2. The Discourse of Feminine Raï
Out of an extensive body of exclusively feminine work of over 1500 verses, I have distilled the recurring themes of songs as they relate to the characteristics of female emotional life as seen by the sheikhat: complaints, answers, and counter-proposals. It is a makeshift structure around the norm, between values of the past, importation of a present coming from elsewhere, and the invention of a new self caught between pain and pleasure, threnody and libertinism, masochist morbidity and conquering vitality.
The complaint, the lament
The nucleus of the female song is the complaint, or the exhalation of pain. In these terms, this most common theme in this type of poetry is the heir of all Maghrebi verse, which is a poetics of love, absence, and upheaval. However, tradition finds itself pushed aside by the nakedness of expression and all that is said about the physical sensation of pain.
Suffering is expressed mostly through the mode of physical burning and crumbling:
The specificity of the Raï lament also comes from the relationship - through contiguity - between the pain of love, social injustice and the domination of women illustrated in the texts:
The man is usually represented as a selfish creature, a manipulator:
Social injustice often takes the shape of malicious gossip. Passages that center around "what have they not gossiped about?" are countless.
A remedy is sometimes suggested: indifference. One must resist and respond through contempt:
However, there is a great helplessness in front of bad fate and ill luck. Marine images emerge to illustrate negative fatality:
Confronted with hardships and injustice, one's initial attitude is to go back to ideological norms:
Another concomitant attitude manifests itself in the desire to reactivate traditional solidarity:
The same singer cries elsewhere:
She adds in the same song:
Finally, the same cry comes:
Another response, reserved to traitors in love, is to resort to old and popular religious practices (magic, the culture of saints):
In parallel with these appeals to the past and to ancestral norms, there is an exploration of the limits of moral transgression, following the model of the adulteress who is generally made to feel guilty. However, the expression of guilt is not the most important element: the space of the song gives access to a fantastical pleasure through the expression of transgression. The stronger the enunciation of the transgression is, the greater this kind of pleasure is for the listener who projects himself into the transgression pronounced:
The tainting of women by men is expressed in song through the metaphor of "habits," a euphemistic word designating what may be sexual habits, drinking, or various social perversions.
Women may be the more or less consenting victims of corruption by a lover:
Sometimes the situation is even worse, when feelings are not a factor and only male force enters into play. Here, as well, one must not neglect the fantastic dimension directed to a male audience. The restraints imposed on women can be expressed in an erotic image:
It is possible for the victim to effect a justification-vengeance by rejecting the responsibility placing it on the man:
In other instances, free choice and the emergence of a willful individuality accompanied by an unhappy conscience are clearly manifest in the expression of responsibility:
The singer might even profess the conviction that her deviant behavior is symptomatic of an epoch and a troubled life.
Much of this misfortune and moral discomfort finds solace in alcohol, which allows it to be forgotten:
However, drinking may also bring on other sufferings. The praise of wine is one of the classic themes of Arab poetry, yet what makes Raï songs on this theme original is a key-notion of its over-semanticized ideology: elmehna. If one looks it up in the dictionary (Beuassier 1958: 921), the verbal-radical means: "to cause to die by drinking, to make drunk, to cause to die, to fill up". The first meaning of the substantive elmehna relates to this idea; it refers to a "drinking session", or a "drinking spree". However, two other meanings by extension are mentioned: on the one hand, it signifies "ordeals", "torments"; on the other hand, it is one of the words that may designate the beloved, the object of desire and love torment.
A Raï text brings together and associates a multitude of sorrowful evocations of despairing complacency on the state of those on "drinking sprees" and the mehna.
In Raï, there are many interjections of sacrificial compassion such as "too bad for me, but not for my lover". A more elaborate version is:
However, a rebellious roughness sometimes emerges:
During the unfoldment of the long complaint on injustices inflicted by society - the ravages of love, the tortures that they are subjected to by men, suffering and guilt, and the torments of the mehna - an entirely different discourse is developed. This is a discourse of a certain hedonism and a vital expression of individuality, in accordance with the already mentioned principle of composition: paratactical contiguity.
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