What did I learn: ALGERIA

So this month I learned more about Algeria, a country I knew next to nothing about when I started, and what I did know tended to be skewed from European ideas of North Africa and from French colonial sources (I’m looking at you, Camus).

Algeria has been through some turbulent times in recent memory, and a lot of excellent works come out of Algeria that dig into these times – the colonial period, the war for independence (notably in film then and now), the Black Decade of the 90s (both in literature and film), and the current Hirak movement, particularly with its connections to football. Linguistic minorities like the Amazigh also fight for better representation, and there are deep conversations and introspection about Algeria’s current relationship with France, especially as so many young Algerians cross the Mediterranean for better opportunities, legally or not.

In addition to the heavier political and historical lessons, I’m glad I also got to experience some great parts of Algerian culture – both modern and classical music, comedy, radio, podcasts (lots of podcasts!) and of course, incredible food. I had the good luck that that it was Ramadan for the first half of the month – in addition to being a beautiful holiday, it is a time for lots of great food! I got to try three batches of Algerian snacks (1,2,3), pastries, stew dishes like chorba frik and lham lahlou, and my favourite – rechta with boureks.

Algeria is also such a beautiful country, with a huge variety of landscapes, from the Sahara to snowy mountains. There are incredible feats of architecture and stunning ancient history as well.

ALGERIA: Outside the Law (2010)

Another great recommendation from Lamine at Bahdja Market, Outside the Law is a 2010 Franco-Algerian movie following three brothers who end up in France in the 50s after losing half their family in the 1945 Sétif Massacre. The film follows their transformation – two of them into leaders of the Algerian resistance in France, and the other into a speakeasy owner and boxing promoter. As the Algerian War grows, the brothers bring the fight to France, including orchestrating assassinations and terrorist attacks, with a tense cat-and-mouse game with the French police.

It’s a fast, violent movie, thematically similar to the Battle of Algiers, but reframed as a gangster movie. Like the Battle of Algiers half a century before, Outside the Law was well received internationally and critically, except in France, where it unsurprisingly proved extremely controversial – particularly as it draws parallels between the Algerian independence movement and the French Resistance in WWII.

ALGERIA: More Podcasts

I had previously posted some podcasts in both English and French about Algeria, here’s another really interesting batch. Some are by Algerians, some from other countries, and I’ve marked which language they’re in. Enjoy!

Au cœur de l’Histoire : les années Bouteflika (Fr) – From French station Europe 1, a short biography of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president who was stopped from running a 5th time in 2019 by the Hirak movement.

Ottoman History Podcast – France & Algeria: Origins and Legacies (En) – An excellent interview with a historian about the early French colonization of Algeria, in the context of the real reasons (or lack thereof) for the French invasion, and how Algeria fits into larger systems of colonization and decolonization.

The Goodfolks Podcast (En) – A podcast series by Algerian grad students with interviews with interesting young Algerians. There’s a huge variety of people, academics, entrepreneurs, artists, heads of NGOs, activists, and many more. It’s all in English and is very sharp and candid.

Industrial Algeria (Fr) – An Algerian podcast that specifically interviews entrepreneurs – about their visions, their business, their success and challenges, with a specific focus on marketing.

BBC Witness History: Algeria’s Berbers (En) – A look back at the protests in Algeria in 2001 by the Amazigh for further protection of rights and enshrinement of Tamazight as a national language.

Radio ECO (Fr) – Another business interview podcast from Algeria – this one more aimed at interviews with established businesspeople in Algeria, with a focus on business tactics and the process of growing businesses. I listened to an interesting one by a restaurateur with a chain of locations on identifying potential customers and adapting to the pandemic.

Bellem et ses Hkayet: Djawed, ou plutôt les Djaweds (Fr) – A neat Algerian podcast by Mehdi Bellem, recounting short stories about the different lives of Algerians backed to music. The episode focuses on Djawed, a young man facing an unknown future – out of school early, no formal work.

Boomerang: France/Algérie avec Fellag (Fr) – An 2017 interview with French channel France Inter with Algerian actor and comedian Fellag about a new show about Algeria’s colonial period, his career, and his experiences as an Algerian moving between France and Algeria.

ALGERIA: Classical music

I had a nice chat via email with Lamine at Bahdja Market, the great online Algerian grocery here in Ottawa – I’ve picked up pastries and some snacks from there and really enjoyed them! Lamine gave me some neat suggestions for Algerian content to explore, particularly classical music:

There are a couple of styles (Hawzi from Tlemcen, West of Algeria), Andalusi (Andalusian heritage of the Muslim rule in Spain, a heritage shared also with the Sephardic Jews of Spain), Nouba (a type of Andalusian music), Malouf (Constantine Classical music, East of Algeria).

Here is the diva of Andalusian music currently in Algeria:

And a virtuoso of Malouf music from Constantine. This guy is apparently making history in his musical genre.

Mok Saib is also very popular in Algeria. He lives in England. This song was viewed by 122 million people. 

ALGERIA: Even more snacks

Idriss Mediterranean, the nice little Algerian restaurant here in Ottawa, also carries a bunch of imported snacks to add to your meal. I was definitely in the mood for chocolate when I picked these up!

