Chapter 4 Hybridity Raï and Islamic social space

Chapter 4HybridityRaï and Islamic social spaceMuch of this book has been inspired by, and the course of itswriting frequently ripped apart by, the pulsating, energizingsounds of Algerian raï. Ideally, the book should also be readagainst the hoarse, pining pounding of ‘Chabrassi’, ‘GuendoziMama’, or ‘Wahlaich’, the songs of Cheb Khaled, CheikhaRemitti, and Haïm. After the appalling experiences of theAlgerian War of Independence – the widespread torture ofmen, women, and children; the million and a half Algerianskilled by the French in their desperate attempt to retain theirown privileges, won by imperial military conquest in the 19thcentury; the arbitrary occupation of a land whose people werenever subdued – the emergence of raï music in the 1970s inAlgeria was a particularly heartening phenomenon. Raï is oftendescribed as raw, rough, earthy (trab): it is also defiant,assertive, passionate. The singers throw themselves at itsrhythms with an unimaginable fury that gives raï its uniqueenergizing passion.Raï began during the explosive population growth of the firstgeneration of Algerians born after the end of the Algerian Warof Independence in 1962. It came into its own in the late 1970swhen singers from that generation, such as Sahraoui andFadela, and Cheb Khaled, began to produce their own dynamicform of raï at once closer to western rock and reminiscent in itshaunting self-expression of reggae and African-Americanblues. The emergence of raï is also associated with themigration of people throughout Algeria to the cities, and in thatsense marks a syncretic musical form that epitomizes theeconomic imperatives of modernity. This involved much morethan a process of fusion, synthesis, or intermixture. People andcultures do not flow unimpeded and unchanged in the way thatcapital does. The social production of raï was not a singleprocess at all in fact, but rather involved histories of contestedrelations at every level of its production and consumption inAlgerian society. To that extent raï can work too as a broadermetaphor for thinking about the complex relations of culturesto the forces of modernity.It’s something very powerful that I can’t really explain.When I’m on stage, I don’t cheat. I give everything I havein my soul and my spirit.Cheikha Remitti, 2000In the first place, raï does not consist of one kind of music thatcan easily be described in general terms. It has always beenmobile and shifting as it changes its functions and locations,its instruments and its audiences. Its production is often casualand can be adapted easily according to specific needs. Itsimpromptu nature means that it will never become fixed, that itwill always be flexible and able to incorporate new elements.At one level, it entails a spontaneous modernization (accordingto some, inevitably, a degeneration) of the traditional ArabicMaghrebian form of the malhūn, a traditional elaborate form ofsung poetry performed by the shīkhs, learned, culturedreligious men accorded high status for their art. In many ways,however, raï is more directly derived from the profane songs ofthe more transgressive and vibrant woman singers, the shīkhaswho catered to the masculine spaces of the public bars andbrothels of pre-Independence Algeria, performing also atweddings, parties, and even religious festivals. The greatCheikha Remitti, generally accorded the title ‘The Queen ofRaï’, began as, and in spirit has always remained, a shīkha, asher title suggests. Some women raï singers, on the other hand,started out as maddāhas, women poets who sing both religiousand profane songs at gatherings exclusively for women atevents such as circumcisions or mendhis prior to weddings.As a musical form, raï originally developed soon afterindependence in the cosmopolitan port city of Wahrān (Oran),in western Algeria, where, particularly from the mid-1970sonwards, the young chebs (male singers such as CheikhMeftah and Cheikh Djelloul Remchaoui) or chabas (womensingers), singing in cabarets or at weddings, created new songsmarked by radically honest lyrics about their owncontemporary political and cultural situations. The titlescheb/chab that the performers were given, or gave themselves,marked their difference from traditional singers, suggestingtheir youthful audience, their lower social and artistic status, aswell as signalling their innovative modern musical style.Musically, raï was in part adapted from the songs sung by theshīkhs in the badawi, or traditional Bedouin tradition, and inpart from the more modern wahrāni music already developedin the cities since the 1930s from the malhūn and andalus, theclassical city music of North Africa. Wahrāni music hadalready begun the process of transforming traditional Arabicmusical forms to the demands of modern mass-produced musicand electric instruments, beginning with the accordion,absorbing influences from Moroccan (chaabi) and Egyptian(especially Umm Kulthum, Kawkab