The majority of Algerians are ethnically Arab-Berber and live in the north of the country. Berber traditions are best preserved in the Kabylie, east of Algiers, where people speak the Berber tongue, Tamazight, as their first language. The Tuareg people of the Sahara are also Berbers, and speak Tamashek. In 2016 Berber was, for the first time in the modern age, made one of the official languages of Algeria.
An estimated 99% of Algeria’s population are Sunni Muslims, along with the Ibadis of the Mzeb Valley, and small numbers of Christians and Jews. While Islam is part of everyday life in Algeria, alcohol is available in a few bars and upmarket restaurants and not all women wear hijab.
After the succession of South Sudan from the north, Algeria suddenly found itself to be Africa's largest nation. About 85% of the country is taken up by the Sahara, and the mountainous Tell region in the north makes up the balance. The Tell consists of two main mountain ranges: the Tell Atlas, which runs right along the north coast into Tunisia, and the Saharan Atlas, about 100km to the south. The area between the two ranges is known as the High Plateaus. The Sahara covers a great range of landscapes, from the classic seif dunes of the great ergs (sand seas) to the rock-strewn peaks of the Hoggar Mountains in the far south.
Algeria's biggest environmental issues are the loss of its already meagre forest areas, the burning of scrub vegetation, soil erosion, the conversion of wild land to arable land and, most seriously, desertification and the expansion of the Sahara.
Algeria’s most well-known cultural export is raï, a musical hybrid that was spawned in the clubs of colonial-era Oran and flourished as protest pop fusion in the 1970s and '80s. Initially suppressed by the Boumédienne government, it was, ironically, the popularity of raï in France that ended its censorship. Early greats include the Algerian James Brown, Boutaïba S’ghir, sweet, soulful Belkacem Bouteldja and the lyrical and sensual Chiekha Remiti. The celebrity status of Khaled, Rachid Taha and Faudel was cemented in the legendary concert 1, 2, 3 Soleils in Paris in 1998; the live album is a good place to start for raï neophytes.
The country's ethnic diversity and turbulent history is reflected in its broader musical heritage. The Andalusian-Arabic vocal work of Mahieddine Bachtarzi helped forge a new national identity for Algerians during the early days of independence, as did Hadj M’Hamed El Anka with the Casbah’s own Chaabi style. More recently the potent acoustic Amazigh folk of Kabylie singer Idir has championed the Berber cause, while the pan-Saharan sounds of Gwana give voice to Tuareg and black African Algerians.