Ok, so Khaled isn’t the “Rebel of Raï” as this 2-CD set titles itself. Marketing-driven misnomers are rife; we don’t sweat it. Khaled is raï establishment, Khaled is raï king. And the Nascente CDs help explain why. Here as elsewhere, Khaled’s voice is honey, his performances nimble and generous. (For some raï context, check my 2008 piece in The National).

A survey of “the early years” (late 70s – early 90s), Rebel of Raï offers compelling evidence for the awesomeness of ’80s synths and drum machines. Nerdy listeners will enjoy the way various tunes reflect the production values of their times. There’s one glorious acoustic song from the 70s (“Trig Lycee”), and the electronic adaptations that came later, some propelled by brilliant slinky minimalism (“Hada Raikoum”): pitch-bent synthesizer, guitar snippets, Algerian rhythms inside the drum machine, voice. Here’s “Trig Lycee”, the only track on the compilation without a keyboard (cheesy or otherwise):

[audio:Khaled_Trig Lycee.mp3]

Khaled – Trig Lycee (buyable: Other has a nice writeup, Amazon)

Look at it this way: if you don’t mind fruity keyboard lines & occasional studio overproduction, just think of all the music out there that you can now enjoy. Khaled himself sounds great no matter what’s underneath his voice. And so suddenly a huge swath of musical food chain opens up. Another way of saying: If you really like a style of music, you love it, which means you follow it through thick (reverb) and thin. You stick with raï through the 80s and beyond, and you do not frown on Khaled’s 2009 pan-afro-euro-club jams with Magic System. Même pas fatigué…

There are people who stopped liking reggae when Sleng Teng hit (There are people, fewer of them, who began liking reggae when Sleng Teng hit). In fact, thinking about late 80s dancehall may help tunes like this work as a gateway drug to the wonderful world of pop raï. Khaled alongside Cheba Zahouania, a hugely influential powerhouse in her own right:

[audio:Khaled_Lila Ou N’Har (duet with Cheba Zahouania).mp3]

Khaled – Lila Ou N’Har (duet with Cheba Zahouania)

I was speaking with Cheikha Rabia in Paris earlier this year, and when I asked about her favorite singer, her face erupted into a smile – the child inside looking out, eyes aglow – “Khaled!” Rabia said. “Khaled! He’s the best”.

Before Khaled was Khaled he was Cheb Khaled, and before that, he was in a Nass el Ghiwane cover band. I would love to hear a young Khaled singing NeG, if the band (“The Five Stars”, I think) recorded any…

His website, descriptively titled Khaled Mania, contains a ‘nostalgia‘ section with mp3s & videos!


7 thoughts on “RAI ESTABLISHMENT”

  1. So happy you’re posting this! he gets lumped ino the ‘cheese’ category sometimes but to me hes forever brilliant.

  2. Jo – i meant i’d love to hear the cover band’s music! Nass el Ghiwane has countless recordings. it wasn’t clear in the original post, so I edited it a bit..

  3. Well explained. For a long time I bought whatever Rai I could on vinyl, and since Rai on vinyl stopped being produced in the very early ’90s, most of my collection is the type of pre-set synth sounds and cheezy production you speak of. And you’re right: An amazing voice is an amazing voice no matter what’s under it! Excellent to draw the parallel with robotic, un-syncopated 80’s dancehall – cheers.

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