Africa: Afropop Interview with Khaled, 02/07/02

Africa: Afropop Interview with Khaled, 02/07/02

Africa: Afropop Interview with Khaled Date distributed (ymd): 020207 Document reposted by Africa Action

Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for Africa at

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide Issue Areas: +culture+


This posting contains an interview with Algerian music superstar Cheb Khaled, by Sean Barlow for Afropop Worldwide ( The site has much additional resources on African music, including links for listening, reviews, background articles, signup for a free e-mail newsletter, and more.

Cultural links are fundamental to the context in which international political and economic policies toward Africa are formed. Although postings on this list most often focus on particular political and economic issues, we welcome readers' suggestions of other articles that, like this interview, make these important connections.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Africa Action update

Today, February 7, is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day in the United States. Africa Action is participating in National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day with the NAACP, the Community Capacity Building Coalition, and others in a nationwide community mobilization effort to emphasize the state of emergency HIV/AIDS has created among African-Americans in the U.S. For an Africa Action press advisory released today, see


The King of Rai in New York

Afropop Worldwide (New York)


by Sean Barlow For (Contact author at:

New York, February 5, 2002

Algerian superstar Khaled is in New York on his first U.S. tour (in a double bill with Hakim of Eqypt) since 1991. Often called the King of Rai - a style combining north African roots music with the hottest dance beats - Cheb Khaled has become a global phenomenon, with fans around the globe and a strongly political message in favour of liberal ideas and cross-cultural exhange which has provoked the anger of islamic fundamentalist groups. Afropop's Sean Barlow interviewed him in New York. Excerpts:

How does it feel to be in the United States for a national tour?

I am very happy to be back in United States. I am here for a true tour. My songs are about love and liberty, like rock 'n' roll, like flamenco. It's a cry of love. We are ambassadors, messengers of love and peace.

You said "liberty"?

Yes. Freedom. Freedom. Since I was young, I was the only person who did music in my family. I did not study music. It's a gift. And when I speak about liberty, you know, we are not always free, but we try to be. In music there is no racism, no fanaticism, no borders. In music, there are artists who sing about politics--engaged artists--and also artists who sing about love, who sing about life, artists who make you dance and artists you make you laugh. Me, I'm coming from those artists who make people laugh and talk about love.

When I was young, I had a problem around military service. I did not want to serve because I was not born to kill people. Everyone has his thing. My culture, my music has always been locked up in the countries of the third world, as we say in Africa. It was always closed in, run by military cliques. You couldn't breathe, you couldn't have cultural exchange of beautiful things, because to me, a world without culture is not a world. So to meet other people and exchange with them--that I couldn't do. I was defeated by this up until I was 26-years old. That was the first time I had a passport and I left my country, and only with great difficulty--just because I didn't want to complete my military service. That's why I always sing about freedom. I wanted to go outside; I wanted to meet others; I wanted to meet other people, and see how they live.

This is why I like satellite technology. It's beautiful! With satellites, you can travel without a passport. When you have an Algerian passport, you have problems at borders now, with all the problems with fanaticism we have now. If you arrive with an Arab passport, you are a Muslim, and people look at you. We have problems now just meeting people who associate Arabs and Muslims with fanaticism and particular sects. Christians too have problems with certain sects. You can't throw everyone in the same sack. And that's the message that I mean by liberty. Let people live; let them sing. When it comes to politics, let them do what they want. Politics is not my career. I'm a musician. That's it.

What kind of a band have you brought for this tour? What instruments will we hear?

We are ten on stage, with me. We have three horns, bass guitar, Oriental percussion like the derbouka, drums. We also have two keyboards, one who plays the lines and chords of the Egyptian violin--he's a French man--and the other who does the melodies of North Africa. Because we in Algeria, as in Senegal and all over Africa, when a singer is singing, there is always a melody behind him. That's why we always have two keyboards, one who's a technician, the other who plays with the song, who is more Mahgreb, who knows the melodies. He follows the line, like a violinist. That's why I'm able to make a marriage between Eastern and Western music.

Speaking of violin, violin and oud maestro Simon Shaheen is going to perform with you here. What is Simon going to do in the concert? Improvise with you?

