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Cheikha Rimitti
Born: 1923, Tessala, Algeria

Cheikha Rimitti live in Central Park, 2001

By the 1930s, the Berber, Bedouin and Andalusian elements that would ultimately lead to rai music had coalesced in a style called wahrani. Wahrani was championed by cheikhas--female singers--in the bars of Algeria's "Little Paris," the coastal city of Oran. Cheikhas voiced the complaints of working class people in French colonial Algeria, upsetting officials. They also sang openly about sex, upsetting conservative mujahedin rebels.

ust the same, with her husky voice and inviting sexuality, Cheikha Rimitti El Ghizania seduced a mass following beginning with her 1936 debut recording. When revolution stirred in the '50s, Rimitti and others, then known as shaabi musicians, backed the cause. Trumpeter Bellemou Messaoud made a career of accompanying the first pop rai singers in the early '60s, around the time of independence. Schooled in Spanish music, Bellemou replaced wahrani's qasbah flute with trumpet or sax, and customized a quarter-tone accordion. Working with singer Belkacem Bouteldja, he stole the spotlight from a furious Rimitti. Soon however, the new government interfered, banning concerts and liquor sales in 1967, and limiting rai music to private weddings and the commercial cassette market. In this climate, the late producer Rachid Baba Ahmed, a fan of rock, soul, and funk, set up a basic eight-track studio and became pop rai's number one hitmaker, producing blockbuster releases that launched legendary rai careers for artists like Khaled, Zahouania and Fadela. Today, though over 75 years old, Rimitti continues to record.

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