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date: 21 October 2019

Raïlocked

  • Tony Langlois

Extract

A genre of North African popular music, most closely associated with the city of Waharan (Oran) in western Algeria and nearby towns on both sides of the border with Morocco.

The earliest music of this name was performed by female singers in the bars of Oran during the 1920s and 30s. They were accompanied by the gaspah (an end-blown flute) and the guellal (a pottery, single-headed cylindrical drum). During this period of French colonial rule Oran was a busy port, largely inhabited by Europeans and surrounded by bidonvilles, the homes of dispossessed Arab migrants. This mix of peoples and cultures gave rise to an entertainment business which appropriated elements of the sexually frank medhatte repertory, moving it from its traditional place at single-sex wedding parties into a public and morally ambiguous context.

Cheikhat (female equivalent of cheik, ‘elder’) performed songs which expressed passion, powerlessness and lamentation and also included elements of local religion. These themes traditionally belonged to a discrete female repertory. The presentation of these topics to a mixed audience and the boldness of the singers themselves were widely condemned by a local Arab community striving to present a morally superior identity in opposition to that of European colonialists....

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