Naïma Huber Yahi, to the artists of immigration, grateful France

Naïma Huber Yahi, to the artists of immigration, grateful France

Integrating great artists from immigrant backgrounds into French cultural heritage: this is the mission given to herself by Naïma Huber Yahi, a historian who “tells” in her exhibitions and musical performances a France “rich” in its diversity. .

“Who wants to dance? Tonight, we’re going to sing in all languages”: under his direction, the National Museum of Arts and Crafts in Paris was transformed, for one evening, into karaoke. In room heater mode, Naïma Huber Yahi opens the ball with the song “Ya Rayah” by Dahmane El Harrachi, popularized by Rachid Taha in 1997.

A way to end in song the first life of the exhibition “Douce France, from the music of exile to urban cultures”, which aims to recognize the little-known cultural and artistic contributions of immigration to French culture, before leaving in the regions in 2023.

“My work is therapeutic,” Naïma Huber Yahi, 45, told AFP. “For me, as for others, it was a question of resolving identity issues: how do you manage to be French and become part of the collective memory when you are a child of immigrants and absent from the national narrative?”

Nothing intended this ex-banker, daughter of Algerian immigrants, to take up this subject in the costume of exhibition curator since the major retrospective “Generations” (2009-2010) at the Museum of the History of immigration, in Paris.

“The day I was offered a promotion, I resigned and resumed my studies”, says the one who grew up in Tourcoing, in the north of France, before spending four years in the business district of La Défense. at General Electric.

– Cheikha-Rimitti Square –

After his doctorate defended in 2008 under the direction of the historian Benjamin Stora, specialist in the contemporary Maghreb – “the only one who understood the interest of my thesis” on the cultural history of Algerian artists in France (1962-1987) –, she also began to write documentaries and musical shows.

In the wake of the success of “Barbès café”, a show retracing the journey of Algerian immigrant singers, workers by day and artists by night, she then looks at the fate of immigrant women with “Ne me liberez pas, je m’en charge !”.

“After my father’s, I wrote my mother’s story,” she says.

A way also to pay tribute to the great singers of exile like Cherifa, Hanifa, Noura or Cheikha Rimitti who sublimated, in Berber or in dialectal Arabic, the fights of these women for emancipation.

His finest feat of arms? Succeed in having the composer Kamel Hamadi and the singer Noura, authors of numerous gold records in the 1970s, named Knights of Arts and Letters in November 2008.

“It was a very strong moment”, recalls to AFP Mustapha Amokrane, former singer of the group Zebda, himself already decorated, who had given them the distinction with his brother Hakim.

“We realized that they weren’t when they had a career so much more complete than ours. When you say that to yourself, it’s crazy,” he says.

After the official decorations, it remained to inscribe the memory of the raï priestess Cheikha Rimitti, who died in 2006 in Paris, in the public space.

This was done in June 2021 with the inauguration of a square in her honor in the cosmopolitan Goutte d’Or district in Paris, near Boulevard Barbès, where she had her habits.

“I told the town hall of the 18th arrondissement that Barbès is the capital of exile music, and that these men and women, who are also part of our heritage, had to be represented in the city”, emphasizes Naïma Huber Yahi. The beginning of a long-awaited recognition.

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