Cheikha Remitti

Sources of the Rai

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They call Cheikha Remitti (the Cheikha is an honorific) the grandmother of rai for a reason -- she began singing in 1936, and since then has consistently pushed at the boundaries and limits of rai, even as she's helped define it. This live set, recorded at the Institut Du Monde Arabe in France, doesn't include versions of her earliest recordings, from 1952, but does include her singing the song which brought her to both fame and notoriety, "Charrag, Gataa," a song that broached the taboo subject of virginity, and suggested it was something best done away with, daring words from a woman in Algeria at that time. That song established her, and four years later "Debri Debri" consolidated her position as the first lady of rai. Accompanied here by gasba, derbouka, and guellal, she sings through some of her catalog (she's been a prolific composer over the years). This is real roots rai, with no affectations or modern thoughts, but the sound of Oran that's always been the bedrock of Remitti's music, with the undulation of the desert and the rich Berber past. In other words, it's probably not for someone who's just discovered rai or Remitti: this is very hardcore, demanding time and patience. But it's obvious the audience is entranced, clapping along, whooping in the appropriate places, and relishing this rare opportunity to hear someone who's become one of the genre's legends exploring her past.

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