Algerian singer Cheikha Rimitti, known as the of “mother of rai,” the Algerian music of dissent, died of a heart attack May 15 in Paris. She was 83.
Rimitti, who was still performing concerts in Europe, last month released a new recording, N’ta Goudami (“Face Me”).
Born Saadia Bediaf near Sidi Bel Abbes in Algeria, Rimitti was orphaned at an early age and struggled for daily existence. When she sang at weddings and parties as a youth, “people gave me food to eat.”
“Misery was like a school for me,” Rimitti said in a 2001 interview with Afropop Worldwide, a radio program and website dedicated to African pop music. “It taught me my trade.”
At 20, Rimitti joined a group of musicians who sang at religious festivals, weddings, births and other rites.
Algeria was a colony of France when Rimitti began singing. Her first recorded hit, “Charrak Gatta” (“Tear, Lacerate”), was released in 1954, the year the Algerian War of Independence began.
The song has been described as an attack on the virtue of virginity and an invitation for women in the Muslim nation to rethink their views on morality.
In the 1960s the new government banned Rimitti, who was considered immoral, and other rai artists from performing on the radio, relegating the music to private parties and black-market cassette tapes.
In 1978, she moved to France. Years later, rai would experience renewed popularity and Rimitti complained that younger artists took her songs and “exploited them without giving me my due.”
In 1994 Rimitti collaborated with Flea, bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Robert Fripp on the album “Sidi Mansour.” The musicians recorded in Los Angeles, while Rimitti recorded vocals in Paris. The collaboration, she later said, opened the door to realizing her long-held dream of performing in the United States.
By the time Rimitti performed in the U.S. in 2001, she was 78, but she was still vibrant and innovating. The next year she performed at California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles as part of a Grand Performances lineup of world music artists.