Algeria: Rabah Donquishoot

Rabah is a musician and rapper who has produced a ‘Music Freedom Day’ signature song for Freemuse together with his group MBS and rappers around the world.
In this interview he speaks about music censorship in Algeria and about the role of the Algerian musician Matoub Lounes who was assassinated in 1998.


Rabah Donquishoot (real name: Rabah Ourrad) took part in the session ‘All that is banned is desired’ at the 3rd Freemuse World Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in November 2006.

Rabah was born in Algeria in 1977. Today he is based in Barcelona, Spain. He started making music in 1994, during the civil war in Algeria, with his group MBS (‘Le Micro Brise le Silence’ – ‘The Microphone Breaks the Silence’). They produced five albums, and alongside he produced three solo albums.

Rabah’s rap is very engaged socially and politically and talks about street life of Algerian youth. He caused quite a stir when he posed as the Algerian president Bouteflika on one of the group’s album covers in 1999, ‘Rabah President’, which was banned in Algeria. He left the country for the first time in 1999 to France. Since then he has been performing all around the world “to pass the message and make his music freely, far away from control”.

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The video interview as well as Rabah’s presentation and rap performance was recorded by Mik Aidt assisted by Gaëlle Gauthier-Brown on 26 November 2006.
Signature music: Jason Carter recorded live at the conference.


CD-cover of ‘Rabah President’

Listen to ‘152 mesures contre la censure’ 

Transription and translation to English:

Video interview with Rabah Donquishoot 

at Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey

Interview PART 1

You should be aware that there is only one tv channel and one radio channel in Algeria and they both belong to the state. As they’re the media dealing with music, you have to go through it. They have a committee there that listens and censors and decides which videos should be excluded, like in the case of my video clip ‘Ni visa, ni euros’.

They said it encouraged the youth to leave Algeria so they couldn’t broadcast such a video. Or like Baaziz who had problems because of his song against the generals. They’ve also forbidden live broadcasts in Algeria so that nothing can be said that can’t be cut. So it’s difficult for us to talk freely.

There’s also censorship by the presenters, DJs and journalists themselves. They ask you straight up to choose the most harmless song from your latest album. That is to say: the one they can broadcast, the one that doesn’t deal with politics. This is the type of censorship you can find in Algeria. Everybody knows that they only play the most “politically correct” songs.

Rap excerpt 1 (at the conference)

Since silence has built its empire
and the mouths remain shut
and we accept the worse
life in the middle of taboos
the least sign of intelligence
condemns you to a programmed failure
by the gangrene and its self-declared army

But from now on
I need to prove myself
Enough of behind the scenes
The stage and my brothers’ blood
are calling me
I am calling my vocal cords
My anger, my rhymes
The rebellion takes place
MBS lauches the raid
on HZ waves
To my sides: bings, sy et med

Interview PART 2

Since Bouteflika was elected, he has promogated a law which generated more and more silence. The Article 144 and 144 B prohibits freedom of expression in the fields of music and literature. Those who insult the president or people in the government risk ending up in prison.

And in particular at the time when musicians who were singing in the Berber language just like the Kurds in Turkey. They were tortured and put in prison – like Ferhat Mhenni or like Debza – which means ‘fist’. One of the musicians who used the Berber language. Like Matoub Lounes who was assassinated in 1998. Personally, I am in doubt whether this murder was done by Islamists or State Services.

And to wipe out that vague impression of freedom which we had gained by the juvenile revolution of 5 october 1988 which gave us the multi-party democracy and some socalled “independent” newspapers but still, no tv, no radio.

Some examples of recent censorship:
My latest album, ‘Rabah President’ which I did to go up against that power which the president has to become re-elected. “They” called the record company director to say that he should not publish this album. He then requested that I change the cover and the lyrics in the first track which critisises the president. I refused, and the album was never published.

Interview PART 3

My personal feeling concerning this situation is primarily: anger. Anger towards those who – for absurd reasons – put barriers between me and my compatriots, …those that I am addressing directly.

I also feel a great frustration because I can’t perform any live concerts. Because in Algeria, literally all concerts are organised by the state. You don’t have many privately organised concerts because the companies don’t have enough means and the state has a monopoly on all professional concert equipment. On top of this, the festivals are all controlled by official institutions like the Ministry of Culture, of Youth or whatever. In these cases, I can’t lend my support. That’s why we haven’t performed for a long time in Algeria.

