No one else but the Algerian vocalist Khaled, or, as he used to be known, Cheb ("young") Khaled, could fairly be called the "king of raï." Songs of his like 1992's "Didi" and 1996's "Aïcha" have reached a crossover audience who in large part have otherwise never heard of raï, and no other artist in his genre has achieved Khaled's level of worldwide fame and fortune.
Born in 1960 in raï's hometown of Oran, Algeria, Khaled grew up as the only musically inclined member of his middle-class family. Despite the unease that official Algeria and social conservatives felt with the style, Khaled achieved enormous success with his fellow countrymen very early. When the first official raï festival was staged in Oran in 1985, Khaled was already a superstar. And when the working-class Paris suburub of Bobigny held its own such festival the following year, Khaled was again there, at the forefront when interest in the genre exploded in France. In the wake of that triumph, the singer moved to France permanently.
By 1991, the Algerian was signed to a worldwide recording deal by the influential French label Barclay, guaranteeing that his smooth voice and even smoother songs would be heard by a great many listeners beyond the normal bounds of raï; for example, Khaled now enjoys a large fan base in India. The singer's Barclay/Universal Music albums are quite easy to find; three titles with which to start are 1992's eponymous Khaled, which includes the gold-selling smash single "Didi"; 1996's Sahra, which includes "Aïcha"; and 2001's great 1-2-3 Soleils, in which Khaled shares the spotlight with two other raï greats, the singers Rachid Taha and Faudel, in a performance captured live in 1988. Anastasia Tsioulcas