"On Air" - 2010
“It’s something very powerful that I can’t really explain. When I’m on stage, I don’t cheat. I give everything I have in my soul and my spirit.” Cheikha Remitti, 2000
When Cheikha Remitti came to perform this concert in Bremen/Germany in 1998, she was seventy-five years old. The Algerian „grandmother of raï“ had been re-discovered during the 1980s heyday of raï music, as a fundamental source of inspiration to the young lions of the music – Cheb Khaled, Cheb Mami et al. She was also celebrated as a genuine voice of Algeria, “the real deal”, a veteran artist incorporating many virtues: a sense of pride, a rebel spirit, vibrant energy, a coarse but honest language, a zest for life, a sense of passion. Remitti was for real and audiences just knew. And so she was welcomed with great anticipation. A local review celebrated the event as an „outstanding, rousing concert with the superb Cheikha Remitti.“ (Weser-Kurier, March 24th, 1998).
The intense old lady from North Africa was part of the 1998 edition of Tradition & Moderne’s „Women in (E) Motion“ festival. Corresponding to the legend, she and her five-piece ensemble lost no time and aimed to set the audience into a trance-like condition. Remitti ruled - like a magician at work, a hypnotizing presence. „If raï is the blues of North Africa, then Remitti is the Bessie Smith of the genre“, a critic had written. Now audiences could experience the legend at first hand. Only a couple of years earlier, Remitti had received the official blessings of the Arabic music world after a classic performance at Institut du Monde Arabe de Paris. After having been cast as an outsider for many years, she was now embraced as an important originator. All the while, Remitti remained proud and fearless, singing about her passions with fierce abandon, celebrating life and its many worldly pleasures.
Musically, Cheikha Remitti remained close to traditional styles and traditional instrumentation for many years of her career. At this late stage, however, she had chosen to dress up her particular brand of “trance raï” by adding keyboards and bass. Consequently, the „call and response“ of voice and keyboard marks this recording, floating over a relentless pulse of bass, drums and percussion. This was Remitti’s angry reaction to her gut feeling of being robbed creatively by many young upstarts. Khaled und Co. had freely taken from her repertoire without giving her credit. Now she retaliated by trying to beat them at their own game. „I have always sung the ordinary problems of life, social problems and rebellion,“ she said. “The problems I saw were common problems, ever since the age of fifteen or sixteen… It’s a matter of observing and reflecting. Raï music has always been a music of rebellion, a music that looks ahead.”
Cheikha Remitti died on May 15, 2006, aged eighty-three. She became a part of North African musical history as an incarnation of the long lost joie de vivre of her people. This live document from Bremen/Germany erects one more memorial in her honor.