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Template:Genrebox Raï (Arabic: راي) is a form of folk music, originated in Oran, Algeria from Bedouin shepherds, mixed with Spanish, French, African-American and Arabic musical forms, which dates back to the 1930s and has been evolved by women mainly. The word "Raï" is Arabic for "opinion".

Singers of raï are called cheb (young) as opposed to cheikh (old) the name given to Chaabi music singers; the tradition arose in cities like Oran and elsewhere in Tlemcen, primarily among the poor. The word raï means literally opinion but is colloquially used as an expletive along the lines of oh, yeah!. Traditionally sung by men, at the turn of the 20th century, female singers became common. Oran is a seaport in Western Algeria, known since the Spanish invasion centuries ago; Spanish troops kept women there to entertain the troops, and the city has kept a reputation for hedonism ever since. In the early 20th century, Oran was divided into Jewish, French, Spanish and Arab quarters. By independence in 1962, the Jewish quarter (known as the Derb), was home to popular musicians like Reinette L'Oranaise, Saoud L'Oranais and Larbi Bensari. Sidi el Houari was home to Spanish fishermen, many refugees from Spain who arrived after 1939. These two quarters were the centers for musical innovation, and the French inhabitants of the city went to the Jewish and Spanish areas for music. The Arabs of Oran were known for al-andalous, a classical style of music imported from Southern Spain after 1492. Hawzi was popular between the wars, and the biggest stars were female singers like Cheikha Tetma, Fadila D'zirya and Myriam Fekkai. Melhun poetry with accompaniment was also popular, sung by male singers in long, white jellabas and turbans (known as cheikhs) who played guellal drums and gaspa flutes. This genre was known as bedoui (from its origin among Bedouin chants) or gharbi. Lyrics came from the poetry of masters like Mestfa ben Brahim and Zenagui Bouhafs, and performers included Cheikh Hamada, Cheikh Mohammed Senoussi, Cheikh Madani, Cheikh Hachemi Bensmir and Cheikh Khaldi. Senoussi was the first to record, in 1906.

French colonization of Algeria changed the organization of society, producing an urban poor of uneducated men and women. Popular bedoui singers mostly collaborated with the French colonizers, though some, like Cheikh Hamada were exceptions. The problems of survival in a life of poverty were the domain of street musicians who sang bar-songs called zendanis. Many of these songs included exclamations of raï! and variations on it, which implies an opinion is being expressed.

In the 1920s, the women of Oran were held to strict code of conduct. Many of those that failed became social outcasts and singers and dancers. They sang medh songs in praïse of Muhammad and performed for female audiences at weddings, circumcision feasts and other ceremonies. These performers included Les Trois Filles de Baghdad, Soubira bent Menad and Kheira Essebsadija. Another group of female social outcasts were called cheikhas, who were known for their alluring dress, hedonistic lyrics, and a form of music that combined that of the cheikhs, meddhahates and zendani singers. These cheikhas sang for both men and women, and included Cheikha Remitti el Reliziana, perhaps the most famous cheikha. Other performers included Cheikha Grélo, Cheikha Djenia el Mostganmia, Cheikha Bachitta de Mascara and Cheikha a; Ouachma el Tmouchentia. The 1930s saw the rise of revolutionary organizations, many with a Marxist goal, which mostly despised these early roots raï singers. At the same time, the great voices of Arab classical music were gaining popularity across North Africa, especially Umm Kulthum.

Raï, al-andalous and the Egyptian classical superstars' style was combined in the 30s to form wahrani, a style popularized by Blaoui Houari. Wahrani was very popular, as were American jazz and French cabaret singers like Edith Piaf, especially into the 1940s. Musicians like Mohammed Belarbi and Djelloul Bendaoud added these influences to other Oranian styles, as well as Western piano and accordion, resulting in a new style called bedoui citadinisé. Full-scale revolution began in the mid-1950s, and many of these stars, including Houari and Ahmed Saber, supported the Front de Libération National. After independence in 1962, however, the new Marxist government of the Boumédiènne regime, and President Ahmed Ben Bella, did not tolerate criticism from Saber and other musicians, and many were arrested. Raï and Oranian culture was suppressed.

In the 1960s, American rock and roll and soul music was popular, and Algerian bands like The Vulures and The Students arose. The French Yé Yé craze was also popular, and two of the most influential musicians of the later 20th century began their career. Bellamou Messaoud and Belkacem Bouteldja modernized the raï sound and began gaining mainstream acceptance by 1964. Chaba Fadela and Cheb Khaled also began their careers during this period, as raï's popularity was growing across Algeria. Recording technology began growing more advanced, and more imported genres gained popularity as well, into the 1970s, especially Jamaican reggae performers like Bob Marley. Fadela's 1979 "Ana ma h'lali ennoum" is considered the beginning of modern pop raï; the song was a hit across Algeria, and set the stage for raï's domination of national listeners. International success had begun as early as 1976 with the success of Ahmad Baba Rachid.

In the 1980s, raï began its period of greatest popularity. In 1986, the first state-sanctioned raï festival was held in Algeria, and a festival was also held in Bobigny, France. Cheb Khaled was the first international superstar, though his popularity did not extend to the United States, Latin America and certain other areas. His 1988 Kutché album did the most to popularize him and the whole genre of raï. Other prominent performers of the 80s included Houari Benchenet, Raïna Raï, Mohamed Sahraoui, Cheb Mami and Cheb Hamid.

International success grew in the 1990s, when Cheb Khaled's 1992 Khaled was a major French hit and also saw success in India and elsewhere. With Khaled no longer in Algeria, new stars began singing lover's raï, a sentimental, pop-ballad form best-known for stars like Cheb Tahar, Cheb Nasro and, especially, Cheb Hasni. Later in the decade, funk, hip hop and other influences were added to raï, especially by performers like the French star Faudel and Rachid Taha.

Famous raï artists:

fr:Raï sv:Raï

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