Insomnia in Algiers

Our love was like that wound on my arm I couldn’t stop scratching.

It hurts, but I wanted to know what’s beneath.

over and over again.

And when I saw blood, I knew it was over…

My blood shouldn’t be spilled, it should be boiling under a better sun.


Thilleli G.


About Algerian Rap

In 2005, Thomas Friedman launched his bestseller book: “The World Is Flat: A Brief History Of The Twenty First Century”. This book tells us about goods and services that overcame geographical boundaries and how the process of selling and buying them affected communication to finally create this phenomenon of Globalization (Friedman). Since then, globalization has taken on many aspects, however, the most witnessed is the cultural globalisation, in which musical globalization is embedded. We rely on musical globalization, to explain how Rap, this spoken rhyming lyrics, that initially appeared in the United States in the 1970s, brought its “noise” across other regions. When it comes to the Rap in the Arab nations and the Muslim world in general, Algeria seems to be the leader (Daoudi 34). The Algerian Rap is articulated around different contexts, and I chose to base my research paper on the “Individuality” ( the significance of Rap for a rapper: what is says about his background, religion…) in the Algerian Rap by taking Lotfi-Double-Kanon as my main example. Meanwhile, the literature on Algerian Rap only tackled the context of “Collectivity” (the significance of rap for all the rappers, and for Algeria by extension), under which fall the transition from Rai (drifted from the Algerian Shaabi) to Rap and the language used in Rap songs.

From Rai to Rap:

Oran is the largest Algerian city in term of population after Algiers (the capital). In 1930, Oran witnessed the migration from rural areas to its center. This is how Rai music was born. Initially Rai was supposed to denounce the poverty and marginalization of this new working class, but, in an article called “Code Switching And The Globalization Of Popular Music”, Eirlys Davies who worked at King fahd school of translation in Morocco shows us how Rai, soon after its emergence endorssed an image of obscenity as it was talking about sex, love and alcohol, to the extent that authorities banned Rai records from the radio and cancelled many concerts , considering it unsuitable for being listened during a family setting (368). It is also important to consider that “music and singing” , especially about taboo, has always experienced a controversial reception in a relatively muslim conservative society, and the assassination of the Algerian Raï artist Cheb Hasni in 1994 only zooms the reality of this issue (Shannahan 2011). However , Rai survived and thus emphasized the “glory of capitalim and western culture integration”, a style that doesn’t really represent the social situation of Algerian boroughs, at least this is what we understand from “Algerian Rappers Sing the Blues”, an article written by Bouziane Daoudi, Music reporter for the french daily newspaper Liberation. In this article Daoudi gives us glimpses of an interview he had with Vex (rapper) who said ” Rai’s just for having a laugh” (34), in other words, Rai doesn’t depicts the current situation of the country. In fact, rappers see the many rai singers as a big obstacle, as they corrupt youth and engulf them in the wrong direction. Rappers try to pave the way for a better future and a clever understanding, that is what Arian Fariborz stresses when he questioned Ourrad during an interview. Ourrad, leader of the rap group MBS, described the Algeria of the 90s as a cultural trash: “What we had was artistic stagnation. There were no shows, no performances, no CDs – just bad Rai music. So we set out to break this silence, to do something new, something seriously political and deeply committed.” (Fariborz 2006) And that it how Rap was born.

The art of mixing language:

Since its birth, the Algerian Rap is an illustration of the Algerian identity sheding lights on its major components: the Algerian multilingualism in particular, as Boumedini said in his Phd Thesis for Mostaganem University. Nevertheless , Marie Virolle an anthropologist and researcher at CNRS perceives that multilingualism as one language, a mixture between the Algerian arabic, the french, english and spanish, used in the street and that everybody can understand, because rap songs are adressed to the youth (56 ). Researches said that it became usual that rappers alternate french and arabic in the same verse, and the alternance itself boosts the message conveyed by the lyrics. One interesting example that studies cite is MBS’s song Ya Chabab, which was composed for an explicit accusation of the Algerian education system.To convey this message, it makes effective use of the difference between classical Arabic, used by high authorities in official texts and discourse, and the mixture of “Algerian” Arabic and French typical of informal conversation. It greatly captures the gap between the oppressed class and the authorities which is an important theme of the song ( Davies 379).


To conclude, we have seen how rap “saved” the youth from a rotten Rai and gathered them by using a language they understand, identify them and separate them from the government. But we still didn’t see the individuality in Rap. In my research paper, I will try to define the significance of Rap to one rapper only ( what it says about his background, his values and his political opinion ) by studying the lyrics of Lotfi Double kanon, the major figure of Algerian Rap nowadays. A primary research could be done by questioning algerian about how they perceive Lotfi Double Kanon, through listening to him, and compare the results to actual academic researches.

