Photo: Luc Bucaille

Interview: Soolking, the Algerian Star Fusing Raï and Hip-Hop

Algeria's Soolking is creating his own lane by adding a Mahgrebian touch to France's urban music scene.

Raï, a Maghrebian folk music form dating back to the 1920s, rose out of the Algerian city of Oran. A mix of pop and traditional Bedouin desert music, it's working class & notably male singers, referred to as Cheb, filled their lyrics with talk of social issues such as disease and colonialism. They did so purposely, as the Arab word 'raï' stands for 'opinion.' These musicians so effectively bridged the gap between traditional Islamic values and their strife that, by the 1980s, the genre became world renown.

Algerian Abderraouf Derradji better known as Soolking is a successor of such musicians as Cheb Khaled, Cheb Hasni, and Cheb Mami. Much like his predecessors, Soolking discusses the pains and joys of daily life. Last year, his Algerian fans were so enamored with his peaceful protest anthem, "Liberté," that they chanted it in the streets. An offshoot of what came before it, Soolking's modern day formula is a mix of a multitude of genres⁠—raï, pop, rap, R&B,, soul, and reggaeton.

Presently, Soolking's music has amassed over one billion streams. His first album, Fruit du Demon, is certified platinum.. The prolific writer is even said to have created over 70 songs for that debut. His latest double album, Vintage, was released back in March with chart-topping singles "Melegim" and "Mayline."

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