Cheb Mami – Early Life:
Cheb Mami was born Ahmed Khelifati Mohammed on July 11, 1966 in Saida, Algeria, to a large working-class family. He began singing in talent contests and apprenticing as a musician in his teens, but also found work as a welder to help support his family. In his later teens, the transition into Cheb Mami began, as he would spend his weekends in Oran, the capital of rai music, absorbing the sounds and the social life of the city.
In 1982, when he was only sixteen, Cheb Mami was discovered on a major national talent show and soon signed by the record label Disco Maghreb, with whom he proceeded to record over a half-dozen cassette tapes, each of which sold over 100,000 copies. In 1985, Cheb Mami went to Paris, and truly began to create his own sound, blending Algerian rai with funk, blues, and even reggae, and began to gain major success within the rai world.
Cheb Mami’s Crossover Success:
By the mid-1990s, Cheb Mami was a bona fide superstar within the Algerian and Algerian expatriate communities. Lyrically, he was a bit cleaner than stars like Cheb Khaled, and this gained him particular renown as a « family-friendly » heartthrob. His first crossover into the international pop community, though, didn’t happen until 2001, when his duet with Sting, « Desert Rose, » became an international #1 hit.
Cheb Mami’s Social Messages:
Many of Cheb Mami’s most popular songs deal with the plight of Northern Africans, both living in their native countries and abroad. He pleads for interracial understanding and community-building among members of the North African diaspora. Cheb Mami is also known for his poignant love songs.