Research paper:

Originally defined as a cultural movement nurtured by the African and American worker class in 1970, Rap soon became the mouthpiece of oppressed classes of societies around the world. In fact, Doctor Edward .G. Armstrong, Professor of Sociology in Murray State University, argues that Rap represents the voice of disfranchised and unlucky people who have been excluded from conventional paths of success or had a hard time fitting in the social structure and have had to survive in a society where poverty, injustice and corruption are daily realities. However, lately, and because of Media coverage and Internet that Rap uses, people conflated between Rap – which is a complex category of music that can take many forms – and one of its sub-type: the “Gangsta Rap” – which makes frequent reference to criminal lifestyle, drug use and violence against women -. In the midst of this confusion, people wrongly associated Rap to negative stereotypes and they are no longer able to imagine Rap as a tool of empowerment and critical overview of the political, social and economic state. Also, people nowadays tend to overlook the uniqueness of the messenger. It is important that one avoids generalization and considers the person actually rapping as a single individual with his personal background, values and commitment whether it is toward his country, or global issues in general such as wars and refugee crisis. Building on existing research, this paper tries to depict the individuality of a rapper, in this case Lotfi Double Canon, considered as the most famous Algerian rapper, and his independency from the stereotypes stated above.
First of all, it is important to understand that the Algerian Rap is undefinable. The reason it is undefinable, according to Hadj Miliani, Professor of Literature at University of Paris 13, is because “Rap is both a total culture through its ethical and aesthetic design and occasional culture through its manifestations in public space.” That means that the immersion of Rap as an aspect of the Algerian culture is never permanent and definitive, rather, it is considered to be sporadic and irregular, emerging within special circumstances (Most of the Algerian Rap was produced in 1990 which is the start of the Algerian Black Decade, a conflict between the Algerian government and Islamist rebel groups who wanted to establish a theocracy in Algeria and impose an Islamist regime to the country). Nevertheless, the Algerian Rap and Lotfi’s rap by extension has a symbolic value. A value that each one of us sees differently. Hadj Miliani, writes that “Rap in the case of Double Canon, is a way to assert himself”. Indeed, Algiers, the capital of Algeria, besides being the political and economic headquarter of the country, is also the cultural headquarter that witnessed the birth of Arabo Andalus music, Rai and finally Rap. Thus, for many people, Lotfi who was born in Annaba, in the Algerian east, near the Tunisian borders, represents the decentralization of the Algerian Rap. A decentralization that might be seen as a regionalism. Lotfi is the symbol of Annaba, he sings using the accent of Annaba, which is different from the one used in the capital Algiers, he uses idioms and quotes that Annabian use, he cites places and names that are proper to Annaba, in one of his songs he mentions “Bourak”, a dish typically from Annaba.
But, in the other hand, Boumediani argues that Lotfi is the illustration of the Algerian identity as a whole. Bonny Norton defines identity as how a person understands his relationship to this world. For the person to understand his relationship to the worlds, he has to communicate and interact with the surroundings, and that shows the important link between language and identity. The major component of the Algerian identity is the Algerian multilingualism. This multilingualism is a paradox, because it forms a language that is reinventing itself everyday – depending on the images received by the media and integrating new words in French or in English-, and simultaneously a language that is rooted and transmitted in the population, known by the youth and the oldest. That is what we find in Lotfi’s rap. Lotfi switches between french, arabic and english, those three languages commonly form the ” modern algerian arabic”, a language continuously evolving and, he uses the “Classical Arabic” that is rooted and transmitted all over the country through public schools and religious schools. Lotfi uses this mixture, so that the audience understands what is being said, this multilingualism gathers everyone and captures the gap between classes, specifically Governmental figures that use French and Classical Arabic and others classes of the society that use Modern Algerian Arabic, that Lotfi talks about in most of his songs.
While most of the rappers, like the French rapper Booba (whose real name is Elie Yaffa, from senegalese origins) build their lives in foreign countries like USA or France, and ‘ignore’ their origins, Lotfi Double Canon, who was born in Annaba, a city from the Algerian east, still lives there and constantly endorses the role of watchdog. In fact, according to Dr Dadoua, advisor within the center for research in social and cultural anthropology in Algiers , ” Lotfi activism doesn’t stop”. By analyzing Lotfi’s songs, I have found that he spends an important time portraying the social issues of the Algerian youth. In his song “karhu”, which stands for “they are fed up” , released in 2003, we can hear ” the youth are fed up, they are sick of everything, they just want to run away from problems in this country”. Lotfi here, is denouncing the painful reality of Algerian men and women who graduated from universities but are tempted by immigration because for some reasons (corruption mainly) they cannot find a job. And in a country like Algeria, where immigration is not seen under a very positive light mostly for cultural reasons ( Algerian families want to see their sons marrying Algerian girls), Lotfi puts the hat of this destroyed youth and tries to settle a mutual understanding and justifies the choice of these young people, just like he did in his song “Cobaye” in 1990, where he states that ” this country is a laboratory, they treat as like testing animal, it is beyond what a brain’s kid can grasp”. In this song he says that Algerian youth are victims of a flawed educational system: after the independence in 1962, Algeria instored the concept of Arabization to raise Arabic as the official national language and to be taught from primary to secondary school while colleges and universities employ French. This atmosphere of failure and chaos is a situation that usually lead people to deeper problems such as addiction to drug and alcohol or depression, things that Lotfi doesn’t fail to notice. In his song “klawha” ( they ate it) released in 2014, we can find ” they became kamikaze, you are only giving them a pill in their head”. Hence, we can see that Lotfi doesn’t lose track of the Algerian youth and usually appears as the first person to defend their rights.
As I previously mentioned, Algerian Rap cannot be defined. Calvet stresses that point by saying that “The term song , from a strictly semantic point of view is not sufficient to itself. It needs further clarification : political song, poetry song, folk song… The first problem is to know what we are talking about.” On this basis, It is clear that saying that “Lotfi raps” is not enough. Through my analysis, it appears that the majority of Lotfi’s songs fall under the Political Rap. In his song “hugra” , we can hear “some live and some survive”. He denounces the discrepancy between the government people and the masses, as recently, several scandals reveal that children of governmental figures always have access to the best university in the United States or live in very expensive flats in Paris, while the masses are always encouraged to stay in the country and work to raise it, for a matter of nationalism and patriotism. In his song “Kamikaze” where he raps “always with my P.A” ( P.A for automatic pistols) he talks about the Algerian Black Decade, an armed conflict between the algerian government and Islamist rebels which started in 1990, this war saw extreme violence, resulting in 150 000 killed people. By his Rap, Lotfi tries to fight amnesia toward the history that politicians want to erase. In his song “Clash Sellal”, he directly attacks and ridicules Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who, according to Lotfi, gave a bad image of Algeria when he mixed between a Coran text and an ancient arab poetry verse, emphasizing the Algerian paradox of being a Muslim state, – another paradox that Lotfi points out is that, Algeria, where 98% of the population pretends to be muslim, actually authorizes Alcoholic Drinks as long as it serves the interest of some people in the government-. Lotfi here proves that as an Algerian he cares about the image of Algeria on an International level.
In additon, Lotfi gives also an intellectual and transnational dimension to his Rap and writes song that go beyond local algerian issues. He is interested in what happens in the arab world. In his song “coupable” that stands for “guilty”, he blames some Arab countries for encouraging Bush’s politics and his war against Saddam, he says “an american victory celebrated with egyptian belly dancers”. In his song “Palestine”, he pratically gives a timeline for what happened from Belfort declaration in 1917 when Great Britain started facilitating the establishment of Jewish people in Palestine. Lotfi also points out the silence of other Arab countries and the hypocrisy of the bigger nation toward this conflict. By this way, Lotfi shares with the world, the tight relationship between Algeria and Palestine, Algeria being one of the first countries to recognize Palestine as a legitimate country and sending financial aids. Lotfi demonstrates here again, that rap is more than just entertainment, but it awakens generations and changes minds.
To conclude, by paying close attention and analyzing Lotfi Double Canon, one is able to comprehend that Lotfi Double Canon is independent from the stereotypes targeting Rappers lately, rather, Lotfi Double Canon addresses concrete problems that currently affect the Algerian youth from unemployment to forced immigration, he also has the courage to undergo censorship after blaming the governmental and also global issues like the Israeli and palestinian conflict.

