Features May 27, 2014
Guest Bloggers Around the World: Algerian Music Beyond Borders

Afropop is pleased to unveil a new series of guest posts from bloggers around the world, offering coverage of music scenes by writers who know them best. Our first installment comes from Algeria, where Karim Meskia has written a guide to the exciting new Algerian music scene. A student in French Literature at the University of Béjaïa, he "swims in the ocean of belles lettres and flies in the artistic air of music." 

Musically, Algeria has been evolving for quite a while. The country’s harmonious chaâbi, humming raï, and other popular genres have not stepped aside, but new genres have arrived or, more accurately, young Algerians have melded their own styles with foreign ones to create a new sound and modernize traditional music. The groups that formed around this diversity of melodic and musical hybridization have created what we commonly call “the new Algerian music scene.”

Rock, blues, rap, jazz, reggae, world music, gnawa and more: The new Algerian music scene is rich in influences. With a happy confluence of diversity and swarms of new musical revelations, the scene has seduced an Algerian public thirsty for new discoveries.

Influenced or inspired by the pillars of contemporary Algerian rock and hip-hop like Les Abranis, Gnawa Diffusion, Labess, MBS, Raïna Raï, as well as by foreign artists, new artists and groups have grown like mushrooms, adding their voices to the already rich milieu of Algerian musical culture.

Among these groups, the newest, Babylone, made its name thanks to the acoustic ballad, “Zina,” awarded Song of the Year at the A.M.A. (Algerian Music Awards). Formed by three friends, the band  lives in an acoustic universe. Their songs hold the feeling of dry wood and metallic strings. Their album Byra (which means “letter” in English) is a parchment of varied, percussive tablatures from which springs a passionate touch, an emotion, a message, “a tomorrow where [originality] is king.”

Another highly original band, Freeklane, has succeeded in restoring freshness to Algerian music. Composed of six young music lovers, Freeklane, which means “free slave,” is carried by the enormous voice of Chemseddine Abbacha. The group distinguishes itself by its openly Maghrebi and Oriental take on Western music. Their first album, Lalla Mira, is a euphorically crossbred  collection, rich in colors and rhythmic fusions. The listener discovers, through their songs in many styles (chaâbi, raï, diwane, gnawa, blues, rock, reggae, Kabyle), a spiritual atmosphere, a mystic Thousand and One Nights universe, lifted by words that express joy, grief, melancholy, love, exile: life.

In a different ambience, Djmawi Africa, who already had notoriety in the gnawa milieu, has returned with an eclectic album bathed in cosmic groove. Avancez l’arrière is a perfect model of musical inclusiveness, since different musical styles are represented in each of the 11 pieces offered here. Reggae, Celtic, gnawa, diwane, châabi--this fusion has restored hope in the underestimated, misunderstood and stereotyped youth.

The politically engaged youth culture, unknown until recently, is showcased by a new generation of musicians who proclaim the right of free speech--groups like Zedma, LaNot, Azamat, TroubaliZniket Lehbal and Democratoz, who glide through the spiritual air of Rastafarianism, adopting Jamaican style and reggae music.

Like the groups noted above, El Dey aims to empower the Algerian youth. Formed in 2009, the five band members are young, and creative.  Their first eponymous album offers a circus of generous melodies that inspire joy, love and good humor. The group, calling themselves players of “liberated Algerian music,” has succeeded in reviving the great works of chaâbi, like Abdelkader Guessoum’s "Babour Ellouh" and Cheikh El-Hasnaoui’s "Noudjoum Ellil," spiced with a Latin freshness.

Algerian rap, which can be considered urban poetry, is influenced by its American and French counterparts. The genre appeared toward the end of the '90s and attracted a young, curious following. Groups like MBS (Le Micro Brise le Silence), TOX (Theory of Xistence), Double Kanon and Intik are the inspirational references for a new generation of rappers. Unfortunately, current Algerian hip-hop is very censored. Controlled and marginalized by the public authorities and media, the Algerian rap movement has become almost inaccessible, but in the underground 2.0, it’s something else entirely. Thanks to the Internet and social media, politically engaged artists and groups like Bled’Art, Taaryk Tk, C4RYS, Karim OSM and Gitman have emerged to rap in different languages (Arabic, Kabyle, French and English), as witnesses to the experiences and misfortunes of the Algerian citizen’s everyday life.

The new Algerian music scene, born out of hope, a hunger for new poetic feeling, and life within a widening global culture, is inspired by international musical currents, stirred into a melodic bouillon whose only equal in taste is originality.