This will be our first meeting, so he will listen to my albums first to understand what we have done. I always have the oud in my music. In France, we introduced the oud on 1, 2, 3 Soleils, and there is a lot of oud on my last album, Kenza. Steve Hillage, the guitarist from London, was the producer for the evening when we recorded 1, 2, 3 Soleils. He had a book of Sinatra tunes where there was the music for the song "My Way." This song has been done in all the languages of the world, but not in Arabic. So this was the occasion to do it. We did it in the American way, not the French way, but I brought in the oud. I found that the oud brought something fabulous, something magnificent, especially in Western music. It really works there. It gives a different color. And also in our version of "Imagine," we used the oud. Since my beginning in music, I always played the oud. That was my first instrument. So now, thirty years later, I am returning to the oud in my music. I play the oud myself, not like a professional, but I play.

What is your repertoire going to be for the concerts on this tour?

You know rai music is improvised on stage. We have not figured out what we're going to do, but all the songs are beautiful!

Can we count on some hits? "Aisha," "N'Sii Nsii," "Didi"?

Yes of course. These are the hits that one is obliged to play. But there are other surprises. Because we have about 50 songs that we could play. My musicians have been with me for 15 years now. They understand everything. We have a program that is different, cool, like the rock in the 60s, but rai 100%. No machines. Truly, a cry from the heart.

In the world there are many machines. On my albums, except the first one Kutche, there are no machines. I don't want machines. I don't want to be a slave to machines. Machines are good for preparing a demo, but for performing on stage, no, no. The true music comes from the gut. When I recruit my musicians, I tell them I'll pay you well and you'll work hard.

I've got five of your CD's here, spanning your long career. Maybe you can talk about your evolution as an artist over that time.

Look, for example, at "Harba Wina," done in the 80s when things were starting to get hot in Algeria. We were starting to have problems. The first release coincided with the civil unrest of October 1988. I had recorded it in 1987. When the song was released, I was in France, and I heard that young people were singing it outside in the street. So I was afraid to go back. I told myself, "It's over. If I go back, they'll throw me in prison." Because the young really found themselves in that song "Harba Wina." It's a song that was created by Idir, a Berber singer, singing in the Amazigh language. The words meant something like, "Let's move, let's boogie." The words were about dancing. Now me, I'm an Arabaphone. So I made words in Arabic. "You want to leave your country? Where do you want to go?" Because this had become a mode in Algeria. All the young people wanted to leave. So why did they want to emigrate? Because life had become so bad. The song says that. And all the youth were singing it.

So then there was an evolution, because for me, it's always been about singing what's happening. There was "Didi" in 1990. Didi means "take" as in "take the beauty." Rai is all about metaphor. It's like rock and roll. The powers that be don't like it. They don't want it to be shown on television. So I said, "Take the beauty. You have to enjoy life." I use metaphors. I talk about a dragonfly. I say, "If you see another woman, another woman, other women--like a dragonfly--you will leave at the end of the night with no one."

Then the album N'sii N'ssi was released in 1993, when things were really getting hot. There was, for example, the song "Adieu." I was saying, "Goodbye. I am watching you." I was far from my home. So I was saying goodbye and I regret, but still I will love you always.

There was also "Serbi Serbi." There was the problem of Serbia at the time. People said, "Khaled, are you singing about Serbia?" I said, no. I my dialect in North Africa, we are influenced by Spanish. "V" becomes like "B". So "servir, servir" becomes "serbi, serbi." In the video, I am alone in a house. I am looking through the window at my country. I have a glass of wine in front of me. So this is a man who is in a bar, and in pain. He drinks and he demands to the waiter, "Serve me, serve me. Because I am unhappy. I left my love behind. I am in pain. I was tricked." I am like that. I am just an artist. I was born to travel, to be far away. It's as if I'm talking to the barman and telling him about my life.

In Algeria, there were certain fanatics who did not accept this video. But people said afterwards, "Khaled, you are a gentle provocateur." Because I know how to pass on my words. I do it softly. There is wine, alcohol. Well, in my country, we have good wine. I grew up with good wine. One can't change the culture of a country easily. One can't change the customs, unless it is really within the people. If you try to do it by force, you have problems like the Taliban, problems like Iran. You have lots of problems. You can't live like that.

