Khélifati Mohamed, known as Cheb Mami, was born July 11, 1966, in Graba-el-Oved, a populous quarter of Saida. Located 1200 kilometers south of Oran, the city of Saida is on the high mesas of southwestern Algeria. Life in Saida exposed Mami to the traditional Berber culture and the bustling urban environment, both of which have affected his musical style.
Like many other rai singers, Mami began his artistic career singing at marriage ceremonies and circumcisions. His soulful voice earned him the nickname Mami, (the mourner).
In 1982, when he was 15, he participated in the Ihan wa chabab contest, a popular radio program. He won second prize. Producers contacted him immediately. This included Boualem, the producer of Disco Maghreb, a label from Oran that had released the most successful names in rai in recent years. Mami began releasing cassettes 1986. Each sold between 100,000 and 200,000 units, one as high as 500,000. The artist saw very little profit.
In 1985, Mami made his first public performance at the Premier Festival of Rai of Oran. At the end of 1985, he embarked for Paris for a tour of Arab clubs. In January 1986 Mami participated in the Rai Festivals of the Villete (Paris) and Bobigny. There he met Michel Levy, who became his manager. In December 1986, Mami appeared at the famous Olympia Theater in Paris.
After he finished two years of military service in Algeria, in May of 1989, Mami returned to the Paris stage at the Olympia, confirming that he was the main hope for the rejuvenation of Rai. He later toured the United States of America, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia and the UK.
Mami’s music borrows from an eclectic blend of Mediterranean and Western influences including flamenco, Greek and Turkish music as well as hip-hop, funk, reggae and Latin music. His unique characteristics include a voice tinged with Andalusian accents, an effortless ability to merge the traditional and the contemporary, and a natural grace.
Cheb Mami’s collaboration as a guest singer on Sting’s “Desert Rose” increased his international profile as a pop star. The collaboration with the British pop star was arranged by Sting’s manager, Miles Copeland, who gave Sting a copy of one of Mami’s CDs and he loved it. Sting went to one of the concerts and asked Mami to guest on his CD.
Cheb Mami’s Meli Meli album featured French rappers, Imhotep and Kamel, a beur (an Algerian born in France).
In June of 2001 Mami released an album entitled “Dellali” (The Loved One). He explored international sounds and added Flamenco, reggae and dance sounds to his native Rai.
A tour of the United States of America was planned for April of 2002, but it was canceled due to the aftermath of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks.
Prince of Rai (USA: Shanachie, 1989) or Let Me Rai (Totem-Virgin, 1990)
Fatma Fatma (Melodie)
Saida (Totem-Virgin 8 40680 2, 1994/USA: Tinder, 1997)
Let Me Rai (1995)
Douni El Bladi (BSI &Virgin, 1996)
100% Arabica, Cheb Khaled & Cheb Mami
Meli Meli (Totem-Virgin 7243 8454842 1, 1998/USA: Ark21 850 007, 1999)
Dellali (Virgin/Ark21 850 025, 2001)
Lazrag Saani (USA: Ark 21 850 064, 2002)
Du Sud au Nord (EMI, 2004)
Live au Grand Rex 2004 (Virgin, 2004)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.