Author of one of the first world music hits, Idir has been an ambassador of the Kabyl culture (Berber people inhabiting Northern Algeria) since the Seventies.
Idir, whose real name is Hamid Cheriet was born in Aït Lahcène, a Berber village in Upper-Kabylia, in 1949. This farmer’s son, raised by the Jesuits, started studying Geology and was destined for a career in the petroleum industry. In 1973, he stood in at the last moment for a famous artist on Radio Algiers and sang a lullaby. He recorded this song called “A Vava inouva” (my little father), as a single before leaving for his military service.
This Kabyl song with only vocals and guitar stands as one of the first big hits coming directly from the Maghreb, long before the success of a Khaled or a Cheb Mami. He stood for the affirmation of a definite identity, the return to the roots anchored deeply in the history of Algeria. It would be translated into seven languages. After his military service, Idir was contacted by the record company Pathé Marconi. Fans had to wait until 1976 for a first album, A Vava Inouva, which included the song “A Vava inouva”. After notable success, Idir wrote and recorded Ay Arrac Negh (to our children), an album which came out in 1979.
For this discreet man with a serious look, it was difficult to blend into the world of show biz and if he enjoyed composing, which he did for others, his stage appearances rarely satisfied him. As a result, he slipped away for about ten years nevertheless giving some recitals.
His career started up again with the release of a compilation in 1991 of seventeen songs from his first two albums. After a drawn out lawsuit against his former producer, Idir had the chance to re-record some songs like the famous “A Vava Inouva”. Backed by this recording success, he came back to the stage and performed at New Morning in Paris from February 7-9, 1992. He remained the ambassador of the Kabyl community and was now recognized as a forerunner to world music.
The following year, a new album appeared on the Blue Silver label called Les Chasseurs de lumières, where he sang about (his) predilection (themes), love, freedom and exile (which he had known since he moved to the Paris region in 1975). He introduced synthesizers alongside darbukas, flute and acoustic guitar which gives a touch of modernism. One can also hear the voice of the Breton singer Alan Stivell in the duo “Isaltiyen”. Idir performed his songs for the public at the Olympia in Paris on June 26th, 27th and 28th, 1993.
Questions of Identity
A man of conviction, Idir often participated in concerts supporting different causes. On June 22nd 1995 more than 6.000 people came to applaud the singer and his friend Khaled, initiators of the association “l’Algérie la vie” which invited them to a concert for peace freedom and tolerance. It was a triumph for the two artists who on this occasion joined the Kabyl and Arabic-speaking communities together. A few years later, Idir also took part in the concert in memory of Matoub Lounes, the Kabyl singer who was assassinated in 1998.
Idir’s record making comeback was made with Identities in 1999, a tribute album which joined numerous artists together from Manu Chao to Dan Ar Braz without forgetting Maxime Le Forestier and Scotswoman Karen Matheson for a “A vava inouva 2”, but also Gnawa Diffusion, Zebda, Gilles Servat, Geoffrey Oryema and Orchestre National de Barbes. Idir gathered here those who advocate cultural openings as well as recognition of each person’s own roots.
When Idir performed two concerts at the legendary Olympia music hall in Paris in December ’99 he was joined by an equally impressive amount of guest stars. In fact, the celebrity line-up included everyone from Frédéric Galliano to guitarist Thierry Robin and the Orchestre National de Barbes (ONB).
Idir took to the stage to defend his national identity once again at the “21ème Printemps berbère”, a celebration of Berber culture organized at Le Zénith in Paris in the spring of 2001. The Algerian star returned to the same venue on July 8th, organizing a special fund-raising concert to support the population in Kabylia when anti-government riots rocked the cradle of Berber culture in the summer of 2001. Idir was joined on stage by an impressive list of guest stars and thousands of French fans turned out to Le Zénith to show their support.
In 2007 he released La France des Couleurs (France of the Colors). This album sets itself apart with amazing collaboration pieces and lyrics. Here, Idir plays with some of the hottest names in the French hip hop and R&B scenes, including Akhenaton, Daniel Manu and Guizmo (of Tryo), Noa, Oxmo Puccino, and many more.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV 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 albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.