Twixt Europa & Canada

Back from Europe, and after the PEN-Award ceremonies in New York (where I had the pleasure to hand the 2006 Award for poetry in translation to Wilson Baldrige for his translation of Michel Deguy’s Recumbents), up in Albany until tomorrow when I go to Toronto for a homage to the great Canadian/Quebecois writer Nicole Brossard. Meanwhile, a few quick notes on the Euro-scene:


1) To start: deep sadness at the disappearance of Cheikha Rimitti, the founder and the greatest of the Rai singers. She died Monday 15 May in Paris, at age 83. The previous Saturday she had given a concert at the Zenith with a number of the younger rai singers — Chebs — who had earlier imitated her, ripped her off in fact, but with whom she reconciled (after suing them) these last years. (A month ago they had to carry her off-stage at a concert after two hours singing — she just wanted to go on singing) Born in the rural Oran region, she was brought up on the beduin rai songs of her area, and later in the urban settings of Oran, she started to sing at weddings, in bars, etc. A true revolutionary artist, this woman in a puritan, repressive Islamic society sung love, sex, alcohol, independence of heart & mind for women, etcetera. Her real first name was Saïda, and the monicker “Rimitti” goes back to her pronunciation of the French word “Remettez” — i.e. “pour me another one.” here’s how her official website writes her up (& you can listen to a number of her songs therer by going to “discography”:

Cheikha Rimitti, the legendary rai music star, died suddenly today (Monday 15th May), victim of a heart attack. She was 83 years old.
Rimitti, known as “the mother of rai”, was still an active performer and recording artist – indeed, her latest album ‘N’ta Goudami’ (‘Face Me’) was released just last week and she was to have appeared at the BBC Proms season in August.
Cheikha Rimitti – who was born in Tessala, a small village deep in the countryside of western Algeria, has long been a legend to whom all the younger rai singers have owed their freedom of expression as well as their linguistic and moral rebelliousness, not to mention a significant proportion of their repertoire.

In a recording career that stretched back to 1952, Cheikha Rimitti was among the most crucial artists in North African culture, perhaps even the most popular singer among the poorest people. Her songs focussed on the struggles of daily living, on the pleasures of sex and love, on alcohol, friendship and war, all performed in the everyday language of the streets.
Rimitti’s talents were recognised in every continent, and praised at festivals from Tokyo to Toronto. In 1994 she collaborated with Robert Fripp and Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on the album ‘Sidi Mansour’, produced by Fripp, which nudged the creative boundaries of the rai genre out further than ever before.
She always avoided the spangly cabaret pop approach to rai so favoured by the younger generation. Rimitti was nothing less than the incarnation of Algeria’s long lost lust for life. Like some dauntless liberated aunt at a dysfunctional family feast, who sings, laughs, chides and surveys the psychological torture going on all around with her knowing eye, Rimitti continued to remind her fellow Algerians that spiritual faith can co-exist with a love of life and physical pleasure.

Her final album, ‘N’ta Goudami’, also made rai history as Cheikha Rimitti, once officially banned in her native Algeria, took the defiant step of recording it at the Boussif studios in the western Algerian seaport of Oran, the city where rai music was born over a century ago.

2) Meanwhile the French intellos keep fighting the good (or any other) fight. An interview with Pascal Bruckner on the political situation and the “Finkelkraut affair” can be read (in English) here thanks to signandsight. The same excellent site has also posted an essay by philosopher (nouveau philosophe, really) André Glucksmann on what he called “The French malady” in which he tries to diagnose the ailments that have been troubling the French Republic for the last thirty years. Worth a read.

3) Meanwhile Peter Handke, on whom I have commented a few times on this blog, is back in the news in Europe. In France, the director of the major French theater has now refused to present a commissioned play by Handke, because of the latter’s ongoing support of the serbian cause as incarnated (now dis-incarnated) by Slovodan Milosevic — at whose funeral Handke was most publicly present. A few hundred signatures by various intellectuals and writers back M. Marcel Bozonnet, the director of the Comédie française. Others say that his decision not to put on the play is censorship based not on anyhting in the play but on the polytical opinions of the author. And now the German city of Düsseldorfer has given its prestigious Heinrich heine prize to — Peter Handke, which is creating a storm in Germany. Haven’t seen much if any English commentary on this, but here is an outraged article in German by Hubert Spiegel in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s online edition.

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