The story and music of pianist Maurice El Medioni is a mix of
Jewish and Arab roots and French and Algerian identity. Learn
more about the cultural and political events that have shaped
his life and influenced his music.
of Raï Music
Algeria and France: A Mixed History
Ethnic and Religious Conflict in France
The Evolution of Raï
El Medioni was born in Oran, Algeria, where Arab, European and
Jewish influences created the music genre called raï. Today,
he lives in France's southern city of Marseilles, a crossroads
for many immigrants -- including North Africans, Italians, Turks,
Spaniards and Corsicans. Learn about the birth of raï music
and its 100-year evolution across borders.
Raï (pronounced "rye") is a Spanish flamenco-infused Arabic
pop music that mixes melody and percussion. Raï originated in
Oran, Algeria, a Mediterranean seaport where Arabic, European
and Jewish music and culture have blended for centuries. The
British band Sting recorded the international hit "Desert Rose"
with a popular raï musician, and America's Quincy Jones has
also toured with leading performers of the genre.
Beginning in the early 1900s, raï songs were characterized
by their plainspoken words and were most often performed at
weddings at which the singer improvised bawdy lyrics about love
and drinking. The word raï literally means "a way of
seeing," "an opinion" or "advice." It is widely said that in
the past, people of Oran would go to a shikh to ask for his
raï, or his advice, which he would express in the form of poetry.
Today, raï songs tend to have explicit lyrics with social and
By the end of the 1960s, raï musicians were mixing accordion,
piano and bongos into Algerian melodies played with traditional
flutes and drums. In the mid-1970s, the audiocassette enabled
music to be recorded and distributed cheaply, and a new generation
of pop raï singers and producers proliferated. In 1985, the
first official Festival of Raï was held in Algeria, and a year
later Algerians in Paris sponsored a raï festival there.
Despite its increasing popularity in Algeria, government-controlled
radio stations boycotted the music, claiming raï incited
debauchery. As the country's political situation deteriorated
through the late 1980s, many raï stars fled Algeria --
most going to France. After a fundamentalist regime took over
Algeria in the early 1990s, some raï singers who remained
in Algeria were killed or kidnapped by armed Islamist guerrilla groups.
Algeria's current government has been more open-minded about
the music. In 2000, Algerian exile Cheb Khaled, often referred
to as "the King of Raï," returned to his native country to give
his first concert in 14 years. But raï performers still spark
controversy around the world. Last year, Khaled, who is Muslim
and promotes cross-cultural exchange on the stage, was boycotted
by Jordan Islamic fundamentalist groups after he performed in
a concert with a Yemeni Jewish Israeli singer.
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Algeria and France:
A Mixed History
El Medioni emigrated to France along with many Jewish Algerians
in the 1960s, an era in which anti-Semitism was mounting in
El Medioni's newly independent homeland. Learn more about Algeria,
France's colonial rule, and the history that led a generation
of North Africans to France.
Beginning in 1830, France ruled Algeria -- Africa's second-largest
country, bordering the Mediterranean Sea -- for more than a
century. In 1954, Algeria began its quest for independence,
and in 1962, at the cost of nearly 1 million Algerian lives,
the country succeeded in its quest. However, independence has
proved difficult. Political upheaval and fighting have challenged
the country throughout its more than 40 years of self-rule.
Although Algeria has always been primarily Muslim, Jews have
had a presence in North Africa dating back to Roman times, and
after their expulsion from Spain and the fall of Granada in
1492, their numbers swelled. Then, in the 19th century, European
clerics and missionaries began to bring anti-Semitism to many
parts of the Muslim world, including Algeria. During World War
II, when the Germans occupied France and its colonies -- Algeria
among them -- the Algerian Jews were persecuted socially and
economically until Allied forces landed in the country.
In the years leading up to Algeria's independence, the 1950s
into the early 1960s, anti-French riots targeted Jewish areas
of Algeria, leading to the destruction of the Great Synagogue
of Algiers and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. At the
end of the war for independence, most of the 140,000 Jews in
Algeria -- having survived both World War II and Algeria's quest
for independence -- fled the country. Many immigrated to France's
southern port and second-largest city, Marseilles.
Today, Algeria is 99 percent Sunni Muslim.
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Ethnic and Religious
Conflict in France Today
The country that Maurice El Medioni calls
home today has taken in more immigrants in the last 200 years
than any other country in Europe. But nationalist fervor, attacks
on North African immigrants and anti-Semitic violence are on
the rise in France. Learn more about the country's ethnic and
religious mix and France's challenge to mend old and new tensions.
France's majority ethnic groups are Celtic and Latin, with
minority Teutonic, Slavic, North African, Indo-Chinese and Basque
Although more than 80 percent of France's 60 million people
are Roman Catholic, the country has the world's third-largest
Jewish population, about 600,000.
A wave of anti-Semitism sweeping across Europe has been manifested
most violently in France, where in 2002 more than two-thirds
of all reported acts of violence were directed at Jews. During
the first three months of 2003, there were 100 serious attacks
against Jews reported in Paris and its suburbs alone. Targets
of homemade bombs have included classrooms, school buses and
clubhouses. The Marseilles Or Aviv Synagogue, built in the 1960s
by Jewish families from North Africa, is just one of a number
of synagogues that have been set aflame or bombed.
With hostility toward Jews increasing in recent years, many
of them are fleeing France to settle in Israel. In 2002, according
to Israeli government figures, 2,556 French Jews immigrated
to the Jewish state -- double the number of a year earlier.
France also is home to 6 million Muslims -- Western Europe's
largest Muslim population -- most of whom came from Algeria
and its neighbors, Tunisia and Morocco. In April 2003, millions
of French Muslims went to the polls to elect representatives
for a national Muslim council that will address issues of education,
dress and work.
Relations between France and Algeria, as well as France's
relationship with its own Algerian-born population, remain deeply
affected by the legacy of the eight-year war of independence,
during which the French army used torture in its attempts to
squelch the Algerian National Liberation Front.
In October 2001, a soccer game in Paris between the French
and Algerian national teams -- the first such match in 40 years
-- was brought to a halt when, after the French team scored
its fourth goal, thousands of fans swarmed onto the field and
French children of immigrants laid down on the grass wrapped
in Algerian flags.
One effort to try to mend French-Algerian relations included
the government's recent declaration of "Djazair [Arabic for
Algeria and Algiers], the year of Algeria," which will be celebrated
through more than 2,000 cultural and musical events over 2003.
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