al-Sharq, the Star of theOrient) dance and wedding music. This was now combinedwith elements of western rock, disco, and jazz, and WestAfrican music, together with songs from further afield such asLatin America and Bollywood – a range of sources that has noformal limits.Raï performers originally began by using distinctive localacoustic instruments – string instruments such as the ‘uud (theArabic lute); wind instruments such as the ga ba and nāy,throaty haunting reed flutes; percussion instruments such asthe banndīr (tambourine), gallāl (drone), qarqabu (castanet),darbūka, bal, and bila (drums); together with the violin,accordion, and trumpet. From the earliest days, however, somemusicians, such as the Qada and the Baba brothers, adaptedtheir material for western electronic instruments and created‘electric’ raï. In a similar way in linguistic terms, raï is sung inthe local dialect, but a dialect inflected with running allusionsand streetwise borrowings from Spanish, French, and Arabic.The development of raï was also precipitated by technologicalchange: in some respects, it rose in its modern form inresponse to the specific demands of the local cassette-recordingindustry after the end of the vinyl record. The invention ofcassettes for the first time put local entrepreneurs in control ofmusic production, and much of raï’s international success isowed to the producers and middlemen in Algeria and thenFrance who have imposed their own needs and preferences inthe recording studio on to the musical forms. It was never an‘authentic’ music outside these motors of production; itdeveloped through being played increasingly on radio stationsabroad, primarily in Morocco and France. Although thesecommercialized conditions have been criticized in Algeria, atthe same time this new situation allowed the music to emergeas an independent form and force, breaking establishedconventions within the musical and social culture of Algeria. Ithas always been, literally and metaphorically, multi-track.The term ‘raï’ literally means ‘an opinion’, ‘a point of view’, ‘away of seeing things’; it can also mean ‘an aim’. In terms ofasserting its own perspectives, its own subversive will-topower,therefore, raï encapsulates many of the qualities that arefundamental to postcolonialism itself. Beginning as theexpression of those who found themselves on the periphery oftheir societies, immigrants to the cities who lived in deprivedconditions of poverty, poor housing, and unemployment, raï’smusical culture was quickly transformed out of the marginsinto the major popular expression for young people of socialconditions within Algerian society. The speed with which raïspread in popularity across Algeria and North Africa wastestimony to the degree to which it provided points ofrecognition that had never previously been articulated. It wasquickly identified with ‘the word of the people’ (shaab), and tothat degree became fundamentally articulated with the politicalmessage of the radical Islamist party Front Islamique du Salut(FIS). Raï’s popular appeal lay in its recompositions ofrecognizable but destructured elements from the perspective ofthose at the margins through mass-produced popular modes.Raï singers took elements from a wide range of existentcultural forms – sacred, secular, classical, popular – andrepresented them in ways that took them out of theirconventional contexts into new kinds of cultural expression. Ininvoking a range of complex cultural codes in forms thatallowed spontaneous invention and elaboration, raï singerswere able to express their own relations of contradiction andambivalence towards the society around them, which was atonce rapidly changing in economic terms and caught withinrigid social structures. Raï stands in the contested spacebetween modern interpretations of what constitute traditionalMuslim values, and the traditional responses ofaccommodation and resistance to forces of historical change byMuslim societies.These raï did not necessarily offer a way forward that had beenthought through in political or ideological terms. Rather, theyrepresented the emotional expression of those who foundthemselves at the points of disruption within Algerian societyand on the wrong side of its forms of legitimation. Raï’spopularity can be seen as a mark of its success in providingforms of identification to which many could immediatelyrespond, particularly the hittistes (‘those who prop up thewall’), whose primary adult experience was one ofunemployment, boredom, and disillusion with the government.In political terms, raï, like many postcolonial cultural forms,was first of all concerned to articulate problems and situations,as a necessary first stage in moving towards any possibleresolutions.I divide my career into three periods: the period of 78records, the period of 45s, and the period of cassettes.Throughout all these periods, I have always sung theordinary problems of life, social problems, yes, rebellion.The problems I