Various Artists

Rai Rebels

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There's no denying the historical importance of Rai Rebels -- it was the first primer of hit songs and early star singers of Algeria's pop music style to reach an international audience. Rachid Baba was rai's innovative young producer and one-man backing band due to the lack of professional session players in Algeria, according to the liner notes, which provide a pretty solid historical context. The tracks he recorded in the '80s here and on a second volume, Pop-Rai & Rachid Style, set the basic outlines for early rai before its international jump. "N'Sel Fik" (You Are Mine) by Chaba Fadela and Cheb Sahraoui was both a huge Algerian hit and the single breakthrough song for rai outside its homeland. It was also a one-song career-maker (they would record it several more times), but the guitars on this version are pushier and more urgent behind the vocal tradeoffs. The opening vocal improvisation in Cheb Hamid's "Khadidja" over a sparse intro before the swirling synths and drum machine is far more typical of Baba's arrangements. Rai was a studio music then -- the vocals on the Cheb Khaled/Chaba Zahouania duet "Ya Loualid" were recorded five years apart, before Baba slapped them into a minimalist arrangement with smoky synths leading over a prominent bassline. And "Sidi Boumedienne," with Khaled accompanied by a sensuous, uncredited female vocal foil, shows why he became the king of rai, as his expressive, supple voice ranges around majestic synth flourishes in the choruses. Zahouania's deep, husky voice on "Sahr Liyali" (Going out Every Night) is the launching pad for more synth squiggles, while Houari Benchenet's "Foug-E-Ramla" starts off accordion-and-drum-machine minimal before a powerful rai-house keyboard bass pulse turns it into the most distinctive track musically. Benchenet's "Mal Galbi" is pretty strong, too, but then only Cheb Sahraoui's too-choppy "Deblet Gaulbi" doesn't really work as long you can get behind the synth-heavy sound on the historically important Rai Rebels.

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