Sublime Fequencies has long sought out music not available to English-speaking audience by carefully curating music from local radio broadcasts, old 45s and crackling cassettes. Now the label has composed a third Algerian-focused collection, 1970s Algerian Folk And Pop (preceded by 1970s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground and Radio Algeria), which serves as somewhat of a companion piece to Proto-Rai Underground, as it focuses on the social history woven into song. Hicham Chadly, the Egyptian music scholar who compiled this collection, focuses on the music from a still newly independent Algeria, and takes a broad look at the music of the people.
The brothers Rachid and Fethi Baba Ahmed originally played in a rock ‘n’ roll band, the Vultures, in the ’60s before becoming Algeria’s premiere producers of raï, a unqiuely Algerian folk music. Here they’re featured twice, first with the distorted psychedelic guitar of Habit En Ich and again with the surfy Ana Ghrib. Along with Abranis’s jaunty Chenagh le Blues, these tracks best represent the western rock-influenced rock and pop on the compilation, however, it’s some of the folk tracks that really claw at the soul. Turn to the progressive folk of Djamel Allem and the the keys-and-mellotron ballad by Kri Kri, and the moods turn somber and haunting, with a lingering melancholy.
The most well-known song here is peace activist and Algerian troubadour Idir’s 1976 single A Vava Inouva, a song tells the tale of an elderly Kabyle Berber woman spinning yarns by the fire on a snowy night. It was the first Algerian hit song on French radio; it was in fact a hit throughout Europe and has since been translated into seven languages. The fairytale described in the song (“Oh My Father” in English) is a Little Red Ridinghood-like tale where a monster impersonates a young girl to enter her father’s home. But the lyrics celebrated traditional Berber culture at a time when the Algerian government was depicting the Berber population as backwards.
In addition to being a lovely collection of melodies and songcraft as a ’70s Algerian hit primer, 1970s Algerian Folk And Pop provides both a diverse cross-section of music, but also a representation of the national psyche of the time.