4. From Musical Identity to the Construction of Social Identity

French Mass Media scholars and sociologists often point to the Algerian second generation as an example of 'double coulture' (Tribalat 1995; Lepoutre 1997; Manço 1999), since they see beurs as suspended between the cultural heritage of their parents and the French world. On the one hand, their family would like to reintegrate them - girls in particular - into Algerian society and culture forgetting the strong link of beurs with France. On the other hand, France would like to solve the beur question by assimilating these young people into an acceptable social compromise. 

Beurs do not accept either of these opposed solutions as they consider their own cultural identity different from Algerian, immigrant and French cultural identities. However, they consider themselves members of French society because they see it as inclusive even of  the French-beur. Raï music - especially that which is played by beurs - becomes thus an essential tool for beurs  to affirm their peculiar identity within French society. In the 1990s, newspapers, television, radio programs and even cinema have payed more attention to beur culture. Moreover, 'cultural mobility' is now affecting beur cultural expressions: the positive side of this process is that major record companies offer beurs places and possibilities for their musical and social achievement, although endorsing the stereotypical image of 'good beur' to which raï music has contributed through musicians such as Faudel. 

The concept of a 'good beur' - in other words, a beur who is socially acceptable - allows the jeunes issus de l’immigration to get over the wariness of French people and newspapers. Even if there is not a real recognition of beur identity by French society, there is at least the highly accepted existence of a beur style of which raï-beurs are a positive expression, as opposed to the negative image attributed to rap music. 

Consequently, the beurs’ sound group dealing with raï music does not only express a musical identity - as the immigrants’ sound group does - but, starting from this identity, it also affirms a social one. In order to understand this point it is important to forget the classic vision of beurs as owners of a double culture. Instead I prefer to use the concept of "identity and culture's in-between" (Bhabha: 1996). 

Actually, in the double culture system, the conflicts between the two different cultural heritages prevent the full expression of one cultural identity, permitting only the choice of some particular characteristics from both cultures. On the contrary, the 'identity in-between' allows for the crossing of the cultural boundaries between the two cultures - in this case Algerian and French - producing a new identity because "the space in-between possesses the qualities of transit: one gains entrance to it or across a threshold at its boundaries; exchange of language, of songs, of culture-defines those boundaries by transgressing them" (Bohlman 1997). 

Raï music, with its heterogeneity and with its deep tie with musical transculturation, allows this crossing of boundaries between French and Algerian cultures, and the 'raï in-between' of beurs becomes an important instrument to show this new identity inside French society. So in Faudel’s raï music French and Algerian cultures are 'crossed' in order to produce a new raï style. For instance, Faudel takes again the prefix cheb that Khaled, born in Algeria, has decided not to use any more. But at the same time Faudel tells newspapers and magazines that he feels like a French boy, or, more exactly, a French beur. He sings in an Algerian dialect but sometimes in French too; his albums - unlike immigrant singers such as Khaled and Mami - include the translation of songtexts. Faudel recuperates the musical and textual tradition of his parents’ country but he transforms them through the banlieue musical culture. 

Cheb Khada, Halek  (mp3 file, 50 kb, 0.25 min)

Thanks to Faudel’s success other young beurs are trying the same career, and records companies are looking for new beur voices. Therefore, for beurs, raï music is not only an esthetic and musical experience but also a possibility to change one’s social status. For this reason even the few beurs who told me that they did not love raï music still considered raï as a positive aspect for all beurs

As mentioned above, the 'cultural mobility' policy of record companies is directly changing raï music by absorbing the beur culture into the market laws. Thus, for some beurs the raï-beur's instrument of cultural identity loses that function of 'crossing boundaries' and identity representation. For this reason, some young beurs are trying new musical raï experimentations which up to now differ greatly from the record companies’ products. 

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