Idir, Berber without borders – Culture / Next

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Seghir Lazri is a sociologist. He works in particular on the social vulnerability of athletes in the “Sociosports” column on In this text, he pays tribute to the singer Idir, who disappeared on Saturday. “With him, part of my childhood, my culture and my identity went away …”, he reacted on Twitter.

The disappearance of the Kabyle singer Idir this Saturday, May 2 has moved far beyond the mountains of Kabylia and far beyond the Mediterranean. Kabyle, Berber, Algerian and French, Idir, by his real name Hamid Cheriet, was not a singer with a unique identity, he was above all a “World” artist.

The revolt as a legacy

The music of Idir and other singers of the “new Kabyle wave”, such as Matoub Lounes or Lounis Aït Menguellet, constituted the soundtrack of my family life as that of many children of Algerian immigration and more particularly Kabyle. The one that my parents put in the background when they engaged in housework, they prepared the meal, but also quite simply when they thought of the country, their childhood in the mountains of Kabylia, the family stayed there -low. Relatives whose cultural identity was constantly threatened by the government in power and who dreamed of more democracy and freedoms. Idir was above all Berberity, a childhood in Aït Lahcène, a village perched on the ridges, a pastoral occupation in contact with his father, and above all an early familiarization with Berber songs and tales, with his mother and his grand -mother. In this sense, he was the custodian of cultural and social capital that would serve as the basis for an identity claim.

If the song A vava inouva who made it known worldwide refers to a Kabyle tale transmitted orally from generation to generation (especially by women), it is also by its first broadcast on Radio Alger in 1973, a strong political act. Since as he himself said: “In Kabyle song, there is an ideological, political, cultural message.” Comments supporting the work of linguist Fathia Tabti-Kouidri who recalls that the Berber of Kabylia “Is posed as the main discriminant and the fundamental defining trait of the Berber identity”. She also points out that “The Berber claim is above all linguistic”, and that Idir, with the success of his first hit, will “A mass base on the theme of identity” and comfort “The international credibility of Berber culture”. It was by being the first to refer in his songs to the historic figure of the Numidian king Jugurtha (who rebelled against Rome, like Vercingétorix) dislodged from official history, that he knew his first censures , and that he is, in a way, driven into exile, taking with him the collective memory of an entire group.

Opening up to the world

But beyond this identity of Kabyle singer, his exile in France and his return to the front of the stage in the 90s, Idir appeared as the flagship singer of a booming musical movement, World Music. And it is by joining this current that Idir addressed the children of immigrants and not only Kabyle. After years spent in France, and after being in contact with other artistic cultures (he was particularly passionate about Celtic music, given that “Bretons and Kabyles are cousins” as the Kabyle humorist Fellag laughs), Idir begins to chain collaborations. First with compatriot Cheb Mami, then with other very popular artists from around the world. The album Identities, in 1999, became the symbol of this new posture of Kabyle singers at the turn of the 2000s, that of openness to diversity.

Read alsoDeath of Idir: the voiceless Kabyle people

This compilation incorporating some of his great classics in duet with great figures, such as Manu Chao, Zebda or Dan Ar Braz, blurs the boundaries between tradition and modernity, between Kabylia and the rest of the world. A masterful feat that is based on a tip as attractive as it is overwhelming: sing in the language of the other (Arabic, French) and blackmail the other in Kabyle. So the famous tube San Francisco become Tizi Ouzou (according to an adaptation of his friend Brahim Izri) is both sung in French by Idir and in Kabyle by Maxime Le Forestier, basically referring us to what is at the heart of cultural exchanges, according to historian and linguist Martine Abdallah-Pretceille , to know “Recognition and experience of otherness”. Subsequently, Idir, even more committed to French civic life, continued to increase collaborations with young and old, for example singing Bohemian in Kabyle to Charles Aznavour, shortly before his disappearance.

If today, many of us are so saddened by his disappearance, it is undoubtedly because his talent and his repertoire offered a cultural, emotional and contested refuge to our parents far from home, as well as to our cousins ​​of the country who are still fighting today for more freedom and equality. Idir was for us too, children of immigrant origin and children of the nation, the demonstration that our culture is not a fixed thing, that it is in perpetual movement and that it could only exist if it was shared . You made us all what we call in Berber “Amazighs”, that is to say free men. Thank you for this lesson in humanity, Idir.

Seghir Lazri



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