
It has its origins in the city of Oran. And as it became easier to access information and recordings from across the world, raï musicians became influenced by many forms of music: from pop, reggae, funk, and jazz to the sounds of electronic instrumentation. The lyrics have always been about secular topics, and more specifically, often about social topics. Poverty, war, and racism were among topics that were addressed by the Algerian musicians who sang these messages. However, you can imagine, like in the US, the conservatives didn’t like these liberal messages. There were several raï musicians and producers in the 1990s that were killed because of this by Islamic fundamentalists; the first and most noted was Cheb Hasni. Others in the industry have relocated to France to continue with their music, where it’s created a large raï following overseas.
I see the fact that raï music and its movement in Algeria has, in its form and function, pulled ideas and musical styles from many different styles. It’s this fusion of instrumentation and musical forms that has created a whole new representation of what the Algerian voice sounds like. Likewise, I see this as a representation of their social and political ideas as well, not staying stagnant with the ideas of the old and what’s-always-been attitudes but branching out and being open to the views of those around them. It’s the idea that change and the incorporation of new ideas is not necessarily a bad thing.
One raï musician that I came across who impressed me is Biyouna. She's got a mix of jazz and some blues, and I can definitely tell some French influence in her works. This album is amazing. I found her album Blonde dans la Casbah on iTunes for $10.89. It’s also available on Spotify, and I’ve put it in my Algeria playlist.
The artist Sting hooked up with Cheb Mami to perform the song “Desert Rose." This obviously shows the influence of raï musicians on the rest of the world. I think it's a great example of how seemlessly they blend the two musical styles together.
Many Algerian musicians have relocated to other countries and perform there. One R&B singer I came across based out of Canada is Zaho. I’m definitely going to buy the album Dima. It’s available on iTunes for $9.99. Of course, it’s also in my Spotify playlist for Algeria.
Belly dancing is popular in Algeria. There is a certain style of belly dancing from the Ouled Nail, one of the Berber tribes. Traditionally, their costumes included a lot of jewelry, coins sewn on the costumes, and heavy make-up.
The Tuareg and Kabyle Berber tribes have some of the most beautiful jewelry I’ve ever seen. It’s definitely my style, using a lot of silver and stones such as red coral, brown agate, tiger’s eye, turquoise, blue agate, black onyx, and green agate. I found a wonderful site from Australia that sells a lot of Algerian and Moroccan Berber jewelry and textiles. The Berber rugs and clothing are beautiful as well!
Probably one of the most famous writers to come from Algeria is Albert Camus. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 at the age of 43, he was the second-youngest recipient of the illustrious accolade. I’ve read two of his novels, The Stranger (available for $0.99 for Kindle) and The Plague (available for FREE on Kindle), both of which are on my Master Reading List (containing 859 books, of which I’ve read 267). His style is philosophic, and he excelled in absurdism. I would highly recommend both of these books looking if you’re looking for something new to read. The main languages of Algerian literature are written in either French or Arabic (Camus wrote in French), although Arabs, French, Spanish, Berber and even the ancient Romans have influenced Algerian literature and brought it to what it is today.
Next up: The Food!
Wikipedia articles: “Albert Camus,” “Literature of Algeria,” “Raï (music)”
Berber jewelry: http://www.berberosaharan.com/en/