Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Khaled Hadj Brahim, 29 Feb. '60, Sidi El Houari, nr Oran or, in Arabic, Wahrane, Algeria). Rai singer and keyboardist. The foremost vocalist in the pop-rai style, his early work appeared under the name of Cheb Khaled, cheb denoting his youthful status or 'a young man' as opposed to 'chioukh' meaning master or guru. Took up accordion '70, a practical choice since the instrument did not require amplification or electricity, a problem at some of his early gigs where he remembers wedding guests removing batteries from their cars so they could continue to enjoy music at receptions. He was strongly influenced by folk music, especially Moroccan traditional music, and coupled this with a keenness to avoid the pernicious influence of Egypt's overwhelmingly efficient popular music which was everywhere along the North African coast. From '75 with the expulsions of Moroccans from Algeria, folk music came under state scrutiny and was frowned upon; it had a credibility and cachet in Algeria that, perversely, state censorship could only enhance. Khaled would play in a Algerian folk group called Noudjoum El Khamis (the Five Stars). First recorded at age 14; had a fluke hit with his first record 'Trigue Al Lissi' ('The Way To School') '75 and abandoned for ever his parents' dreams of him becoming a doctor.

Such is North African and immigrant cassette culture that hacking through rai's discographical thorn scrub is problematic; at least 80 cassette albums by Khaled, some pirates or bootlegs, had appeared by '90. For example, MCPE 1305 (few aspired to anything approaching an original title, many little more than the artist's name followed by a catalogue number) '86 was a cassette of the demos for Kutché. As a result estimates of the number of songs he has written have become wildly inflated; 800 is a figure regularly bandied but in May '94 he estimated a more modest 660. Increasingly popular at home and in France, the recordings became more accomplished and professional. Young Khaled on Voix du Maghreb is a recommended sampler of his early work. Rai King Of Algeria on Triple Earth '85 was his first British release, drawing on earlier MCPE releases. Fuir, Mais Où ('Flight But Where') on Celluloid included the clarion call for youth rebellion, 'El Harba Wine' (same meaning in Arabic) reportedly sung by marauding demonstrators during summer riots in Algiers '88. Solo and duo work with Chaba Zahouania appears on the excellent general introduction to rai, Rai Rebels on Earthworks; with Zahouania he also released Les Monstres Sacrés du Rai '89 (a modest title) on the French label Sono Disc. Kutché '88, a collaboration with Safy Boutella on Stern's in the UK, was highly polished but in some ways too slick. His work also appears on general rai anthologies Le Monde du Rai on Buda Records, He Rai! on Celluloid and Pop-Rai And Rachid Style, Earthworks' second volume in its Rai Rebels series.

Still working as Cheb Khaled, he made an unlikely guest appearance with the Blow Monkeys on the track 'Be Not Afraid' on their RCA album Springtime For The World '90. Khaled on Barclay '92 was a deliberate and successful attempt to gain attention in an international market, prod. by Don Was in Los Angeles with a crew augmented by American musicians. Its 'Ne M'en Voulez Pas' marked his French-language debut on disc while 'Wahrane' revisited his homage to his home town. Khaled is not only justly feted for his music-making and his popularization of rai, he has also performed a valuable political role, applauded in France by government and press alike for his part in bringing together Algerian and French youth; these communities around Paris remain separated by the Péripherique, the capital's ring road, but Khaled's music was an important bridge-builder. His music was also significant for its impact and influence in the countries of the Maghreb, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, its rebellious spirit making it the Arab equivalent of rap. Khaled himself has a cult following in the Gulf States, although of an undercover sort since Islam there frowns on rai's more controversial pronouncements. Further afield Khaled has even made inroads in India with a Hindi- language cover of his song 'Didi', artfully keeping its original title and taking on a further linguistic possibility, since the word's Hindi meaning is 'Sister': it enjoyed chart success there thanks to strong programming on MTV Asia and his appearance at their first anniversary bash, the 'Incredibly Indian Bombay Blast Weekend', his face subsequently gracing the showbiz pages of India Today. His performance before an Arab audience is one of the great listening experiences of a lifetime, as well as a lesson in audience participation Arab- style: superstars are rarely so approachable. N'ssi N'ssi on Cohiba/Mango '94 was his second collaboration with Don Was as producer, and bespoke a growing intuitive grasp of the international marketplace coupled with the requirements of Khaled's diehard and dedicated Maghreb audience. Sahra '96 employed raggae and tango textures without diluting the rai bloodlines, audaciously using I-Threes (Bob Marley's former backing trio and headliners in their own right), and a kazoo to emulate trad. Arab instrumentation. Hafla '98 was an incendiary set recorded live on tour in Europe '87.