The worst is that we’ve been working hard for many years to make and develop our music and to write texts and poems but we can’t sing them to the people we write for. It’s like something that’s nipped at the bud.

We feel a great frustration because we can perform in any place or through any media in Europe where most people don’t understand our lyrics. Yet those concerned cannot even hear them. We are unable to play our music neither in tv nor in the radio. We cannot get through with what we want and have to leave the most important part of our music behind. That’s why we struggle and we are prepared to go and play in the streets there. I’m sure we can play in the streets. As I always say: I don’t need your tv nor your radio. I’ll do it anyhow!

Rap excerpt 2

We talked about terrorism
but the cup is still full
and about these motherfuckers
who let them paint
the White with dirt

They built a bridge in El Hamma
to make their stealing go easy
these traders of oil
the soldiers in the caserne
and the generals in the port
and those with blinded cars
and 20 millions off-centims villas
in “Club des Pins”
With costums
Their hands always in the air

I swear that they don’t understand
a word about why they lost their votes
They know just how to talk about nothing
These worst of workers are “blue”
like the sofas they sit on
(the sofas in the parliament are blue)

Government budget… ok!
Arabisation… right!
Let’s debate about this!
Then… silence

They don’t give a fuck
but they still get more and more power
and their children do whatever they want
with their diplomatic passports
while we are still waiting
for our visas
but with their consent or not
we will get out of here

Interview PART 4

What I’m doing now has already been done by Matoub Lounes before me. Like him, I’m trying to fight against ignorance, censorship, dictatorship… And try to say things in a simple way, make poetry like you want to I am what I am and do what I do because I could listen to artists like Matoub Lounes, Ferhat Imazighen, Baaziz, KG2, and so on.

And I hope that our music, the hip hop, will be much more accepted because in general it is not an accepted form of music I hope the hip hop we practise will be accepted in Algeria and people will understand that we only write poetry about our social analysis and feelings and that we do it in a nice and beautiful way – a hip hop way because that is the music we want to make.

And we want to do it the Algerian way and not “blink!-blink!” the way the Americans do their hip hop. We don’t want to be influenced by anything outside of purely artistic genres. If Idir, who is so famous in Algeria, can sing pop music in Kabyle Berber language…
If KG2 can sing rock music, why can’t our hip hop be played in the way we compose it with Algerian lyrics and Algerian music influences? We make it with the Algerian words inforporating the Algerian music.

Naturally, not because we want to please anyone, but simply because it is in our venes. We do all of this for the Algerian people, it is inspired by the guts of the Algerians and by the smell of the Algerian streets. And that people will understand this and that it will be possible for us to come through with this.

And perhaps… This is my dream, this is my hope: If I could do for all the Algerian rappers what Matoub Lounes has done for me.

Bonus excerpt of the interview (not on video)

The truth is, I think, that in general oppressed people – those who live under a dictatorship or in the third world – are much more sensitive to militant actions, or arts like music and poetry. The tv and the radio could popularise music, and we could be part of this. But it has always remained elitist insofar as it is enjoyed only by a minority of people. Algerian rap is young, though, it is only ten years old.

You have more and more movements in this genre now. It’s still difficult for young people to access our music because we can’t easily sell it, for publishing reasons especially. But young people try to find it on the web. Last time I was on the web, I was very surprised to be told by young fellows in my neighbourhood that I was known and some of them listened to me. They showed me what they had learnt and had downloaded from my work, thanks to the web!

That’s why I try to improve by providing more material for the web, but its access is not so commonplace in Algeria yet. This will come, however and that way we will have more and more space to express ourselves and be heard. I can tell you that rap musicians are very concerned by censorship in Algeria. They work hard on this issue and they try to bring out songs on this subject. Groups like Toks from Oran or Diaz and Mammoud from Alger do.

Lyrics by Rabah Donquisthoot.

Translation to English by Gaëlle Gauthier-Brown and Rabah Donquishoot.

Sources on the internet

Article about Rabah Ourrad – 2005:
‘Rap Rebellion – Loud and Proud’

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