'Cheb Khaled' by Khaled review: a global celebration of Algerian rai music

The celebrated singer returns with his first album in a decade

Algerian singer Khaled returns with euphoric new album 'Cheb Khaled.' Photo: Dawn Elder
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There was a time when the name Khaled meant only one star.

Then again, when you take a decade off you will return to a musical landscape where the charts are peppered with different variations of names.

'Cheb Khaled'

Artist: Khaled
Label: Believe
Rating: 4/5

I am not referring to the boisterous Palestinian-American hip-hop producer DJ Khaled or the mellow US crooner Khalid.

I am talking about the original special K, the brilliant Algerian singer and songwriter Khaled.

Back with his first album since 2012's C’est la vie, the singer's Cheb Khaled is the sound of an artist reinvigorated and curious about his craft.

Nearly 50 years since emerging on the scene and taking local genre rai — a vibrant blend of Algerian folk and western popular music styles like pop and rock — to France and eventually the world, Khaled returns to remind us of the rich art form's relevance today.

Nearly all 10 tracks are exercises in fusion and collaboration, as his impassioned vocals are paired with everything from dance music to Spanish flamenco, Indian bhangra and Latin blues.

The album starts off where Khaled’s career began.

He joins DJ Snake on an updated version of Trigue Lycee, a remix of his debut 1976 single released as a 16-year-old.

Where the original had his ebullient vocals expressing hopes of being a singer on the "road to school", the heft and gruffness of the re-recorded vocals gives the rai classic a newfound poignancy.

DJ Snake, perhaps Algeria’s biggest star since Khaled, updates the track with tasteful rhythms and melodic synths.

Come Together (Acere Que Bola), one of several tracks produced by Lebanese-American composer Dawn Elder and featuring reggae singer Elan Atias, is a joyous blend of Latin percussion and Middle Eastern orchestration as Khaled pleads for reconciliation from "Santiago to LA".

Forever Love, featuring Riffat Sultana, is a rhythmic treat with its marriage of rai and northern Indian bhangra music.

Both artists carry off the romantic duet with aplomb. Khaled's expressive wails exude passion, while Sultana keeps it coy until she promises: “The day I get your love I will dance bhangra the whole day."

That celebration and optimism is carried throughout the album until the plaintive final track, Love to the People, featuring a majestic guitar solo from Carlos Santana and touching notes of ney flute played by the late Lebanese composer Bassam Saba.

Cheb Khaled not only gives us the dose of optimism we need, but provides another reminder why Khaled is one of the Arab world’s most important artists.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 6:02 PM
'Cheb Khaled'

Artist: Khaled
Label: Believe
Rating: 4/5