Algeria: Cheb Hasni – popular rai hero assassinated

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The case of Algerian Raï-musician Cheb Hasni

He was an idol worshipped by an entire generation of Algerian teenagers. In 1994, the 26-year-old Raï star Cheb Hasni was gunned down outside his home in Oran

He was cut down at the height of his fame.

Returning home from a recording session, he was shot with two bullets in the head by someone he thought was a fan, two steps of his house. He had been receiving letters of death threats from Islamic extremists, and his wife had moved to security in France with their son.

Cheb Hasni (born Hasni Chakroun) had had a profound effect on the evolution of Raï, Algeria’s popular dance music, and his murder transformed the Raï scene into a protest movement. Strongly opposed by Algeria’s oppressive military regime during the civil war that swept through Algeria, Hasni’s songs, which advocated open expression of love, had been previously banned by Algeria’s national censorship board.

He left behind more than four hundred song titles, recorded during the intense six years of his carreer.

The Iglesias of Raï
Cheb Hasni’s debut album, ‘Madenitch Net Ferkou’, sold nearly a million copies in Paris and surrounding suburbs. Affectionately known as “the Julio Iglesias of Raï music,” Hasni is remembered for his ultra-light voice, sentimental lyrics, and affinity for lush, orchestrated arrangements.

More than 150,000 persons accompanied him to his last restingplace, the cemetery Aïn Beïda in Oran.

The following year, on 15 February 1995, producer Rachid Baba-Ahmed, another leading figure in the Raï world, was assassinated in Oran.

Shockwaves of a song
Born in the Gambetta district of Oran to a poor welder’s family, young Hasni grew between his six brothers and sisters. Hasni began to sing in the street, and lateron at wedding parties and festivals with the band Si Kada Nui. He was revolting against the fundamentalists who directed the country, and the moral which condemned all non religious usage of the art. 

His break-through as a singer came in 1987 when he covered the song “El Berraka” together with Chaba Zahouania. The lyrics of “El Berraka” (“The Shack”) are about “making love in a dirty old shack”. Hasni sang: “I had her … because when you’re drunk that’s the sort of idea that runs through your head!”.

The song sent shockwaves coursing through Algerian society for months – and proved an instant hit with Algerian teenagers. Islamic fundamentalists tried to force record store owners to turn down the volume when they played “El Berraka”, so that the outrageous lyrics would not be heard in the street. Unofficial estimates put the sales of “El Berraka” at a million.

A hope carrier
Cheb Hasni established himself as the leader of a new style which fans dubbed “Raï love”. The cassette copy of “El Visa” proved a huge hit in 1992, selling over 250,000 copies within a few days of its release. The lyrics of his song “El Visa”:

  I was going to go and see my baby
  But you’ve taken my visa
  You want to kill me!
  I’m gonna drink myself stupid
  and smash everything.

During the government’s 1990-92 ban on concerts, Hasni recorded extensively, bringing his total to over 80 cassettes in six years, and selling up to 400,000 copies of each. 

He was a hope carrier for all a youth roughly touched by the unemployment, the misery and the fear. His song “Matoub Lounes” became a symbol of liberty and resistance to the oppression.


Biographies

RFI Musique’s Cheb Hasni Biography
Website dedicated to Hasni


Raï hero Cheb Hasni: silenced in 1994


الشاب حسني: ذاكرة الرومانسية العربية

 – article about Cheb Hasni in Arabic language

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