J’ADORE MEXIQUE! But we won’t talk about them much for now; I’m saving the teams who’ll stay in the competition for later, and Mexico certainly look like being one of those teams, at the expense of France. (Couldn’t happen to a nicer country, honestly.) So instead my attention -as well as the attention of the rest of England – turns to France’s best buddies in the World Cup, Algeria. The ties between the two countries are so strong that it’d been said that there was more celebration in Paris over Algeria’s qualificaton for the tournament than there was for France’s, although the utterly shameful way Les Bleus won their play-off may have someting to do with that. Still, maybe the French feel they owe Algeria a little something – the greatest French footballer of all time was actually an Algerian, of course.
Algeria’s musical scene retains those historical ties to France, and Gallic forms of music have always remained popular in the country. Chanson – perhaps the music most associated with the country – is a case in point, and to show that off, here’s Etienne Daho. A truly cosmopolitan artist (born in Algeria, lived and worked in France, now living in London, with a polylingual catalogue), his chanson vocals and melodies find themselves in all sorts of alien contexts, with his synth-heavy production reflecting the influence of both late ’80s sophistipop and the artier end of ’90s European dance music.
Indeed, it’s incredible how many of Algeria’s premier musicians, like Daho, end up working in France, whether it’s Saoud Massi’s acoustic singer-songwriter sound, Roce’s hip-hop, or Hector Zazou’s experimentation with African sounds, electronic textures, and minimalism. It’s the latter of those – who is so often mistakenly described as French – who is responsible for making probably the most immediately striking record by an Algerian act, in the shape of Sahara Blue. A record heavy on collaborations (John Cale and Bill Laswell sit alongside an uncredited David Sylvian), it’s a selection of Arthru Rimbaud poems turned into songs. This song has Gérard Depardieu on vocals, which is really all the recommendation you should need.
Algeria definitely has its own form distanced from the influence of Europe, though – rai. The most successful genre in the country, and probably its most acclaimed cultural export, rai grew from Bedouin folk songs into a movement that became a powerful vehicle for cultural expansion and political protest. Khaled – featured on Sahara Blue himself – is the man who took rai to an international stage, and he remains the biggest name with the biggest hits, and a legacy so impressive that it’s astonishing to realize that he’s still only 50. The biggest of those hits is “Aicha”, which isn’t the best representation of the genre’s sound, but it’s gorgeous and there’s a pretty lady in the video, which is enough for me.