Artist Profiles: Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha
Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha has been fusing the music of his native Algeria with the sounds of the West. Born in 1958 in Oran, Algeria, Rachid grew up in France in the poverty-stricken, working-class immigrant community that had sprung up in Lyons.

From an early age, music was his lifeline against the hopelessness of immigrant life. He sang, and also DJ’d in clubs, spinning an international blend of sounds that would presage his career. “I played a real patchwork,” he recalled, “Arabic, salsa, rap, funk, anything you could dance to.”

But the records didn’t say what was in his heart, the conflict of being an outsider, his Algerian roots pulling against the tug of European culture. So in the mid-’80s he formed a band, Carte de Sejour (Green Card). Their music burned with the fire of a young immigrant generation, exploding with the anger of punk on their best-known track, an ironic, politically-charged cover of the patriotic “Douce France.” After three years the band split up, and Rachid traveled to Los Angeles to work with producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt) on his solo debut. Barbes, the result of their collaboration, appeared internationally in 1991, at the height of Gulf War fever. In spite of glowing reviews, the subtle prejudice against all things Arabic at the time left it to sink without trace.

Older, wiser, but even more adventurous, Rachid returned in 1996 with Ole Ole, where massive club beats powered Arabic song, from the raw desert blues of rai to the kick of the Egyptian street pop shaabi, a unique, pan-North African vision melded with the programmed power of the First World.

With Diwan, in 1998, Rachid moved to a more subtle tack. The songs on the record came from his youth, work that had inspired his own music, from the pens of such greats as Dahmane El Harrachi and Nass El Ghiwane. It was, he explained, “my version of John Lennon’s Rock’n’Roll album.” Unlike the late Beatle, Rachid’s versions brought the classics very much into the modern age. Beat and samples pulsed alongside string sections and traditional instruments for an album that was a quiet musical revolution. Aided by Steve Hillage’s sympathetic and knowledgeable production, it was a masterpiece that both paid homage to the past and paved the way for the future.

On Made in Medina, his debut album for Mondo Melodia, Taha combined powerful rock with melodies of North Africa. The voice of Afrobeat star Femi Kuti, whose duet with Rachid on “Ala Jalkourn,” brings together North, and West Africa in a seamless blend of unity where voices transcend geographic borders. The album was recorded in Paris, London, and New Orleans, and was produced by veteran musician Steve Hillage.

The 2004 album, Tekitoi, was recorded in Paris, London and Cairo. Some of the themes are war, racism and corruption.

Discography:

Rhorhomanie (1984)

Deux et Demi (1986)

Barbès (Universal/Barclay, 1990)

Rachid Taha (Universal/Barclay, 1993)

Ole Ole (Mango, 1995)

Carte Blanche – Best of (1997)

Diwan (Wrasse Records, 1998)

Made in Medina (Universal Music/USA: Mondo Melodia, 2000)

Live (Ark, 2002)

Tekitoi (Wrasse Records WRASS126X, 2004)

Diwan 2 (Wrasse Records, 2006)

Rock el Casbah: The Best of Rachid Taha (Wrasse Records, 2007)

Rock N Raï (Shock / Barclay, 2008)

Bonjour (Knitting Factory Records, 2009)

Rock N Raï 2 (Shock / Barclay, 2010)

Zoom (Naive/Wrasse Records, 2013)

Web site: www.rachidtaha.com

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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