Rachid Taha’s Unexpected Lyrical Return to the Music of his Childhood

Rachid Taha -  Diwan 2
Rachid Taha – Diwan 2

Rachid Taha

Diwan 2 (Wrasse Records Wrass181, 2006)

After almost non-stop rocking and rolling around the globe for the past two years, a serious-looking Rachid Taha has donned more traditional headgear for the cover of Diwan 2 and makes an unexpected and lyrical return journey to the music of his childhood.

It won’t grab you by the throat in the same way as his last two albums; this isn’t the powerhouse performance of Live (2001) or the mouthy personal lyrics and delivery of Tékitoi? (2004) – there’s none of their testosterone-charged moodiness of voice and heavy rock riffs.

Traditional North African instruments and strings are to the fore, making this collection of tracks a gentle tour de force with a lighter more playful treatment, despite sorrowful stories of love and exile as told through the witty, ironic poetry of the rai and chaabi repertoire of such luminaries as Blaoui Houari and Dahmane El Harrachi (composer of Rachid’s adopted anthem, Ya Rayah). But neither has it the same uncomplicated clarity in the arrangements as the first Diwan (1998); this also produced by Steve Hillage, his co-conspirator of over 22 years.

The story behind Diwan 2 is Rachid’s chance find, in his parents’ attic, of a recording of Ecoute-Moi Camarade, which he chooses as the opening track introduced by the melodic, romantic sound of Stephane Baudet’s plaintive trumpet and the voice of Miquette Giraudy, better known for her expertise on the synthesizer. But there’s also humor and laughter in the intimate throaty quality of his vocals and idiosyncratic chatty moments, as if he were there in your living room; the last track, Ghanni Li Shwaya, ends with a typical gravelly growl.

Happily, the prolific Rachid doesn’t totally deprive us of his own compositions, he gives us Josephine and Ah Mon Amour; his voice seems more comfortable with these and with the rocking percussion provided by  Hossam Ramzy, and Kadi Bouguenaya’s reed flute, the gasbar.

But sadly in the UK we are to be deprived of the accompanying DVD, Ma Parabole d’Honneur, of his recent tour of Algeria, undertaken, after an absence of 20 years, at the behest of our own dear Andy Kershaw. It seems this is only available in France – just for the time being we hope!

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Author: Yvonne Mitton