Algerian Instruments

Interested in Algerian musical instruments? Whether its percussion or strings, read our guide to get more facts & information…

The traditional Algerian instruments are mostly stringed instruments with the Tar, similar to a tambourine, used for percussion. The flute is also used. The exact types of instruments vary with the regions as do the musical styles. Until the late 1970s, all Algerian music was played on acoustic instruments, but performers of rai, a modern Algerian music genre, began using synthesized and electrified instruments. Rai originated in the port city of Oran in the 1930s during the French occupation.

Stringed Algerian Instruments

There are six stringed instruments that are traditional in Algerian music. The luth, which is a pear shaped deep body instrument similar to a mandolin, and the mandoline which is also pear shaped but more shallow bodied, are both common the Telemencen area. The Errabab is a long narrow stringed instrument played with a bow, similar to a violin and is also from Telemencen. The mandole is a shallow bodied instrument with a more narrow pear shaped body, and a second type of mandoline, which has the appearance of a stylized guitar are found in other regions of Algeria. The El-Qanun is a multi-stringed instrument with a solid body and the appearance of a small harp.

Rai Music Has Achieved International Recognition

Rai music is a controversial subject within Algeria. It is sung publicly by both men and women and women performers offend the sensibilities of devout Muslim men. The music has influences of both  Bedouin and European music, with early rai music clearly showing the influence of the French cabaret music style. The lyrics are often a social commentary and during the French Algerian War, they had something of the flavor of American folk protest music. Modern rai is the equivalent of American rap and several singers were murdered during the 1990s by those who protested rai on religious grounds. While rai has not achieved popularity in the U.S., it has done well in France, Spain and other European countries.

There are a number of other styles of music common in Algeria, but little information is available on these styles. Even within the country, the styles appeal to those of different regions and may be little known outside their own area. Many styles of  Algerian music have a religious flavor and much of the controversy surrounding rai has to do with its break from traditional muslim values. While some rai performers still use traditional Algerian instruments, Western instruments are gaining in popularity.

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