Many American readers of this blog won’t know the Kabylie singer Idir, whose real name is Hamid Cheriet, but he is a veritable legend of Maghrebi Music, and on the World Music scene more broadly. He was catapulted onto the scene in Algeria with the lullaby “A Vava Inouva” he composed with Ben Mohamed (real name Mohamed Benhamadouche). The song was one of the first big hits recorded in Tamazight, the Berber language, and it soon became a hit across the Maghreb. In fact, it has been recorded in multiple languages including Arabic, Spanish, French, and Gaelic. It was the first of a string of hits that would last decades.
At a time when cultural production in Tamazight was essentially illegal in Algeria, every recording Idir released was an act of cultural activism, and thus the subject of controversy. Nonetheless, Idir continued to make music and to be an outspoken activist. During the civil conflict, he was active in promoting peace, reconciliation, and pluralism in Algeria, and he’s also been active in speaking up for the rights of immigrant communities in France where he’s now a resident.
I’ve been a fan since I was introduced to him by friends when I was working in Morocco, but I didn’t have a chance to see him in concert there. When I was in Morocco from 1990 to 1996, Morocco was just beginning to relax it’s policies on linguistic and cultural issues. We were still a long way from the language being taught in schools, or from Tamazight speaking artists from other countries being able to perform in Morocco. So it was a real treat to be able to see his show on July 20 in the Gardens of the Mendoubia Palace in Tangier as part of the Nuits de Ramadan series presented by the Institut Francais. It was quite a night.
Idir remains charmingly endearing and engaging. He was supported by a cracked band of musicians, including his daughter who has a wonderful voice and an engaging stage presence. Here’s a gallery of images for your to enjoy, followed by a video of a couple of my favorite of his more recent tracks.