8 May 1923
Sidi Bel Abbès, Algeria
15 May 2006 (aged 83)
Cheikha Rimitti (شيخة ريميتي) (born سعدية الغيزانية Saadia El Ghizania, (8 May 1923, Tessala, Algeria – d. 15 May 2006, Paris, France) was a popular Algerian raï female singer.
At 15 she joined a troupe of traditional Algerian musicians and learnt to sing and dance. In 1943 she moved to the rural town of Relizane and began writing her own songs. Her songs described 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.
Her fame spread by word of mouth across Algeria during the Second World War until she was taken under the patronage of a well-known Algerian musician of the time, Cheikh Mohammed Ould Ennems, who took her to Algiers where she made her first radio broadcasts. Soon after, she adopted the name Cheikha Rimitti.
She made her first record in 1952, a three-track on Pathé Records under the name Cheikha Remettez Reliziana, which included the famous Er-Raï Er-Raï. This was not to be the record that launched her career, however. That came two years later when Rimitti caused a sensation with the release of Charrak Gattà a daring hit record, which encouraged young women to lose their virginity and which scandalised Muslim orthodoxy. Her outlook and songs did not endear her to the nationalist forces fighting for freedom from French rule during the Algerian War of Independence who denounced her for singing folklore perverted by colonialism.
When Algeria won its independence in 1962, the Government banned her from radio and television for playing on them under French control during the independence struggle. Her songs remained hugely popular with the working-class poor and she continued to sing privately at weddings and feasts.
By the 1970s she was performing mostly for the Algerian immigrant community in France. Briefly returning to Algeria in 1971, she was badly hurt in a car crash (being in a coma for three weeks) in which three of her musicians were killed.
Four years later she went on a hadj to Mecca, after which her lifestyle (though not her songs or subject matter) changed. She stopped smoking and drinking, but continued her singing and dancing, and 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.
In the 1980s, Cheikha Rimitti moved to Paris, loosening her ties with the Algerian authorities but never cutting herself off from the Algerian people, her first fans.
She continued performing until the end — two days before she died she was rapturously received by an audience of 4,500 at the Zénith in Paris.
Over a 50 year period she recorded over 400 cassettes, 300 singles, 50-something 78rpms and the handful of CDs.
One of her tracks are also on a remix on this album:
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