A.Song.A.Day – Aicha

aichaThe word Rai in Arabic has many literal translations like “opinion”, “my way”, “tell it like it is” etc. Rai is also the name of a popular genre of world music which originated in Algeria in the 1920s, having its roots in Arabic love poetry and Bedouin folk music, and drawing influences from Spanish, French, African and Arabic musical forms. As its Arabic meanings implied, Rai music was indeed a way of Arab youngsters of the time to express their views on alienation, poverty, drug abuse and sexual desires, many things considered taboo by Islamic beliefs. Rai music however took a long time to spread to the rest of the world, and the artist who was instrumental in taking Rai music outside the Arab precincts was Khaled. Khaled made it big on the international scene with his 1992 self titled album which contained his legendary song Didi. And in 1996 Khaled followed up his success with an even bigger hit, which was the love song Aicha.

The song was written originally in French by singer-songwriter Jean-Jacques Goldman. The original French single however was never released in an album, though Khaled’s 1996 album Sahra featured a bilingual version of the song, sung both in French and Arabic. The Arabic lyrics were penned by Khaled himself. Like other Rai singers, Khaled was also known for his socially progressive themes in his songs and videos, something that didn’t earn him a lot of buddies on the conventional Islam side. In fact threat to his life forced Khaled to move to Paris in late 80s. Even in case of Aicha, the lyrics imply equal rights for woman and man, which represent true love, the words in Aicha’s reply to the man who woos her like “A cage is a cage, even if it’s made of gold” suggestive of the fact.

Aicha bears about it all the charm and romance of a pop ballad, hooking you onto it from the word go. The refrain played on guitar, and the ambient effect created by the synth make a mesmerizing combo. Add to that Khaled’s inimitable rendition and some eastern percussion and the song becomes absolutely irresistible. If I have heard anyone do an equally commendable job on covering the song, it would be the Danish hip hop band Outlandish. The band recorded an English version of the song for their album Bread & Barrels of Water. Outlandish did a complete revamp of the instrumentation keeping just the tune intact, and did a fantastic job of it, maintaining the haunting effect, though in an Outlandish way. The cover versions of Aicha have come from varied genres which widened the ambit of music lovers who were smitted by Aicha. Apart from Outlandish, other notable covers include a salsa variant by Senegalese band Africando, and a very entertaining a cappella version by Pennsylvania-based Hindi a cappella group called Penn Masala. The Penn Masala version though is more a cover of Outlandish’s Aicha than of the original, with some Hindi lyrics thrown in nevertheless.

Today is a time when World Music has grown to become a part of mainstream music itself, rather than being restricted to certain elite sections of the musical audience. The trend has also had its impact on Rai music, increasing its acceptance factor on the international front, some artists even using rai to send positive messages post 9/11. Khaled still continues to bring out albums, the latest one being Liberte. But none have so far managed to enrapture the audience worldwide on a scale like Aicha or Didi did. Being a fan of Rai music and specifically of Khaled, I hope that the “King of Rai” spins out another such magical composition, soon enough.

Live version by Khaled, Rachid Taha and Faudel (Courtesy: Adriana)

easwar says:

very good writeup Vipin. I remember listening to khaled’s didi thanks to a program on doordarshan long back in 1993. At khaled part from the amazing music couldnt make out much of the lyrics.i must admit that i wouldnt have known about aicha if not for outlandish who did a pretty good job. But khaled’s aicha is the best. Plainly what it implies and what it stands for.