Cheb Aïssa’s gipsy raï formula
A natural musical marriage
Cheb Aïssa, the Algerian singer, opens up new raï prospects with the album Baraka, joining forces with Chico, an emblematic figure of gipsy music from the era of the Gipsy Kings. A highly energised union.
RFI Music: What’s the story behind this new album Baraka, the fruit of your collaboration with Chico & The Gypsies?
Cheb Aïssa: Chico lives in Arles, which isn’t far from Marseille where I live. While his mother was still alive, he always called me to play at special raï evenings for her, when there were celebrations for Eid, Ramadan… He liked these evenings a lot at the Patio. One day, I was singing Abdul Kader Boualem in a raï version, and he took the mic to sing it in duo with me. It was fantastic. So we started to think, why not do a gipsy raï album? The idea took off from there. We called it Baraka because Chico is someone who has “baraka”: he’s generous, giving; he does good things for people.
How do you see the marriage between these two forms of music?
For me, it’s culturally logical. Arab music and gipsy music is a bit like Andalusian music. We did it from feeling, not to be commercial. For the love of music. Wherever we played a concert, people really liked it. Last year, in Oujda in Morocco, I was invited by Chico because he was the artistic director of the festival and he invited me to sing four songs with him. There were 80.000 people screaming, which you don’t forget. It’s scary! I’ve just got back from Libya where we played at the Baalbeck Festival. Before that, we went to the Louisiane Festival, and also to Qatar where the album came out six months ago and is selling in the top five. I hope it’ll be the same in France!
Did you listen to a lot of gipsy or Andalusian music during your childhood in Algeria?
I grew up with it. There was only that kind of music in Algerian programmes during the 80s. Moreover, in Oran there were a lot of Spanish people, so I know a bit about Spanish melodies and the Gipsy Kings, Chico’s group. Andalusian music has a history in Algeria which is linked amongst other things to that of the Jewish people, and the great musicians who have played it, like Enrico Macias.
In bringing together these styles which are basically quite different, what gave you the most work in the studio?
We gave the making of this album a lot of thought: we tried sounds, breaks. It took time, almost six months. We weren’t in the studio every day. It depended on Chico’s availability as he was doing Charles Aznavour’s album at the same time and was always on the move. We didn’t encounter any real difficulties on the musical level, even if there’s a big difference in the way a song’s interpreted in raï and in gipsy music. But raï can mix with everything!
Does raï’s future lie in this mix?
I believe so. It’s now become international music. And it’s also my experience. I’ve done quite a lot of duos, with the Jamaican reggaeman U-Roy, with the Ivorian Paco Sery for the song Maghreb on his album Voyages, with the Mafia Maghrebine rappers, Imhotep, K’Rhyme le Roi…
How did you agree on the titles which make up Baraka’s repertoire?
We did well known titles, like those of Khaled’s, but we also took some from my previous albums or those of Chico and the Gipsy Kings, like Barcelona, Salam Alaikoum, Tu Sabes. We also wanted to do an album for the Maghreb: Dore Biha represents Morocco, Sidi Mansour represents Tunisia and Abdul Kader Boualem, Algeria. It’s this song that we started recording first in 2010 in Petit Mas, a studio in Martigues.
When you re-listen to raï which dates from the end of the 80s, with a sound characteristic of that era and which has aged a lot today, what does it inspire in you?
There wasn’t a lot of quality in terms of mix and sound. When Mami and Khaled did their first studio recordings, it was a single track, live. In a little room of two square metres, there was the percussionist, the violinist, the guitarist and the bass player… and everything was recorded. That’s what gave it charm. Personally, every time I want to listen to Khaled or Sahraoui, I listen to their recordings from the 80s. I find myself in them again. They remind me of my youth, my beginnings. And I love it.
Cheb Aïssa feat. Chico & the Gypsies Baraka (MLP Productions) 2012