Spotlight: Raï musical sensation Cheb Mami

By Mohani Niza

You may know him from his famous duet with Sting on the 2001 pop megahit ‘Desert Rose’ but Raï musical sensation Cheb Mami has been making hits since the 1980s and has continued to do so until today.

Raï is a musical genre which originated from Oran, Algeria in the early 20th century as a force against the traditional Islamist camp. The music speaks about things such as poverty, alienation and sorrow and allows the free mixing of genders and was pivotal in the Algerian political unrest. In the 1980s, the musical style became a target of attack by Islamic fundamentalists and many Raï artists left the country for France. One of them was Cheb Mami (born Mohamed Khélifati, July 11, 1966) who has cultivated a strong fan base among children of Algerian migrants in his adopted country.

I discovered his music through his famous song ‘Douha Alia’ from the soundtrack of the movie Les Voleurs (Thieves, 1996) by the French post-New Wave filmmaker André Téchiné. Since then, I have been thrilled to discover more of his music, particularly this one below: ‘Ana Oulache’ (‘Why Me’) from his 2001 album Dellali.

And this is his song ‘Douha Alia’ (1991):