Cheb Bilal and the migrant Raï

This article is also available in: Italiano

Thanks to his raw technique, his greater attention to texts and his history, Cheb Bilal has been confirmed over the years as one of the absolute stars of Raï music

From Cherchelle to Marseille

Cheb Bilal was born in 1966 in Cherchelle, a city in Algeria located near the capital, but only a few months will remain. In fact, his parents divorced when he was just 3 months old and, for this reason, he was raised by his grandparents in Oran. Here he began to become increasingly passionate about Raï music, managing to found a group, El Ahouar, which would also triumph in various local singing competitions. Cheb Bilal’s ambition, however, will lead him to cross the sea, finally arriving in France in 1989.

cheb bilal

Once arrived in Marseille, the young singer will have to juggle a thousand complicated situations, including the lack of documents, which will not however compromise its success. In fact, his texts are particularly appreciated by the community, so much so that he quickly became an absolute point of reference for the genre. In 1997 he will record his first album with international success, or Babour li Jebni (Cursed the boat that brought me), entering the absolute Olympus of the Raï together with characters of the caliber of Cheb Khaled, Cheb Mami and Cheikha Rimitti.

People’s singer

Unfortunately we have not been able to find translated texts and we are unable to verify in person, however, in the Raï environment, Cheb Bilal is the best especially for the texts, more thought out than many other artists. Compared to Cheb Mami or Khaled, in fact, the success of this artist is above all to be found in the migrant community, rather than in the French or Algerian ones in Algeria. It is no coincidence that his first great success speaks precisely of similar subjects and that he decided Marseille, rather than Paris, as a stop to start his recording career.

Furthermore, compared to the other great artists already mentioned, Cheb Bilal’s style is decidedly more crude, making words stand out on everything and transforming it into a hybrid between rap and Raï, a magnificent alternative to many very similar artists. The over twenty-year success of his career is due precisely to this characteristic, transformed into a strength with the experience and sweat gained in the South of France, a place where he has long worked as a double bartender; all for music.

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