With the popularity of Rai and the high rate of youth unemployment, Rai became the music of the Algerian youth. Rai gave the youth a voice to express their cultural freedom. However, the rise of Rai was not only seen as a threat to the regime, but also to fundamentalist Islamic groups. After the Algerian army cancelled the result of the elections in 1991, which began the 11 years long civil war, artists of all kinds were targeted by extremist groups, especially Rai singers, many of whom were assassinated. One of these singers was the famous Cheb Hasni who was killed by an extremist group in front of his parents’ residence in 1994. During the threat of the civil war, most Rai artists immigrated to different European countries, either to escape from military enlistment; such was the case of the Cheb Khaled, or to escape death threats from the extremists. Artists such as Cheb Rashid, Feudal and Mami were all among Rai artists who immigrated and kept Rai alive while abroad
Algerian Rai: Music of Resistance, Thaqafa Magazine, 2014.
I couldn’t help but be shocked over hearing a colleague express his contempt for a music whose history stands high as an edifice in North African Heritage. I say North African heritage instead of Algerian or Moroccan for the sole reason of this music genre’s being a debatable matter. It is undeniable, of course, that singers per se – Cheb Hasni, Nasro, Mami, and so forth – are, nationality-wise Algerians; however, the genre in itself has had its echoes heard and appreciated as much in Algeria as in Morocco.
Going to Oujda – where an annual RAI-celebrating festival is held – amounts to being in the actual Dzeir[Algeria].The Dialect is pretty much the same, and the only difference is in the imaginary community within which these people have found themselves stuck at a certain [starting] point in their lives( Anderson, 1983). The heat with which Hasni’s or Mami’s Music was received in the 90’s or 80’s has pretty much decreased. The spark of interest has been put out, and this part of the world has become one in which such aspects of identity may be not just forgotten but purposefully trampled on in an attempt to annihilate – of course, I am speaking of North African youth.
In Identity, Culture, and Globalization – edited by Eliézer Ben Rafael, a powerful picture of how Rai music had a huge stance on the Algerian ground is drawn, as Cheb Mami in 1999 succeeds in grasping the devotion of a hundred thousand individuals. The atmosphere was no different in Morocco, as with the tragic assassination of Cheb Hasni, not only did Moroccans mourn aside with the Algerians for the grave loss, but Rai as a genre flourished henceforth.
In fact, the assassination of Cheb hasni by an Islamist group marks the start of a terrifying era, as Marc Lynch in an article in pomeps website argues:
Islamic multimedia personalities gained prominence across many Arab and Muslim countries simultaneously – sometimes with a national focus and sometimes spanning a transnational audience. Al-Jazeera’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi pioneered the genre in the late 1990s from a politicized Muslim Brotherhood-style direction with his popular program “Sharia and Life.”
With the emergence of the Digital TV receiver and the rise of literacy, a new style of Islamization was shipped in silver packages from middle-eastern media and brought to North Africa to be undergone by Morocco and Algeria. The mentality of the citizen was transformed from a “Moroccan” or “Algerian” one to a sort of a “Wahabist” one, whose main trait is blurred identity. This confusion was ultimately embodied in the expelling and assassination of Rai artists in Algeria, as well as in the huge transformation of the Moroccan society and the disappearance of many a trait whose Morocanness or, In the case of Algeria, Algeriannes, made it once highly valuable for the Moroccan – the Algerian. In clear words, this can be seen in the famous Rai singer Mami’s declaration to a French TV Channel:
We do not speak Classical Arabic in the street! There is language mixing. . . They always identify themselves with the saudis and the Kuwaitis, while we are Algerians!
This Language mixing depicted by Mami cannot signify but a crisis of identity, which can be deduced from the same declaration. The rise of Islamism and the Radicalisation of the Moroccan-Algerian mind, led to what can be seen as a radical renunciation of what I would like to call North-African Romanticism, taking into consideration the weight of the expression.
Music in general and local or somewhat close-to-local music, which includes Moroccan Ayta, Gnaoua Music, Chaabi Music, as well as Rai Music, started facing acute accuses, as being blasphemous as is the case with Gnaoua Music, Traditional and associated with profane settings as is the case with el Ayta( In this respect a whole book can be written apropos of the transformation of the word “Chikha” and its semiosis.), and with these blatant pretexts Rai was also given a stamp and thus conspired against. However, Rai Music was not harmed by this rising tide against music as much as it was harmed by the more powerful wave that started gaining grounds before the death of Hasni: Globalization.
Needless to say, globalization has had its pros as much as it has had its cons; as much as it promoted local music – say, with the Khaled fleeing to France his music gained value in many parts of the world – it also downgraded the same type of music in the eyes of the nascent mind – that of youth.
The emergence of globalization and the rise of profit-seeking music tainted the music style, rendering it substandard and even embarrassing in the eyes of youth, while a western song – Be it profit seeking or not—is always a little better, due to its western nature. It is a reverse to what happened with Islamisation, for as much as anything that had a stamp of Islam was considered “better” or “good”, anything western is seen as “better” by youth.
The cultural and linguistic diversity bestows upon Morocco the quality of being highly lenient while, however, damning it with the accursed issue of being “puzzled”.
With western media pushing forward the image of a “civilized society with ‘rich’ culture, bright present, and science-driven future, youth today find it hard to stick to a certain heritage of which they know nothing. Appreciating Cheb Hasni today amounts to driving an R4.
In Tarik Sabry’s book Cultural Encounters in the Arab world, a young Islamist comments saying that Moroccans are embarrassed by their identities because they do not know about their past… (Sabry, 2010.)
As ironic and contradictory as it may sound, this young Islamist has actually said what might contain underneath its layers some truth: Keeping in mind the debatable nature of such an idea as to whether Rai music is or is not part of Moroccan identity, the embarrassment with which one would listen to a song by Hasni in a Modernized area like Agdal, Rabat in comparison with the degree to which the same person would stride with pride while listening to a Product whose greatest aspect is musicality contains a degree of tragedy. The same goes for listening to El Ayta for instance, though such an analogy is questionable.
The Argument that may be drawn here is the persistence of Nas-El-Ghiwan as a band whose weight lingers in Morocco and beyond. For this it must be noted that Rai Music also still has its weight in Morocco and beyond, but the problem lies in El Ghiwan’s being a group whose style and aura had always been “free” and contained certain “youthful energy”, for youth aspire to freedom and in this music freedom is all there is, which later resulted in the inspiration of youth that would create genres that contain westernized modes of expression; e.g: Nayda. (Simour, 2016) while Rai Music was globalised, it had no rebellion; its greatest weapon was emotions and its aim was to depict what was happening, as it was, emotionally. Today Rai Music is associated with lower social classes at least in Morocco; something which surely puts it at the bottom of the hierarchy of power.
The industrialization of Rai music as opposed to the freedom of such a style as Nas El Ghiwan may have been what standardized Rai Music in the mind of youth, thus being left behind.
Hence a whole history of a genre is neglected due to external reasons as much as to internal ones emerging from within the genre, among which one may mention the rise of “Profit-seeking Rai singers” whose music taints and defiles what once used to be a genre of depiction, emotional vacillation, and freedom of expression. A type of music which for long united people who are similar but separated by borders has in the blink of an eye became shame and “Chira li Nebghiha” or “Wahran” weighs not a jot in the eyes of today’s youth when compared to, say, Les Menottes (Ching Chang Chong.)