This is a video of Cheikha Rimitti playing a Rai song called Ya Milouda. By the mid-80s, when Rai was becoming established as the rousing dance music of angry young Algerians, Rimitti was being hailed as la mamie du Rai, the grandmother of the style. Cheikha was born in Tessala, a small village in western Algeria in 1923. She was orphaned as a child and began to live a rough life, earning a few francs working in the fields and doing other menial jobs. At 15 she joined a troupe of traditional Algerian musicians and learned to sing and dance. In 1943 she moved to the country and began writing her own songs describing the tough life endured by the Algerian poor, focusing on everyday struggle of living, pleasures of sex, love, alcohol and friendship and the realities of war.
Traditionally, songs of lust had been sung privately by Algerian women at rural wedding celebrations but were considered crude and unfit to be heard in polite society. Rimitti was one of the first to sing them in public and did so in the earthy language of the street, using a rich blend of slang and patois. She eventually composed more than 200 songs but remained illiterate all her life.
Recently there was a short post about her on Arthur Magazine’s blog with another amazing video.
Oh, by the way, Raï literally means opinion but is colloquially used as an interjection along the lines of “oh, yeah!”