Various Artists | 1970′s Algerian Proto-Raï Underground
Most Likely To: turn at least a couple more folks to Sublime Frequencies, one of the most superb world music record labels out there.
I admit to having only a passing knowledge of Arabic pop music, a knowledge that doesn’t extend much further than owning some compilations peppered with the occasional track by somebody whose name starts with Cheb, and enjoying what I hear when I eat at Jerusalem. Having said that, some of the most interesting titles being released right now are a result of labels that are digging through global archives, mining rich provincial histories, and putting out raw yet accessible records that provide a context for cultural globalization through music.
Sublime Frequencies may stand as the best example of that practice. They have established themselves as one the finest compilers, distilling unknown genres from around the world into straightforward and engaging packages that serve as great introductions to world music. Here, with the 1970′s Algerian Proto-Raï Underground, they present us with the roots of modern pop-raï, an ever-evolving Arabic form.
“Raï” is Arabic for “opinion” and is a form of music which originated from the port city of Oran on the Mediterranean. Raï was wrought from the confluence of several cultures, influenced by Spanish, Moroccan, French, and Bedouin voices. In the 1970′s it became the music form of choice for the young punks of Algeria. The government dissuaded its promulgation and censored the form as it swayed further and further from the conservative Islamic platform. Eventually, Raï became widely accepted as a pop form and is now a global phenomenon.
Even for those of you who have never heard old Raï, new Raï, or anything in between, this batch of recordings serves as a very interesting period piece, a minor study in cultural context. Here are the sounds of a shifting musical form, and that is generally an exciting thing to hear no matter what the genre or one’s familiarity with its background. The songs presented here bear the unmistakable mark of progression within a form.
Understanding the history of this controversial leap towards modernity brings an immediacy to the listening experience. It helps one understand the decision to have the brass instruments ring so sharply in the mix. The addition of the brassy instruments is one aesthetic addition to the form that defined this era. The trumpets are defiant here, brash and cutting above swirling rhythms. The guitar sneaks in and these songs bridge the gap, then, between traditional songs and something akin to the psych-pop churned out by musicians elsewhere in the world.
Any music fan who knows that angst is a global theme in music, even in the mundane details of songs about owning a car; any music fan who understands the sort of expression that is borne of subjugation, who knows that there are direct correlations between punk rock and Stravinsky, between Jay-Z and Mahalia Jackson; any music fan who recognizes the fitful and sometimes brilliant progression of musical forms through struggle and experimentation would do well to seek this release out.