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Cheb Mami
Birth name Mohamed Khelifati
Also known as Cheb Mami
Born July 11, 1966 (1966-07-11) (age 43)
Origin Saïda, Algeria
Genres Raï, Pop
Occupations Singer-songwriter, instrumentalist
Years active 1982—present
Labels Virgin Records

Ahmed Khelifati Mohamed (Arabic: أحمد خليفاتي محمد‎) better known by his stage name Cheb Mami (Arabic: شاب مامي‎), (born in Saïda, Algeria on July 11, 1966) is an Algerian-born raï singer. He sings and speaks in Algerian Arabic, French and sometimes, as on Layali, in Egyptian Arabic.

Cheb Mami is currently imprisoned in France, where he was recently found guilty of drugging and forcing a former partner to undergo an abortion (that ended in failure). A court in Paris found him guilty at trial and sentenced him to 5 years in prison.[1]



Cheb Mami was born in Graba-el-wed (Arabic: غربة الواد‎), a populous quarter of Saïda (Arabic: سعيدة‎), Algeria. Located 170 kilometres south of Oran, the city of Saida is on the high mesas of southwestern Algeria. Cheb Mami grew up to a family of factory workers. He began singing and playing the accordion on Saida streets and by 1980 began performing at local weddings and ceremonies.[2]

In 1982, the 16-year-old adolescent sang on the Alhan wa Chabab radio show, a singing competition organised by Radio Télevision Algérienne. He sang "El Marsam" (The Sanctuary) a classic of Oranese music from the 1920s. The audience was transfixed by the sheer emotion of his performance and by his concordant vocal intonations which captured perfectly the flavour of the song's title. The judges, who represented the government which refused to admit even the existence of raï, gave the first prize to the contestant that sang a cover version of a hit by the famous Egyptian diva, Umm Kulthum, but were forced to acknowledge the standing ovation Mami received by awarding him second prize.

Cheb Mami was spotted by Boualem, the producer of the Oran label, Disco Maghreb, and the cassette waltz began[3].


It was in 1985 that Mami came to Paris and found his musical niche. Raï fused blues, funk, salsa, reggae, hip hop and Algerian rhythms, while integrating touches of his idols Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and French rapper MC Solaar.

Cheb Mami made his first official public appearance at the First Oran Raï Festival in 1985, which marked the official recognition of the genre by the Algerian authorities.

He was in military service for two years in Algeria but was an entertainer on army bases. After that, in May 1989, Mami returned to the Paris at the Olympia, rejuvenating raï music. He began making recordings and performing in cabarets in the Paris suburb of Barbès. He also toured the United States, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia and England.

Mami's music is a blend of Mediterranean and Western influences including Turkish, Flamenco and Greek music as well as Latin music. His voice is tinged with Andalusian accents, and his music is an amalgamation of the traditional and the modern styles of singing and creation of music.

In 1999, Mami topped the French pop charts with a groundbreaking duet with French rapper K-Mel, "Parisien du Nord". The song was an anthem against racism that seamlessly made the transition between hip hop and raï, and introduced throngs of young new audiences to raï. This song explores the racist issues between Arabs and French and the challenges of identity.[2]

As well as recording many straight raï songs, Cheb Mami has achieved crossover success with the hip-hop remix of his track "Parisien du Nord" on his album Meli Meli and also with the backing vocals on Sting's hit "Desert Rose" and Youm Wara Youm the title track of which is a duet with Samira Said.

When Sting's album was released in 2000, the pair's duet, "Desert Rose", went rocketing to the top of singles charts around the world, fulfilling Mami's long-held dream of internationalising raï sounds.

Perhaps Mami's most successful recording is the album Dellali, produced by former Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers, which was released soon after his collaboration with Sting. The album's lead single was "Le Raï C'est Chic". This track, which opens the album, "is an energetic dance track featuring Mami's biggest fan, Sting, on backing vocals and is destined to get most of the mainstream media attention (and radio airplay)".[4] Mami's first collaboration with Sting in 2001 on, "Desert Rose", "topped the charts around the globe, and led to television appearances on Saturday Night Live, the Today Show, Jay Leno, David Letterman, the Grammy Awards telecast and even a live performance at the Super Bowl".[5] His international success, and namely his recognition in mainstream American popular culture, has led him to be called the "Prince of Raï".[4] Although Mami has been able to be recognized by mainstream media in the United States, Americans often equate his raï music genre with rock in the US during the 1950s and 1960s.[6] Americans believe raï to be "North African punk,[6]" a genre of music for the purpose of rebelling against the government and resembling the music of ‘young rockers’[6] in the US, when in reality this music plays a very different role in the life of the North African diasporic community in France.[6] Although raï does include narratives of the various struggles of this community against "the Algerian state or against the forces of ‘tradition’",[6] it is also the "music of the racialized Other"[6] which chronicles struggles with racism and identity of North African people in France.