That's why when I went out on my own, I saw my father drink. Some people did not drink out of respect for Islam. Some people did drink, and everyone lived peacefully together. But afterwards, the problem of fanaticism came up. Well, excuse me, I am interested in being human. I am interested in the amalgam. A Muslim and a fanatic: that is not the same thing. It's like the problem that came, for example, in France, putting bombs on trains and subways. So we as Algerians who emigrated to France, we were seen as bad, as threats. Some think of us as traitors, as non-religious, anti-Islamist, because we live overseas. We are still Muslim, we still have faith, we are not traitors. God gave me life so I could profit from it, not so I would sleep. That's the key for me. God made us human. So why live? Why marry? Why make love and have children? This is how we have generations. It's the way life works. It's normal. You can't change that.

So a person who comes and says, "No. Stop." It's as good as saying, "Don't live." Don't watch TV; don't go to films, don't sing. But these are good things given to me by my good God! So to those who want me to leave all that, I say, "Not at all. Excuse me." [Laughs] Sorry.

There is a lot of discussion in America, following September 11th, about Islam. What would you say to Americans about Islam?

What I want to tell Americans is that the word Islam means "peace." Islam has nothing to do with sects, nothing to do with killing. The good lord did not put us here to kill one another. It's written in all religions--Islam, Christianity, Bhuddhist--it's forbidden to kill. Don't do bad to other people. No, no, no, no. Excuse me. No. In my mind, the problem of September 11th is a big problem. We are in solidarity with the United States. Me, I was outside in Paris and I saw that for the first time in my life--I am 40--I saw that the world had stopped. We were 10,000 km away, but we were present. I saw French people, Muslims, Algerians. Everyone was together. This hurt the entire world. It was really bad what happened. But to end it, we need to fix the problems, the source of the big problem. For me, what is at the base of this whole thing is the history of the Palestineans. George Bush has said we're going to stop terrorism. This is the end. The end? Not yet. There are still people killing children in Algeria, in Asia, in Africa. There are still people killing Palestinean children. Palestinians have lived in war for 40 years. That means there are people who were born and died in war. They have the right to profit from life like me, like you, like everyone.

On this tour, I understand you'll be singing "Salaam Alekum" with Hakim.

Yes, yes, yes. It's an idea we came up with when we were staying at the home of Miles Copeland in Angouleme, France. He invited many artists and producers. There were Africans, Indians, Algerians, Moroccans, all the races. Everyone collaborated with everyone. Anyone who had an idea, it was, "Excuse me, can I try this? Can I play the bass?" It was a family. While we were there, Hakim was singing and everyone started in with [singing like James Brown] "So good. Uhn, uhn. So good. Uhn. I got you! Uhn, uhn, uhn." It was good. Afterwards, it was "Salaam Alekum" with "So good." Those go together. So it was a collaboration. "Salaam Alekum" means "Peace be with you." It's salut, salaam, shalom. It's an international expression--everyone in the world knows it. So we had the idea to do that to pass the message of peace.

Finally, Khaled, tell us about the musical evolution of your sound.

The evolution in my music has really been thanks to traveling so much. Like for N'sii N'sii, I was in Jamaica, where I worked in the studio where Bob Marley recorded. Rita Marley sang with me, doing the chorus. Or when I went with Don Was in Los Angeles, and I met big Mexican singers and made a collaboration with them. It was fabulous. Don Was also brought chorus singers from Elvis Presley's group, black women. These things changed my life. They tell me I didn't fight for nothing. I've had one idea all along, to bring people together. I have met only good people in this way. Recently, I did (John Lennon's) "Imagine" with Noa. She's an Israeli; I'm a Muslim. This sends a message. And we chose "Imagine," a song that will never die, a song that speaks of peace. We're not singers who attack people or shoot arrows at them. Not at all. We are love singers. We try only to do good.

Khaled and Hakim appear at the Beacon Theater, New York, on Friday February 8. See the Khaled/Hakim News Flash at for details on getting a Club Afropop package including a premium orchestra ticket for the concert, a VIP pass to the after-party, and a Khaled CD signed by the artist. Tickets to the concert are also available through Ticketmaster.

(c) 2002 World Music Productions. Reposted by Africa Action with permission.


Message-Id: <> From: "Africa Action" <> Date: Thu, 7 Feb 2002 11:07:02 -0500 Subject: Africa: Afropop Interview with Khaled

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific