Complex Identity and Its Musical Representation: Beurs
and Raï Music in Paris
In this article I want to suggest that the anthropological study of music may contribute to the study of the new cultural complexities derived from Mediterranean emigration/immigration, in which second generations are the forgotten protagonists. In fact, not only is music (and art in general) the principal way in which young people express themselves, but it is also a medium in which culture, identity, selfhood and social reality are mixed together.
During 1998 I carried out fieldwork in Paris on the relationship between raï music and Algerian immigration. My research was undertaken in particular at Barbès and at the 18éme arrondissement (two areas where most Maghrebi people live). Before I started doing my fieldwork I became aware that there are few studies about Algerian raï (and fewer still about raï in France) and I found only three articles that mentioned the relationship between second generation Algerians (the so-called beurs, born from Algerian immigrants) and raï music. This was surprising, since French newspapers and magazines show a certain interest in the question beur (1) and because there are some sociological books (e.g., Bachmann 1992, Jazouli 1986, Manço 1999, Triblat 1995) about the specific cultural characteristics of the beur generation.
During my fieldwork, the opportunity to meet some of these jeunes issus de limmigration algèrien changed my point of view both in terms of the roles of raï music and the purpose of my fieldwork. In fact, I went to Paris in order to understand the difference between Parisian raï music and Algerian raï music, but after a short time I also found myself studying what raï music means for the different cultural identities of Algerian immigrants and beurs. Raï seemed an important and significant music for both groups, but for different reasons.
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