KHALED: ON FLAMENCO, RAI, NASS EL GHIWANE
“Oran is an Andalusian town,” confirms Khaled. “We’re opposite Almeria and back in the day, rai had more to do with flamenco than anything else. I was born in La Calera, which is the name for the old port. It’s Spanish. Everyone speaks Spanish, all the older people at least…except me ha ha ha. And the old people used to say, including my father, that flamenco is a ‘cry of love’. There were taboos in our society and only flamenco said those words of love. There was even the dance of the Toreador…it was an erotic dance. Well that’s rai.”
So flamenco was the only means in town to say things straight, at least until the blunt plain speaking sounds of Nass El Ghiwane crossed over the border from Morocco and hit the youth of Algeria, including Khaled, like a tornado. This epoch making invasion occurred in the early 1970s just before the conflict in the Western Sahara brought Moroccan-Algerian relations to a bitter low. Khaled remembers the authorities rounding up truckloads of Moroccans living in Oran, including some of his close school friends, stripping them of their goods and property, and shipping them back over the border. “Oran was full of Moroccans. I grew up Moroccan. Although I was only small, I remember the shame and the hatred of those times,” says Khaled. “It still upsets me today. I can’t get it out of my head. I’ve even said as much to the King of Morocco, who’s a friend.” With his newly formed group, Noujoum El Khams (‘The Five Stars’), Khaled would play Nass El Ghiwane songs at weddings, even though Moroccan music was frowned on for a time. “With Nass El Ghiwane, for once, we had a group that were committed to singing about the reality of what was going on,” remembers Khaled. “They weren’t scared. They were the business as far as I was concerned. I had this small accordion, and when I played at weddings I would play with Noujoum El Khams, but after midnight I would take my accordion and sing rai. And that’s how I was discovered by this cassette producer who invited me to make a record. My challenge, when I went into the studio, was to bring together three cultures: the rai of Cheikha Remitti, the reality lyrics of Nass El Ghiwane that broke the taboos and the sax and trumpet of Bellemou Messaoud.
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