Defense and illustration of the pleasure principle

While the Raï of complaint, of a conscience ill at ease, supports itself on a moralist discourse (i.e. religious, referring to the norms of the past), a concurrent text rises in the course of the laments: amoral and not requiring justification, it incites to transgression, and praises free and egalitarian physical love, alcohol, and the pleasures experienced by an assembly of drinkers. The contradiction between the two does not disturb neither the singer nor the listener. Indeed, Raï has never hesitated to juxtapose calls to God, the Prophet, and the Saints with the evocation of practices unequivocally condemned by religion, turning this very dissonance into one of the characteristics of its contents. In fact, the sulfurous aura surrounding Raï arises from this intimate mixture of incompatible ideologies, much more than from the rather crude nature of its lyrics. Another mixture causes the atypical effect of the spaces where Raï songs evolve. The forbidden comes through the autonomization of spaces; transgression is based, in part, on the blurring of female and male spaces, and public and private spaces.

The fact that women express their desire in a straightforward manner is still particularly subversive: they discuss the male body and deliver erotic inventories, praising female freedom and mixed Epicureanism. Unapologetically and in spite of the ceaseless affirmation of the existential impasse faced by unhappy beings, they briefly seize their right to proffer a counter- discourse in an area relegated to the emotions in the confines of popular culture.

The provocative tone may be light and the subject matter seemingly insignificant; however, it is in fact crucial. Sometimes humor also becomes part of it:

"The Zastava [imported car that was popular about a decade ago; in other versions, or other songs, it would be another brand name], take it and give me its driver." (Zahwaniya)

Elsewhere a more caustic irony is used:

"I would like to ask the scholars if the act of kissing
breaks the fast in the season of abstention."

Then in the same song:

"Oh my beloved, watching you is a sin, it is you who
made me break my fast!/ Oh the lover, watching you is
a sin, it is you who made me 'eat' Ramadan! I asked
the scholars; they told me: "It is God who curses Satan!"

But the provocation can be made more direct:

"Break the fast, young girl,
I will bear the resulting sin for you." (Rimitti)

The female singer sets herself as the scapegoat of feminine transgressions, the redeemer of women sinners, but also as the mender of rips in morality as we have seen in an earlier section.

"Tear and cut and Rimitti will mend!" (Some saw in this a metaphor of virginity). (Rimitti)

Men can take the initiative and have the power to make sexual decisions, but so can women. Thus the man becomes an object of desire out of which a physical ideal is drawn.

"Oh mustache of a tiger and look of a lion! Yes, and it suits him, as does the birthmark under the mustache." (Rimitti)

"My love has a long neck and a big chest." (Zahwaniya)

"My love is nicely proportioned and has gold teeth." (Rimitti—ana nebghih) [Rimitti belongs to a generation in which gold dentures were valued for men as well as women; I have not heard this aesthetic criteria in the songs of younger singers]

"He is big and it suits him; he is well proportioned." (Zahwaniya)

"The one I love is short and cute, in my heart he has quivered." [Can we interpret a more erotic allusion here?] (Rimitti)

The singing is an enticement to union with this physically imposing man. 

"I thought that kisses would make me patient, but they only increased (my desire). As I die for him (I love him)." (Rimitti)

"My love will come to the house and we will make (love) night and day)." (Zahwaniya)

Sometimes the eroticism is more torrid. 

"Sleeping alone has numbed my sides, warm me and cover me!" (Rimitti)

"He rubbed my back and I gave him everything." (Rimitti)

It may be expressed in metaphor.

"Let him play on the rearing horse." (Fadéla)

"Oh mama, a sharpened stake, torment and love make me crazy!
A sharpened stake and passion make me crazy!" (Rimitti)

An expression of reciprocal value summarizes the successful, egalitarian relation. It must be understood in the sexual sense.

"I take my love, he does to me what I want." (Zahwaniya)

"I do to him what he wants done." (Zahwaniya)

Libertinage is accompanied by a joyous and free conception of life. These free individuals form nice handsome assemblies.

"What is best is the gathering of friends in intimacy and savoir-faire!" (Rimitti)

These pleasures are associated with alcohol:

"Call on Malik, for he brings the iced (beer)!" (Zahwaniya)

"Let the glass reach me. To share a glass is good!" (Rimitti)

It may even be the highest pleasure.

"Ah, how nice a good binge of whisky drinking is?" (Djinya el Kebira)

This praise song for drinking can go very far, as in Rimitti's song:

"People adore God, but I beer".;

Rimitti fears nothing. As we have seen, she bears an overflowing vitality and a deep sense of revolution.

"Me, me, why do you smother me? I can accept anything, but not suffocation"; and later, in the same song, "Patience, [a virtue extolled in women and by women, in the way of accepting their condition] makes me crazy." (Rimitti)

A pillar of Raï for fifty years, she has, as we have seen, managed her singing career highlighting aspects of her private life which would give grounds to harsh judgment and rigid stands; she has thus become the living emblem of the emotional themes of Raï.

Chikha Rimitti, the queen of Raï, in two different styles, traditional and modern:
Yedegdegni (He hustles me) (wav file: 254 kb)
Sidi Mansour (Saint Mansour) (wav file: 236 kb)

However, one must look elsewhere for a sort of general manifesto of the type of female individuality which triumphs in Raï. This is evident, for instance, in the text matsalunis "don't ask me to account (for myself)", interpreted by Zahwaniya, which has seen several years of great success and from which I have already provided a large extract,

"Don't ask me anything, let me cry on my Raï!
Don't ask me anything, let me do what I want!"

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