Rachid Taha, a leading figure in modern Algerian and French music died in late 2018. Je Suis Africain is a posthumous album with material Taha was working on before he passed away.
Je Suis Africain encompasses many of the wide-ranging influences that characterized Rachid Taha’s music: rock, Algerian rai, Arabic and Arab-Andalusian orchestral arrangements, West African rhythms, blues, Congolese rumba, French chanson, spaghetti western-style influences, Spanish music, and Gnawa trance music.
Taha’s lyrics were a mix of passion, African pride and
social justice. The songs on Je Suis
Africain are in Arabic, French, Spanish (sung by Flèche Love, aka Amina Cadelli,
a Swiss-Algerian vocalist) and, for the first time, in English.
Je Suis Africain is a remarkable cross-genre album by an iconic bohemian artist who created music rooted in African traditions and western rock as well.
Rachid Taha fused 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-1980s 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 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.
Durham (North Carolina), USA – Duke Performances announced that it has just secured an exclusive concert with the iconic singer and song-writer Richie Havens. In a double bill, Duke Performances will present Richie Havens with Algerian rock and rai sensation Rachid Taha on Thursday, April 16, at 8 pm in Page Auditorium. Showcasing Havens’ five decades of inspired musical activism—a continuous thread of art, music, and political work begun in the tumult of the 1960s—alongside Taha’s politically-charged and often persecuted music, these two powerhouse performers profoundly conclude Duke Performances’ Art/Politics/Now series.
Since emerging from the Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960’s and finding global attention with his legendary Woodstock performance in 1969, Richie Havens has continued to give intense and engaged live performances that feature soaring, soulful vocals and powerful, rhythmic guitar. Havens maintains his iconic status as what the UK’s Independent calls a “liberation preacher,” proclaiming his messages of brotherhood and freedom in world-class collaborations and as a special featured artist at the storied WOMAD Festival. Havens’ latest recording is Grace of the Sun.
A rock star to the core, Rachid Taha mixes raï, techno, rock, and punk to sing Arabic wah-wah tunes about exile and racism. The combination of traditional and electronic instruments results in a sound like the Clash being backed by bendir, the North African snare drum. An Algerian now based in France, Taha is a “feral and formidable presence [on stage],” singing with a “throaty roar” as Rai strings “dip and surge like quicksilver [thrusts] of a rapier” (BBC).
Taha intersperses celebrations of old-school rock—from “Rock the Casbah” to Bo Diddley—with serious and passionate reflections on the cultural strife that have cinched his influential role as a voice for Algerian-Berbers and French-Arabs and that ring with a universal message of humanity. Raha’s most recent recordings are Ole Ole (1995), Carte Blanche – Best of (1997), Diwan (1998), Made in Medina (Universal Music/USA: Mondo Melodia, 2000), Live (Ark, 2002), Tekitoi(Wrasse, 2004), and Diwan 2 (Wrasse, 2006).
Richie Havens & Rachid Taha: Exclusive Double Bill
Thursday, April 16, 8 PM
Page Auditorium, West Campus, Duke University
$34, $26, $20; $5 for all Duke Students
Also in the Art/Politics/Now series:
Donald Byrd’s Spectrum Dance Company – The Theater of Needless Talents
Thursday & Friday, February 19 & 20, 8 pm, Reynolds Industries Theater
Simon Shaheen with the Aswat Orchestra featuring vocalists Ibrahim Azzam, Sonia M’Barek, Khalil Abonula & Rima Khcheich – World Premiere: Aswat (Voices): Celebrating the Golden Age of Arab Music
Thursday, March 5, 8 pm, Page Auditorium
Ferhat Tunç – Laments for Rebels and Soldiers
Friday, March 20, 8 pm, Nelson Music Room
Vincent Mantsoe – Ebhoflo (This Madness)
Saturday, March 21, 8 pm & Sunday, March 22, 3pm, Hayti Heritage Center