Renowned Raï Musician Cheb Hasni

Born in the Algerian city of Oran on February 1, 1968, Cheb Hasni is remembered for his significant contribution to Algerian raï music, and was particularly well known for his love songs. Cheb Hasni’s lyrics often addressed issues considered to be taboo at the time, such as dysfunctional relationships, divorce and alcohol, and his music received opposition from traditionalists. Nevertheless he became very popular across North Africa as a performer of raï music and enjoyed much success in the latter part of the 1980s, until he died on September 29, 1994.

Born as one of seven children in a working class family in Oran, Cheb Hasni showed an interest in performing at a young age, and once mentioned in an interview that he would walk to and from school singing out loud, something he became known for in his neighborhood. Although Cheb Hasni was a good student and a talented football player, music was where his heart lay and he pursued a musical career. As is the case with a number of talented artists, Cheb Hasni got his first important break into the entertainment world as a wedding-singer. The group playing at the wedding was led by the renowned Naoui brothers, and recognizing his talent, they invited him to perform on stage for a cabaret.

Cheb Hasni’s career got another boost when a music producer offered him the opportunity to record with Chaba Zahouania, a female raï performer who was also from Oran. The duo recorded a song called Beraka, meaning The Shack, the lyrics of which resonated with the Algerian youth, resulting in one million copies being sold. Cheb Hasni’s song about migration, El Visa, reportedly sold around a quarter of a million copies. However, his music met with strong disapproval by critics, particularly Islamic conservatives, who were concerned about the influence of raï music on the country’s young people.

Cheb Hasni was one of the artists who introduced raï music to other parts of the world, performing in Marseilles, Paris, Washington DC, Boston, Casablanca, Tunis and Tokyo, among other destinations. Despite various restrictions on music in Algeria at the time, Cheb Hasni performed at an event celebrating Algerian independence in Algiers on July 5, 1993, where more than 150,000 fans cheered him on.

Sadly, Cheb Hasni’s controversial songs and his public profile resulted in him receiving death threats, reportedly from Islamic fundamentalists, and he was murdered outside the home of his parents in Oran’s Gambetta district. Cheb Hasni’s life may have been cut short, but his music has lived on to inspire other raï artists and continues to delight loyal fans.