saw were common problems, ever sincethe age of fifteen or sixteen. I still haven’t got it all out. It’sa matter of observing and reflecting. Rai music has alwaysbeen a music of rebellion, a music that looks ahead.Cheikha Remitti, 2000A hybrid genre of this kind says something aboutcontemporary social problems, social contradictions: itspolitics are in its articulations, even its articulations ofinarticulate states of being – it has no quick solutions, and maywell have no immediate solutions at all. Like postcolonialismitself, it offers challenge rather than solution in the firstinstance, and allows its audiences themselves to interpret itsnew spaces with relevant meanings of their own. It does notarrive delivering its meaning already fully-formed – rather itenables new meanings to be created and projected in dialogicencounters. And like postcolonialism, because it articulates theraw, the rough, the vulgar, social and sexual tensions in achanging, torn social milieu that no longer adds up to acoherent civil society, it is criticized for its lack ofrespectability, for the impurity of its politics – as well as, in thecase of raï, for the profanity of its language. For this reason, raïis also credited, or criticized, for its disruptive, destabilizingeffects on its listeners as well as its performers – in otherwords, for producing the very effects that it names.Rrāy l-ghaddār talaftli rrāy w khalītli d-dār(Treacherous raï, you made me change my ways; youmade me lose my home)Cheb Khaled, ‘Nti, nti’Clearly what raï does do is encourage forms of self-expressionand identification in ways that in musical terms replicate someof the social tensions that it enunciates, particularly in thesubversive borrowings from the traditional shīkhs set againstelectric sounds taken from commercial western rock, whichexpress ambivalence between traditional cultural forms andaspirations towards the west. For at the same time, it continuesto refuse the west by maintaining the distinctive Arabic fluidtonal sounds and rhythms: whereas western music, forexample, is restricted by its notation system to half tones,Arabic music does not limit itself to set intervals, and freelymoves amongst quarter and eighth tones. Its rhythms flow inan equally inventive pattern against the beat – only jazz sincethe 1950s comes remotely close to the musical inventiveness ofArabic music. In both cases, it is the extempore creativity ofthe performing musician that calls the music into being. In thesame way, the singer’s lyrics will forge traditional lines andrefrains with references that incorporate the particular socialworld of his or her audience. By articulating within the songsrecognizable local topics and cryptic allusions to places oftransgressive love, such as the forest, as well as to the familyand the sacred, raï forges a medium that speaks specifically toeveryday forms and difficulties of Maghrebian experience,while itself being given meanings within the contexts ofcontemporary social life. The meanings are enacted through theperformance. Raï does not represent either a search for, or acreation of, a new cultural identity. It is rather part of a processin which novel kinds of perceptions relating to cultural identityare staged, debated, and negotiated in challenging ways thatwere not previously possible.At independence in 1962 the initial position of the statetowards Algerian music was to patronize the traditional cultureof andalus, the national classical music enjoyed primarily bythe Algerian elite, and to dismiss the raï that was explodingfrom the streets in its synthesis of traditional and modernpopular forms. From the mid-1980s, however, as raï rose tointernational prominence, government attitudes changeddramatically, and raï began to be patronized by officialchannels of the state, with raï concerts promoted by the rulingFLN elite. At this point, the identity of raï as the word of thepeople began to be contested more actively by Islamists, and itwas denounced by the FIS as morally decadent. After one ofraï’s most famous singers, Cheb Hasni, was assassinated inOctober 1994, many others have sought refuge, ironically, inFrance. Despite the civil war that began in 1988 and theincreasing dominance of the Islamist party, raï remains thedominant popular musical form amongst young Algerians, andcontinues to mediate their interests in the west with theirstrong attraction to Islamism.From the mid-1980s raï was also promoted within France, andachieved a wide following across the Maghreb as well as inNorth African communities in France, Spain, and elsewhere. Itwas one of the first examples of so-called ‘world music’. Thisconcept, which emerged in the late 1980s, is often described interms of ‘fusion’: a fusion of western elements, of rock andjazz, with the tonal harmonics, rhythms, and particular soundsof local music. Fusion marks a phenomenon of globalization inwhich the cultural channels of communication have beenopened for all by