Iconic Algerian singer and Berber idol Idir dies at 70

Hamid Cheriet, better known as Idir, was a champion for the Kabylie region and its Berber language.

Algerian singer Idir, who gave voice to his native Kabylie and its Berber language, has died in Paris aged 70.

Idir, whose real name was Hamid Cheriet, died from lung disease after being hospitalised on Friday.

A post on his official Facebook page on Saturday announced the death.

“We regret to announce the death of our father (of us all), Idir,” the post read.

Idir was born on October 25, 1949, in Ait Lahcene, near the Kabylie capital of Tizi Ouzou in northern Algeria.

He studied to be a geologist but in 1973 was tapped as a surprise last-minute replacement for the Kablyie diva Nouara on Radio Algiers to sing “A Vava Inouva,” a lullaby set to acoustic guitar and an ode to the rich oral traditions of Berber mountain villages.

The song became a huge success in Algeria and beyond, but Idir had no idea because soon after the recording he was drafted for mandatory military service.

“I came at the right time, with the right songs” that evoked the rhythms of daily life he had heard since a baby, Idir told AFP news agency in a 2013 interview.

Algerian singer Idir performs during the 24th Printemps de Bourges music festival in April 2000 [File: Alain Jocard/AFP] 

He travelled to Paris to record his first album, also titled “A Vava Inouva,” in 1975. But after a series of tours and another album, he decided to abandon the music industry until 1991, when the release of a compilation album relaunched his career.

Installed in France, he became an impassioned advocate of his native Kabylie while also defending multiculturalism and immigration as they became key issues in his adopted country’s 2007 presidential race.

“When you belong to a minority, you start believing that you’re vulnerable, that the powerful can eat you up because even though your culture exists, it doesn’t have the means to develop and survive,” he said in a 2017 interview. 

After a 38-year absence he returned to Algeria in January 2018 for a Berber new year concert in the capital and the next year defended the popular uprisings against longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in April 2019.

“I loved everything about these protests: the intelligence of these youths, their humour, their determination to remain peaceful,” Idir said at the time.

“I admit that these moments were like a breath of fresh air. And since I have pulmonary fibrosis, I know what I’m talking about.”

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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