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Algeria's Rai music makes UN cultural charts

Cheb Khaled, seen in this 2000 picture, is one of the biggest stars of Algeria's Rai music which has made it onto UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage List. (Credit: AFP/File)

Raucous, expressive and revolutionary: Algeria's Rai music took its place on the United Nations' list of intangible cultural heritage Thursday.

"New inscription on the #IntangibleHeritage List: Rai, popular folk song of #Algeria," UN cultural agency UNESCO announced in a tweet.

Rai, whose biggest stars include Cheb Khaled and Cheb Mami, emerged in the closing decades of French colonial rule in Algeria, confronting social taboos and dealing with themes such as love, freedom, despair and the struggle against social pressures. 

It was originally a rural art form, with singers performing poetic texts in vernacular Arabic, accompanied by a traditional band.

But from the 1980s onward, it surged in popularity, centering around the western city of Oran.

The city hosted Algeria's first Rai festival in 1985 and the next year the genre reached France, home to a large Algerian diaspora.

That took singers including Cheikha Rimitti to global fame and attracted the attention of major record labels.

In 1992, Cheb Khaled became the first artist from the Maghreb region of North Africa to reach the global Top 50 with his song "Didi."

The same year, Algeria descended into a devastating decade-long war between authorities and jihadist militants, who assassinated several Rai singers including the star of "sentimental Rai," Cheb Hasni.

As the violence faded in the early 2000s, Rai began to struggle for its place amid other genres including hip hop and R&B, as well as being hit by scandal with Cheb Mami's conviction for violence against his ex-girlfriend.

This year it brought a new breath of life to the form, with the phenomenal success of Franco-Algerian DJ Snake's "Disco Maghreb," a tribute to the emblematic Oran record company at the heart of the genre. 



Raucous, expressive and revolutionary: Algeria's Rai music took its place on the United Nations' list of intangible cultural heritage Thursday.

"New inscription on the #IntangibleHeritage List: Rai, popular folk song of #Algeria," UN cultural agency UNESCO announced in a tweet.

Rai, whose biggest stars include Cheb Khaled and Cheb...