Bimo Ambassadeur fourré crème lait – Milk chocolate with a creamy filling. The chocolate is okay, tastes a lot like Kinder Egg chocolate but a bit sweeter. There were several other flavours of filling – I should have grabbed the caramel one.

Bimo Ambassadeur Noir – Yum, semi-sweet dark chocolate, plain and simple. There’s almost a raisiny aftertaste to the chocolate, but in a pleasant way. Reminds me of the semi-sweet chocolate chips I would pilfer from my mom’s baking supplies as a kid – she’d only discover she was out halfway through a recipe!

Bimo Macao – This is more of a chocolate digestive biscuit than a cookie. There’s cocoa in it but it’s not particularly sweet, though it definitely has a nice strong chocolate aftertaste. It doesn’t seem like much at first but they’re definitely addictive!

ALGERIA: The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry by Assia Djebar

Assia Djebar is one of the most internationally celebrated authors from Algeria – her works have been extensively translated, and have covered both time and space from pre-Independence Algeria to a few years before her death in 2015, and moved between Algeria, France, and the US.

The Tongue’s Blood Does Not Run Dry is a fictionalization / poeticization of real women’s stories Djebar collected during the Algerian civil war in the 90s. Stylistically these vary – from fables based off 1001 Nights to poetry to a short novella that fluctuates between protagonists. The stories each carry the richness of the experiences of the women (and men) – teachers under threat, widows of activists, the children of French-Algerian marriages, families reuniting and falling apart. It’s an extremely powerful book that articulates real life emotions in a way that will hit you in the core.

ALGERIA: Algerian Ice Hockey

Did you know there’s ice hockey in Algeria? For the past decade or so, Karim Kerbouche has been building up an Algerian men’s hockey team, and in 2019 Algeria was introduced into the IIHF as a national team. The BBC has an interview with Kerbouche (though the presenter falls into the trap a bit about stereotyping Algeria as all desert, when parts of the country get plenty of snow – there are even ski hills).

You can also watch Algeria’s first ever goal in international hockey in 2008 – a nice little backhand under the goalie by Hakim Boukhaloua in a game against Kuwait.

ALGERIA: Podcasts

Tadrart Rouge mountains – Source: Reddit

There are some really interesting podcasts both from Algeria and about Algeria, though there’s a sharp language divide between the two. There’s almost no Algerian podcasts in English, but there are tons in French and Arabic – and there’s an interesting content split between the two languages. Since French is still the language of higher education in Algeria, the podcasts I found in French tend to be more formal history / interview / culture podcasts, while more casual conversation / sport / music podcasts are usually in Arabic, since that’s what’s more frequently spoken in daily life.

The following podcasts are in French:

Radio Campus Algérie: Sawt El Shabab – This is more than campus radio, Radio Campus Algérie is a project giving university-level journalism students an opportunity to not just learn the ropes, but engage in real reporting – and that includes independent and investigative reporting in the real world. I listened to a podcast from August 2020 that was reporting on other Algerian journalists that had been jailed by the government – a topic that would be bold enough from a seasoned reporter. These students are fearless!

Radio Algérie: Histoire et Mémoire – A podcast from Algeria’s public broadcaster that focuses on different topics on Algerian history. I listened to a very interesting one on Frantz Fanon, the anti-colonial philosopher, as well as one on the research by French and Algerian historians into the use of napalm during the Algerian War.

Taste of Algeria – A great playlist of old Algerian vinyl records put together by Toukadime – a pair of Algerian DJs / music producers. This playlist gives a really interesting spread of Algerian oldies and folk music. No talking, just music.

Radio Algérie: Votre Week-end – A weekend digest every Thursday with a mix of music and interviews on socio-cultural topics. I listened to the most recent one, with an extended interview on how Algerian identity and community ideals are taught in schools. Previous ones touched on managing diabetes during Ramadan, seismic-proofing older communities, and plastic surgery.

Above Tizi OuzouSource

I also have some very interesting podcast episodes about Algeria (but generally not by Algerians) that are all in English:

BBC Music Planet: Algeria – Another good podcast covering different styles of Algerian music – short samples and commentary on the wide variety of folk music across the country.

Ottoman History Podcast: Saharan Jews in French Algeria – An interesting interview with a Jewish studies professor about the identities and citizenship (or lack thereof) of Saharan Jews in Algeria during the French colonial era. It’s not just a primer on the history of the Jewish people in Algeria, it’s a microcosm of a bigger discussion about how the French colonial bureaucracy shaped national and cultural identities in a way that’s still affecting all religious and ethnic groups in post-colonial Algeria.

BBC: The Harragas of Algeria – Some investigative journalism from 2015 from the BBC about the Harragas (“burners” of documents) of Algeria – those who try emigrate to Europe as undocumented migrants, as well as interviews with those that move to Algeria to set up businesses.

Ottoman History Podcast: Dark Humor from Algeria’s “Dark Decade” – Interviews with PhD students who are studying the Algerian humour and comedy that was used as a release and coping mechanism during the Dark Decade of the civil war in the 90s.