Africa’s largest country is also home to some of its most enchanting and outspoken music. Our five artists to know span the cross-generational genre Raï, Western pop and flamenco influences. Feast your ears on the array of sounds from Algeria.
Taking an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to his art, Rachid Taha made a name for himself in connection with the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.” It’s said that Taha’s nascent band, Carte de Séjour, helped inspire that song’s decidedly un-Western vibe. The 56-year-old specializes in the Raï genre, which pulls from traditional Algerian folk and adds activist lyrics. His sandpapery vocals almost act as a percussion instrument as electric guitars and the eight-stringed quitra crest and exhale.
This Algerian ex-pat now calls France home, but Reda Taliani draws heavily from Raï and Chaabi influences. He’s a bridge between the past (the flamenco-sounding Chaabi horns) and the future (Auto-Tune vocals and R&B slickness). Over the past two years, he’s released a string of high-octane singles that would please any club-goer.
Listening to the coiling instrumentation of “Enta Habibi” reminds one of Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” The native Algerian (plus Egyptian) tones and Ababsa’s spellbinding voice make her a pop star for the ages. She’s been releasing music since 1992’s Fiq Ya Aachek Ezzin, so familiarizing oneself with her oeuvre will take time. And it’s time well spent, as she also plays piano and the oud, and sings in Algerian-Arabic, Egyptian-Arabic and English.
Wonder twins, activate! Brothers Hcen and Hocine Agrane combine their musical powers to live up to their animal namesake. There are electric splashes of Santana here, husky and skyward vocals there. Their music transcends generations— an octogenarian woman sang Cameleon’s praises at a 2013 concert, and a number of their works touch upon nostalgia and childhood. Their melding of old world and new has garnered fans in France, Canada and the United States.
Gifted with the voice of a young Marianne Faithfull and the classical guitar skills of the finest flamenco players, Souad Massi has delighted audiences since the mid-’90s. Simultaneously, she enraged conservatives for daring to wear jeans and perform rock music. She fled to France in 1999 after leaving the politically charged group Atakor and nurtured her acoustic side. She recently released El Mutakallimûn (Masters of the Word), a collection of revered Arabic poetry, set to her soundtrack.
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