The rai boys

Robin Yassin-Kassab in The National:

Screenhunter_06_sep_30_1649Disturbing a sleeping box of old cassettes the other day, my hand brushed an album by Chab Hasni, and memories rushed in, fluent as music, of the Algerians I’d known in Paris in the early 1990s – particularly my friends Qader and Kamel.

In Algeria these two had been hittistes. That’s a real Algerian word: a French ending tacked onto the Arabic hayit, meaning wall. The hittistes were the youths who spent their time leaning against walls, bored, angry and stoned. They had no jobs and no housing – those who were employed often slept in their workplaces. Otherwise, they spent their time dodging the fearsome police force.

Life as clandestin illegal immigrants in France was not much easier. There too they had to negotiate checkpoints. I remember Kamel spending a fortnight in prison for being stopped “without papers”. When at liberty, they peddled hashish in Pigalle and sold the cassettes they stole from shops. (Still, there was honour among thieves. Qader once knocked down a fellow Algerian for stealing from an old man on the metro. “So what if he’s French?” he growled. “He could be your grandfather!”)

More here.