Drissi El-Abbassi - Rai Sidi Bel Abbes


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February 5, 2021
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Hypnotic proto-Raï from 1979-1989 by Drissi El-Abbassi, a pioneer of the Algerian style who bridged its early, live band roots with the era of multi-track digital recording during the sound’s rapid evolution. Rai Sidi Bel Abbes’ plays deeply into one of the core influences of borderless Algerian/Egyptian label Nashazphone, highlighting a figure relatively unsung beyond the North African Arabic diaspora and introducing his unusually balmy, soft-voiced take on a genre that came to be known for its harder edges. Set to a mix of microtonal Roland synthesiser leads and swaying drum machines, El Abbassi’s vocals emote with particular clarity and sensuality, carrying the jazz and psych rock-inspired early sound into a prototype of its current form across eight songs that chart his transition from working with principal group Les Freres Zergui, to selections from recordings by his own band’s influential releases during the mid-late ‘80s. Drissi El-Abbassi was 17 in 1978, when he joined one of the main groups in Oran region, Les Aigles Noir, working as “stage animator” - a sort of hypeman, also responsible for relaying lyrics to the lead singer, at weddings and parties - and by 1979 he was a member of Les Freres Zergui, who pioneered the use of wah wah pedals and drums in the style of Rai; a new sound established by Messaoud Bellemou and his troupe, that incorporated trumpets and sax into a distinctive new Algerian genre. He cut his teeth in this style playing two shows a night at the weekends with Les Freres Zergui, and his first solo tape came out that year with Zergui on guitar. Following Zergui’s passing in 1983, and dissolution of the band, El-Abbassi set up his own group, embracing new technology and helping progress the style alongside legendary producer Meghni Mohamed for labels such as Editions Anwar, Editions Maghreb, or Editions Saint Crepain. The eight songs on ‘Rai Sidi Bel Abbes’ cover a spectrum of El-Abassi’s work during 1979-1989, from the mouth watering microtonal psych licks and nagging machine grooves of ‘Zedti laadab aliya’ to the lissom guitars and accordions of ‘Khalouni neck’, showcasing his smoothly contoured vocal cadence in finest style on cuts that resemble melodic Lovers Rock vibes in ’Trig maaskar’ and intoxicatingly sensual highlights ‘Jat jat’, plus the passionate, psychedelic ache of ‘Manetzouedj manebni dar’, or ‘Djibek liyam’, which should appeal to fans of Omar Khorshid as much as Omar Souleyman.