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Cheb Khaled: The King of Raï

Khaled Hadj Brahim, is the Algerian Raï Star. Singer and songwriter, he is also a multi-instrumentalist musician. Raï is a kind of north african popular music. This style mixes North African, Western traditions and Middle Eastern.
When he was a teenager, he started recording with the name of Cheb Khaled (which means “Young Man” Khaled in Arabic), in opposition with the traditionalist Sheikh elders. Then, he became the most famous Algerian singer in the Arab world and in many continents. Khaled is appreciated to exude happiness, especially when he performs.

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His youth

From his real name, Khaled Hadj Ibrahim was born 29 February 1960 in Sidi El Houari, in Oran’s suburbs. He comes from a poor and modest family. His father got a small salary, he was working in a garage for the local police station. He grew up in Oran’s neighbourhood and early, he developed a passion for songs and music, his influences were essentially Oriental. He was used to listen Moroccan singers, the young boy appreciated a lot as well Western musical tendencies, rock and roll heroes like Elvis Presley or Johnny Hallyday. When he was 7, he vowed he would imitate his musical idols and he decided to start his own singing career. But, at that time, the young Khaled did not have real relation with the international music. In his family, only his paternal uncle, was used to play the accordion sometimes. So, Khaled, decided to make his own way in the music domain.
By the age of 10, he played a variety of instruments like the accordion, harmonica and guitar. When he was 14, he decided to create the “Cinq Etoiles” (Five Stars) band and then he recorded the first single of his band “La route du lycée”. So, with his band, he started to perform in nightclubs and for weddings. He matured and he was cultivating the local popular music “Raï”.

Raï, the name, comes from the Arabic word which means “opinion” or “advice”. This music style blossomed in Oran, the Algerian city, in the 1920’s. Oran, the city named “little Paris”, was a real melting-pot of different cultures, the city had a great and lively nightlife. From this atmosphere, female singers emerged called cheikhas. This band of women decided to reject classical lyrics and poetic Algerian music and singing. They wanted to settle the conditions of the city life through a raw and gritty language which reminded American blues. In the later 20th century, Raï was created from the music of these women. The plain speaking and the flouting increased and incorporated sounds from Western rock and roll, Moroccan and Egyptian pop and Jamaican reggae with other innovative styles.

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In the 1980’s: the growing fame

He started singing Raï style songs at the beginning of the 1980’s. At this period, other singers and Khaled added synthesizers, electrical guitars and drums to the mix. The musicians adopted the name Cheb (young) to reveal themselves and their music style from their predecessors (those who performed another style of Raï). In 1985, the first worldwide Raï festival occurred in Algeria in 1985. Cheb Khaled became the central figure. His artist name was synonymous with the Raï genre.
He got a great success at Bobigny, in France, and he released a debut single “Hada Raïkoum” (Its’ Your Law), adapted from an original cassette. This cassette was recorded an appeared in a vinyl form, on Horizon Music Labec, presently sadly defunct. Following to this recording, he realized an extensive tour including several dates across France and Europe. That’s why in 1988, the Raï Star returned to studio for his debut album. Then, he had the opportunity to meet the famous French producer Martin Meissonnier, they both worked with a respected Algerian artist and musician, Safy Boutella. Khaled recorded his entire album called “Kutché”, moderately successful. Raï specialists said that his approach is different of the traditional Raï music. He was quite undeterred by the warm reception of his first album, he embarked for another tour. So, he planned dates in Holland, Belgium and England, especially in London. His fame became wider than Europe’s walls and after the European tour, he went to perform in front of the Japanese audience in Tokyo. He went back to home, in Algeria, however, he was considered as an exuberant bon vivant. He was estimated as a defender of the Raï movement, which was controversial in Algeria at that time. He was even under threat from the fundementalism sweeping in the late 1980’s. His lifestyle made him especially a target of the terrific group of Islamic terrorists. They regarded his music as a corrupting sound and influence on the young population. They issued a death sentence for the people who espoused his peaceful and happiness message. That’s why, in 1988, Khaled moved to France, so he did not returm to Algeria for some years.
He settled in France, and he was invited to “the Francophone music scene” during the World Summer Festival, in New York, in July 1991.

