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July 19, 2005

Aida Adib Bamia by Farid Zadi

Aida Bamia is a professor of Arabic language and literature at the University of Florida in Gainsville. In the early 1970's  she was called on to teach a course on Algerian folklore at the University of Constantine. She initiated  a grassroots movement to collect more poetry with the help of her students and their families.  Her project coincided with an official campaign by the Ministry of Culture to retain a vital part of cultural identity.

Ms Bamia has told me via email that she has received a grant to work on the remaining poems that Muhammed Hadj-Sadok gave her. She hopes to publish an annotated version of the poems and possibly a translation.

Mohammed Hadj-Sadok by Farid Zadi

Hadj-Sadok's father in law, Abd al-Qadire Lighrisi, was an oral poet who nurtured his son-in-law's interest in Algerian oral traditions. I don't recall reading in Aida Bamia's book what type of poet al-Qadire was. I suspect he was a more learned oral poet following in the tradition of historical poets who memorized often times very large sets of poems. I will email Ms Bamia to see if she knows more about al-Qadire. I have asked her questions before and she has always been kind enough to respond.

Father and son-in-law attended folk performances together and in time Hadj-Sadok's appreciation matured into a deeper interest in preserving a part of Algerian history. His interest in Alili's poetry was part of a dissertation on Algerian folklore he planned on writing for his doctorate. Because of his job he was able to travel to rural areas where oral poets were especially well represented.  His friends recognized his interest and they recorded poems that he did not have access to. Poets themselves mailed him their works.

The question comes to mind, why a book dedicated to the obscure poet Alili who only composed ten poems, four of them poems of praise for Hadj-Sadok? I've already mentioned that the two men in a sense represent opposite ends of Algerian society during colonial times, it seems they also shared a deep bond. Alili looking at Hadj-Sadok as the privileged Algerian with a fancy French education and the means to pursue his interests (which include using a French government job to record oral traditions which the French had tried to eradicate). Hadj-Sadok looking at Alili as the stubborn peasant, an uneducated literary savant, intimidated by no one, fearlessly speaking his mind, his only worries being able to feed his family and his ailing health.

Hadj-Sadok's project was never published due to age and declining health. He entrusted Aida Bamia with the task of introducing Alili to a wider audience.

July 17, 2005

The Illiterate Poet by Farid Zadi

Muhammad bin al-Tayyib Alili was illiterate, like many of his poor countrymen  during French colonial rule. There was a ban on Arabic and many Algerians refused to attend the French schools that they were given only limited access to.

Alili was a great poet. His use of language is vivid and richly detailed, using sustained metaphors throughout lengthy poems. He fearlessly makes wry, satiric observations about his fellow villagers as well as the colonizers. During a time when most Algerians could not write their own history, Alili's poems provide a historical window back in time when the people were not heard, but certainly not voiceless.

July 16, 2005

Sociopolitical Significance of Algerian Folk Poetry by Farid Zadi

The Graying of the Raven by Aida Abib Bamia which she dedicated to The Algerian People

Muhammad bin al-Tayyib Alili is an obscure oral poet who died around the beginning of the Algerian war for Indepedence. Very little is know about him. He only composed ten poems which were diligently recorded by Mohammed Hadj-Sadok. The two men in certain ways are representative of opposites ends of Algerian society during colonial times. Alili was an illiterate farmworker. Hadj-Sadok had a more privileged existence, he studied in Paris for the aggregation, a required and highly competitive examination for French lycee teachers.

Hadj-Sadokk was invited to a dinner where he met Marcel Naegelen, the French National Minister . In 1948, Naegelen was called on to be  the  gouverneur general of Algeria, soon after he appointed  Hadj-Sadok as a supervisor of the Algerian education system. The position required travel throughout the country.

During a visit to Western Algeria Hadj-Sadok first met Alili.

Wahrani Rai by Farid Zadi

Most people have probably heard at least a little bit of Rai music. Cheb Mami, one of the Kings of Rai was invited by Sting to sing on Desert Rose. Following the phenomenol success of the song and a worldwide tour with Sting, he went back to his to focus on his solo career with the release of Delali (the loved one) which was produced by Nile Rogers and includes sounds from reggae, flamenco, house and African music. Cheb Mami starred in 100% Arabica with Cheb Khaled, a film about an aspect of  French-Algerian sub-culture in Paris. This is worlds away from the idyllic village of Montmerle in the Beaujolais where I grew up.

Cheb Khaled has been dubbed by critics and press as THE King of Rai. He is  undoubtedly the most internationally famous Rai singer with solo hits around the world. His latest album Al-Rayi  (Our Opinion) features him collaborating with the likes of Carlos Santana on the song "Love to the People" he sings in English to Santana's Latin  guitar. The sounds cover a range of Arabic style crooning balladry, pulsating Rai and funky pop.

I recommend reading The Social Significance of Rai: Men and Popular Music in Algeria by Marc Schade-Poulsen.

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