Work Cited

Armstrong, Edward. “The rhetoric of violence in rap and country music”. Sociological Inquiry. 1993.
Daoudi, Bouziane. “Algerian Rappers Sing The Blues.” UNESCO Courier 53.7/8 (2000): 34. Academic Search Complete. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.

Davies, Eirlys E, and Abdelali Bentahila. “Code Switching And The Globalisation Of Popular Music: The Case Of North African Rai And Rap.” Multilingua 25.4 (2006): 367-392. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.

Fariborz, Arian. “Rap Rebellion – Loud and Proud.”, 06 Jan. 2006. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

Miliani, Hadj. “Planetary Culture and Borderline Identities: On Rap Music in Algeria” Etudes Africaines. Etudes Africaines, 22 Sept. 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.

Shannahan, Dervla Sara. “Rap on ‘l’Avenue’; Islam, Aesthetics, Authenticity and Masculinities I.” N the Tunisian Rap Scene.” Springer Netherlands, 29 July 2010. Web. 06 Mar. 2016.



Thilleli G.

The price of an escape

I’ve been trying to convince love
that I’m someone worth meeting
but when it was knocking on my door,
behind the curtains I was hiding.
and when I realized I could have
at least shaken hands
love was holding someone else
conquering other lands.
‘maybe and what if’
in the corner of my head
tonight only my regrets
share my bed.


Thilleli G.