technology, which intersects different musicalsounds with ease – quite literally, in fact, on the synthesizer. Insome cases, the simple idea that these elements have fusedtogether into new mixed modes may well be accurate, though itis notable that some raï songs, such as Haïm’s ‘Wahlaich’,were simultaneously produced in Arab and French versions. Itis also striking that apparently homogenizing tendencies canlead to very specific local forms. The sound of Raïna Raï, whocome from Algiers, for example, is distinctly different from thetraditional earthy or popular forms of raï that first emergedalong the Wahrān coastline.In contrast to its varied and ambivalent role in Algeriansociety, in its presentation to the west, raï has been brought into tell a familiar story – the story that the west always wants tohear about other cultures that appear to operate according tonorms significantly different to its own, and which resistaccommodation and incorporation into western economic andideological models. As reported in the French and world press,raï has been turned into a western-style Algerian youth revolt,and presented as a second, postcolonial war of liberation andmodernity against paternalist tradition, a revolution against thesocial rigidities and disparities of wealth under the currentAlgerian regime, and as a secularist revolt by Algerian youthagainst the strictures of Islamism in Algeria, above allbreaking through social and religious taboos on sexuality,alcohol, and drugs. Raï singers have been profiled as bohemianrebels who aspire to express a free individualism that emulatesthe commercial individualism of the west and allies them tointernational pop icons of rebellion such as James Dean, topunk, rap, and reggae. As the sleeve of a raï anthology puts it:Raï stars . . . love to state what time it is. Not that theylike to waste words on religious or political issues – risingfrom the town of Oran in west Algerian in the ’80s, raïwas a celebration of good times in a place where goodtimes were desperately hard to find. Sex ’n’ drugs ’n’ raï’n’ roll. Right on said Algeria’s disaffected youthmassive. Ruled out said Algeria’s fundamentalist IslamicFront and military government, united in a hatred of raï’sstriving for freedom.Here raï has been accommodated to the strict protocols ofwestern youth culture – whose demands would not toleratestories of its active promotion by the Algerian government, forexample. In the versions produced for the French and Britishrecord labels, moreover, the music itself has been adapted tosuit western tastes. In Khaled’s songs, recorded with Americanmusicians in Los Angeles for the 1992 album Khaled (thetransition to the west was formally marked by his dropping thetitle Cheb), the distinctive and infinitely flexible three-beatrhythm of raï (triplets, in which the singer often freelyextemporizes after the first beat) has been replaced by themechanical fixed four-beat rhythm of western disco, with theaddition of a recognizable western-style harmonized chorus.Khaled’s voice, meanwhile, seems to refuse all smoothed-outfusion, rasping out its Arabic on a separate track far off in itsown orbit, living altogether in another spatial rhythm andtemporality. The commercial processes have also beenwesternized: whereas raï songs in Algeria were producedspontaneously from a shifting range of communal sources,freely adaptable by all, Khaled’s record company haveregistered him with the copyright authorities in France as thewriter of all the songs he had previously recorded in Algeria,even when they were old songs of Cheikha Remitti and othersthat in Algeria had never been regarded as anyone’s privateproperty. It is unlikely, of course, that raï would ever havebecome popular in the west without some modifications, anymore than western music gets appropriated straight in theMaghreb. Moreover, as has been suggested, raï is itself acomplex, changing musical form that remains adaptable andflexible: ‘French’ raï by Johanne Hayat or Malik is alsopopular in Algeria, while Algerian singers increasingly singonly rrāy nqī (clean raï) – with all its Islamic implications ofpropriety. At the same time, raï in the west was not justdesigned for consumption by the regular western pop market: itwas always driven by diasporic North African communities inFrance, Britain, and North America who demanded none of therequirements of western conventions.The CD cover picture in Figure 11 conveys some importantelements of raï rather better than its sleeve notes: its vibrancyand energy, its relations to masculinity, to the everydayexperience of young Algerians on the streets, its continuedactive and positive relations to Islam, here signalled in theprominent prayer Bismillāh-ir-Rahmānir Rahīm (in the nameof Allah, the gracious, the merciful), that closes and supportsthe whole image in the lower right corner. The montage thusgives something of a visual equivalent of raï’s mixed socialand religious identity. Raï has often been