Personal life

Cheb Mami was under an international arrest warrant after being indicted in October 2006 for "voluntary violence, sequestration and threats" against an ex-girlfriend, and failing to answer a court summons on May 14, 2007. He was accused of having tried to force his former girlfriend, a magazine photographer, to have an abortion. During a trip to Algeria in the summer of 2005, the victim was locked in a house belonging to one of Mami's friends, where an abortive procedure was attempted on her. Back in France, however, she realized the fetus was still alive. Mami had accused his manager Michel Lecorre (who is known as Michel Levy) of organizing the abortion plan.[7][8][9] He was arrested in France, just days before his trial. Mami was taken into custody by officials at a Paris airport as he arrived into the country from Algeria on Monday June 29, 2009.[10] In July 2009 a Paris court found him guilty of drugging and attempted forcible abortion, and sentenced him to 5 years in jail[11]. Michel Levy, Mami's former manager was sentenced to four years for plotting and organizing the assault.[12]

Selected discography

  • Prince of Raï (1989)
    • Tracks: Ana Mazel  • Dertfik Confiance  • Douni El Bladi  • Lella Rani Ensaaf El Mektoub  • Ralia Mahboubit Galbi  • Tayo Tayo Adiani
  • Let Me Raï (1991)
    • Tracks: Yo Yo  • Haoulou  • Let Me Cry  • Douha Alia  • Fatma  • Rah Eddani  • Khalihoum  • Maandi  • Manimane  • Alache Alache
  • Saida (1994)
    • Tracks: H'babi  • Ma Ma  • Gaulbak K'ssah  • Hay Wadi Hay Galbi  • Bent Bareh  • Baida  • Ghi N'Ti  • Li Fet ghi Mnem  • Zouaji  • Alache Alache  • Trab
  • Douni El Bladi (1996)
    • Tracks: Douni el Bladi  • Dertfik Confiance  • Ralia Mahboubit Galbi  • Ana Mazel  • Lella Rai Saaf El Mektoub  • Tayo Tayo Adiani  • Ouach Etsalini  • Idha Enti Bitik  • Chedi Bentek  • Maniche Aadouk  • Ghebnouha  • Sehrane Ouahdi  • Alauni (Instrumental)
  • Meli Meli (1999)
    • Tracks: Meli Meli  • Alache Alik  • Bledi  • Rani Maak El Youm  • Fatma  • Hada Ch'h  • Hatachi  • Bekatni  • Cheikh  • Azwaw  • Parisien du Nord  • Marseillais du Nord  • Au Pays des Merveillus  • Azwaw Alternative
  • Dellali (2001)
    • Tracks: Raï C'est Chic  • Views Habibi  • Madanite  • Rim Lachoua  • Yahamami  • Ana Oualache  • Ma Vie 2 fois  • Tzazae  • Zarartou  • Manazureh  • Machi Chaba  • Hoaulou  • Khalouni
  • Lazrag Saani (2002)
    • Tracks: Lazrag Saani  • Zazarkhatri  • Rouhi Douri Yalala  • Mani Sabar  • Madiriche Aliya  • Hay Delali  • Delali Mantzaoutchi  • Raikoum Rai Ma  • Salou Maana  • Derti Jauline  • Ana Khatini  • Hoaulou  • Sair Fer
  • Du Sud au Nord (2003)
    • Tracks: Des 2 Côtés feat. Mouss et Hakim / Parisien du Nord feat. K.mel / Madanite feat. Ziggy Marley  • Desert Rose feat. Sting  • Cosi Celeste feat. Zucchero  • Nagumo feat. Susheela Raman  • Enfant d'esfrinque feat. Corneille  • Clando feat. 113  • Youm Wara Youm feat. Samira Said  • Fugitif feat. Tonton David  • The Best Times of Our Lives feat. Aswad  • Koum Tara feat. Enrico Macias  • Azwaw 2 feat. Idir
  • Live au Grand Rex (2004)
    • Tracks: Azwaw  • Parisien du Nord  • Nagumo feat. Susheela Raman  • Mamzareli  • Mazal Souvenir Aandi  • Desert Rose  • Koum Tara feat. Enrico Macias  • Bledi - Mon pays  • Cosi Celeste feat. Zucchero  • Alache Alik  • Meli Meli  • Des 2 Côtés feat. Mous et Hakim  • Haoulou  • Zarartou
  • Layali (2006)
    • Tracks: Halili feat. Zaho  • Gualbi Gualbi  • Inshallah  • Tigi Tigi  • Gaiye bil Salama  • Ahla Layali Omrina  • Ajlissou  • Nos Couleurs feat. K.Maro  • Mama Dabia  • Ellie Beina Intaha  • Amshi Btraring  • Non c'sera non (Omri Omri) feat. Sween


  1. ^ BBC Report on Cheb Mami sentencing
  2. ^ a b Metro Times - Music: Rai rebel
  3. ^ RFI Musique Biography of Cheb Mami
  4. ^ a b Rosenberg, Dan. (2001). "Cheb Mami." Afropop Worldwide. Accessed on 19 March 2008 from
  5. ^ Rosenberg, Dan. (2001). "Cheb Mami." Afropop Worldwide. Accessed on 19 March 2008 from
  6. ^ a b c d e f Gross, Joan, David McMurray, and Ted Swedenburg. "Arab Noise and Ramadan Nights: Rai, Rap, and Franco-Maghrebi Identities." Diaspora 3:1 (1994): 3- 39. [Reprinted in The Anthropology of Globalization: A Reader, ed. by Jonathan Xavier and Renato Rosaldo, 1
  7. ^ "Arrest warrant issued for Algerian singer" (accessed May 29, 2007)
  8. ^ "French issue international warrant for Algerian singer Cheb Mami" (accessed May 29, 2007)
  9. ^ « Cheb Mami retourne devant le tribunal »,, Retrieved on 2008-10-16.
  10. ^ "Rai star, forced French abortion" (BBC News, Tuesday, 30 June 2009
  11. ^ BBC report: Rai star jailed for abortion bid
  12. ^ Daily Telegraph article: Cheb Mami sentenced to five years in forced abortion case

External links

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