Cheb Kader: 'I'm not one to force destiny'
By Hassan Benmehdi for Magharebia in Casablanca – 09/12/10
After an absence of nearly ten years, Moroccan rai star Cheb Kader is making a comeback on the international music scene. He feels that his new album, Dima Rai, which is due out in January, represents reconciliation with the public and his fans all over the world. Magharebia sat down for an interview with Kader in Casablanca to discuss his career [Click here to listen], his new album and his message for Maghreb youth.
Magharebia: What was the reason for your absence of about twenty years from the music scene?
Cheb Kader: Actually, I don't have any real explanation to give. It's true that the most important part of my career was between 1987 and 1991, when I released four albums – one album per year. I think I did what I had to do, in that respect. After that, I had some concerns about my former record company, which didn't support me as much as it should have at the international level. I was one of the few artists who believed in the future of rai music on the international level, but unfortunately our record production company believed in other artists, on whose development it focused. I realised that there would come a time when I would have to stop to think things over and try to start in a better way. Sadly, in this profession, you know when to stop, but you never know when you can start again because we're not the only ones calling the shots.
Magharebia: But twenty years – that's a long time, isn't it?
Cheb Kader: In actual fact, it wasn't twenty years, it was ten years. In 2001 I released an album called Mani, which includes the track Majiti. It was very well received here in Morocco and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the same thing happened a second time – in other words, a total lack of development. But I'm not one to force destiny. Mani wasn't planned. It was almost an accident. It came about because of a friend, a musical arranger, who asked me to make him a copy of what I was composing back at my studio. One week later, Universal contacted me to ask if we could work together. That was how that album, which came out in the summer of 2001, came into being.
Magharebia: What are your plans for the future?
Cheb Kader: I've got quite a few, actually. First, there's my new album, which will come out in January. It's a kind of compilation of everything I've done up to now, with some impressive standards. I've kept some original songs such as Sid El Houari and Sel Dem Drai in it. These songs have a good history. There are also some that are unfamiliar to the Moroccan public, such as Nia or Dima Rai, which is really a song of hope that seeks to bring Moroccans and Algerians closer together. Rai music has always been a shared strong point that brings the people of the Maghreb together. I also think that music has always played an essential role in the world, namely that of culture and reconciliation despite political problems. Whatever happens, you can't stop or limit cultural exchange between nations. In this way, music can be a way of bringing about peace. In 2011, I'm due to perform at several festivals in different parts of Morocco. And at the end of 2011, there will be a completely new album that is currently being prepared.
Magharebia: Your origins are not well known by the public. Some people believe you are Algerian, and others believe you are Moroccan.
Cheb Kader: That's right. People often ask me about that. I was actually born in 1966 in Oran to Moroccan parents. Because of the Saharan issue in 1975, we left Algeria. I lived for a few months in Morocco, which I left in 1976 for France, where I joined my father, who was already living there. I've stayed in France since then, but I'm Moroccan. The song Bghite Bladi is, to some extent, an answer to the questions that have been asked, by internet surfers in particular, about my origins. That doesn't mean that I don't like Algerians. On the contrary, I have a lot of respect for the entire Algerian nation. Furthermore, my song Sid El Houari from about twenty years ago is a tribute to the district of Oran where I grew up, to Algeria and to its people.
Magharebia: Is your style of music, which is marked by prominent use of the violin, different from other musical styles of rai?
Cheb Kader: I think I was one of the first artists who created natural rai music. The word "natural" is very important. In Algeria and Morocco, I've listened to almost all styles of music, including traditional ones. In France, I discovered the international variety. That said, I've really been immersed in all of these kinds of music.
With rai, I tried to create quite a special mix of two different musical styles, namely the traditional and the modern. To get back to the violin, I'm a classical music fan. I've always dreamed about a classical, orchestral rai. In addition, I'm a big fan of Santana, which explains the electronic aspect of my music. It's true that my style of music didn't win many people over at first, but it turned out that, bizarrely, those who criticised it copied it a few years later. In my opinion, however, the violin is the foundation of rai music. And if you take this instrument away, you lose its spirit and something essential in terms of the melody.
Magharebia: What do you think of today's rai music?
Cheb Kader: Quite honestly, there isn't any now. I'm just telling it the way I see it. The rai of today lacks inspiration. It's like a car that has lost its engine.
Magharebia: What is your message to the young people of the Maghreb?
Cheb Kader: You've got to fight every day. We have an important cultural richness that should be developed. One must always do a little more and believe in it. Thanks to the media and the internet, they are increasingly opening up to the world. That's a good thing, but at the same time, one must not forget one's own origins and culture.
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