described as ‘hybrid’.In fact, it encapsulates many of the qualities that the term‘hybridity’ in postcolonial writing attempts to locate. Like raï,hybridity does not involve a single process, though it cansometimes be discussed in unimaginative abstract terms farfrom any consideration of the dynamic dimensions of culturalformation and contestation such as to be found in raï. Hybridityworks in different ways at the same time, according to thecultural, economic, and political demands of specificsituations. It involves processes of interaction that create newsocial spaces to which new meanings are given. Theserelations enable the articulation of experiences of change insocieties splintered by modernity, and they facilitateconsequent demands for social transformation. So it is with raï.As a hybrid popular form, often working in complex andsometimes covert ways by allusion and inference, raï hasoffered a creative space of articulation and demand, revolt andresistance, innovation and negotiation, for many of thecontradictory social and economic channels operating anddeveloping within contemporary Algerian society.11. Cover of raï compilation CD, Manteca World Music,2000.The ambivalence of the veilNothing symbolizes the differences between the western andthe Muslim worlds more than the veil. Few items of clothingthroughout history can have been given more meanings andpolitical significances. For Europeans, the veil used tosymbolize the erotic mysteries of the east. For Muslims, itsignified social status. Today, the meaning of the veil haschanged dramatically. For many westerners, the veil is asymbol of patriarchal Islamic societies in which women areassumed to be oppressed, subordinated, and made invisible.On the other hand, in Islamic societies, and among manyMuslim women in non-Islamic societies, the veil (hijab) hascome to symbolize a cultural and religious identity, and womenhave increasingly chosen to cover themselves as a matter ofchoice. As a result, the veil is more widely worn today thanever before. Today, depending who you are, the veil symbolizescontrol or defiance, oppression or autonomy, patriarchy or nonwesterncommunal values. How can we understand the veil,catch its meanings, and at the same time take hold of andinterrogate our own automated responses? No one can read theveil from a neutral, disinterested space. Let us try by firstlooking at an image (Figure 12) that typifies the kind ofEuropean stereotypical representations of the east in thecolonial period, of the kind characterized by Edward Said as‘Orientalism’.The image is entitled simply ‘Arab woman’. A colourpostcard, dating from around 1910, the high noon ofimperialism, it was produced in Egypt by one of the manyGerman photographic firms based in the Middle East at thattime. The representation has objectified the woman it depicts.A real Egyptian woman, with a name, a family, a voice, and ahistory, has been transformed into an ‘Oriental’, a universal,generic ‘Arab Woman’. The woman has been speciallyconstructed for the eye of power suspended in the westerner’sgaze, and precipitated into the one-way street of ‘the politics ofrecognition’.12. ‘Arab woman’.Is this a photograph or a painting? She wears a brown veil,with a yellow lining that falls over her shoulders and a cloth ofbluish-green. A burqa of black wrinkled cotton, held up by abasma, a piece of cloth that runs through the protruding ‘oqla,made from a piece of a special kind of bamboo called Farsi,covers the lower part of her face, but leaves much of herforehead and upper cheekbones exposed. She is looking awayfrom the camera, thus increasing her modesty while at thesame time giving her a thoughtful, distracted look. Looking atthe coarse bluish cloth of her galabiya that falls in folds overthe rest of her body, it seems that the artist has subliminallycast her in the pose of the Virgin Mary. A Virgin Mary,decently veiled, as no doubt she was, and it might seempredominantly passive, receptive. All she lacks is the halo, butthe aura of quietude around this woman is so strong that shehardly needs one. With her averted gaze, and her arms loweredand folded around her body, it is as if she could never speak, oract, for herself.Or is it we as viewers who assume this? Does thisrepresentation of a woman give us what the artist wanted us tosee, a certain image of ‘the Arab woman’, an exotic orientalwoman who can stand for all Arab women, as opposed to thereality of what this particular woman was really like? Theimage never asks us to think of her as a living human being ina social environment. It is constructed for a certain kind ofwestern viewer who already knows…Essay 750+ words. Analyze Nawal El Saadawi’s In Camera using postcolonial feminist theory. Do you agree or disagree with Young’s critique of Western intervention for the sake of women’s rights? Support arguments with examples from the assigned reading and outside research.

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