His worldwide fame

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, raï became extremely popular, largely thanks to Cheb Khaled’s stylistic creations and innovations. In fact, he used pedal steel guitars and Asian string instrument, just like in his famous song “N’ssi N’ssi”. His passionate and rich singing voice is really brilliant. The music and the person started to become famous internationally. His style embodied the spirit of pleasure, youth and sexual freedom. In the 1990’s, Khaled grew older and he decided to drop “Cheb” from his name.
Concerning his private life, he met his future wife, Samira Diabi (who was 27), he married in 1995. They got one son and four daughters. Following to this events of his private life and his growing career, a documentary entitled “Khaled: Derrière le sourire”, was composed about his life.
His hit song “Didi” in 1993, got a great success and became really popular essentially in the Arabic-speaking countries. This song made him famous as well in several other continents, just like Europe. In France, “Didi” gained the first charts, like in Spain, Belgium, and Asia (India and Pakistan, as well. Therefore, in India, the tube was used in “Shreeman Aashiq” and “Airlift”, Bollywood movies, and in a Mollywood film entitled “Highway”.
His producer is called Don Was, he appeared in a show on 4 February 1993. Khaled was famous for exuding happiness, particularly when he presents himself on the stage.
He went on striving to increase his appeal in Europe. He went on working with a lot of various musicians representing different styles from India, the Middle East and North Africa. Album like “Kenza” (2000), Ya-Rayi (2004) and “Liberté” (2009) were born from these collaborations.
In August 2013, He received Moroccan citizenship, he did not ask for this award, but he accepted it. In fact, he felt obliged not to refuse.
In fact, Khaled, succeeded in introducing Western populations to Raï music and rhythm. He had become the most famous Algerian singer all around the world, in the Arab world and for many continents. He got the unofficial title of “King of Raï” with his most popular songs like “Aïcha”, “C’est la vie” and “Didi”, and “Alech Taadi” as well. This song was featured in the movie “The Fifth Element” (worldwide success movie) from Luc Besson.

Awards and millions of sales

“Didi”, his signature song became really popular, it entered in the top charts, for example, he got the fourth position in Germany. The singer won numerous awards, he sold more than 80,5 million albums all over the world. The prizes include 10 diamond, gold and platinum albums.
2010 was the year he performed Didi for the opening ceremony Fifa World Cup which took place in South Africa. This opportunity made him one of the best selling artists of Arabic language in history. 2012 celebrated his great tube “C’est la vie”, over than one million copies in Europe were created only two months after. He succeeded in selling 2.2 million copies in North Africa and in the Middle East, and 200,000 copies in the United States. So, about 4.6 million sales took place for this only song. The hit single got a record with a million of downloads on Canadian and European iTunes. On the Billboard top French songs, that album reached the position 5. This album has a lot of advantages, it has a message of love and peace, tolerance, he prefers to stay away from the conflict subjects. Many other Arabic artists decided to explore this type of topic, but Khaled chose not to blend his music with political opinions.
Khaled chose to write, compose his music and sing about Algerian population in France, so he conveyed what Algerian immigrants live and suffer in Europe thanks to this album “C’est la vie”. This album was created after he made a break for five years after 2011, France presidential elections and the period of Arab Spring.
He follows Manu Dibango, Cesaria Evora’s foodsteps because he adopted Paris, his musical home. Paris had the incredible reputation to be the exciting capital of world music. Due to Khaled’s smash hits like “Aïcha” or “Didi”, he rocketed the top of the charts in the whole world. So, he earned an enormous following of fans, the Algerian star’s success is to be popular and known even in countries or nations where nobody has ever listened to Raï music. His international career is always rising, he reveals himself as a defender or ambassador of the human rights in his native country and not only. These steps constitute a fitting role for the singer. He contributes to the meaning and understanding of the word freedom in Oran and the surroundings today.

Cheb Khaled is a FME Booking Artist. For further info regarding bookings, contact us Now at