Rachid Taha - Biography
BY J Poet
Rachid Taha rejects the term world music, opting for the more inclusive label global pop, since Arab music has been influencing the west for centuries. Taha will talk long and eruditely on the subject, tracing the Arab influence from medieval Spain to the new world where it combined with west African forms to create Cuban rumba, then onto the United States and up through New Orleans where it influenced the genesis of jazz and rock’n’roll. Taha’s own musical vision took him on the same journey, starting backward with rock and landing him back in the world of traditional Arab music. His work as a DJ, songwriter and bandleader has always been groundbreaking, a blend of cultures and styles that acknowledges no borders or boundaries.
Taha was born 1958, in Oran, Algeria, in the middle years of the Algerian War of Independence and grew up on Bollywood soundtracks, traditional Algerian wedding music and the trance inducing sounds of the Gnawas, Black African Arabs with their own unique culture. After Independence Taha’s father moved the family to France. Taha chafed against the restrictions of school, straight jobs and the racism he found everywhere. He left home at 18 and moved to Lyon where he worked various dead end jobs. Eventually he started spinning records an Arab clubs called Les Tefoulés (The Repressed.) He played Arab, salsa, rap, funk, and punk while holding down another mindless factory job. The crowd’s reaction to his international smorgasbord made Taha want to make his own music. He started a band called Carte de Sejour (Green Card) that played Clash influenced Arab rock that was so loud it was almost metal. In 1982, Steve Hillage, former Gong guitarist, produced the band’s first album Rhoromanie. When it didn’t get any attention they cut Deux et Demi (1986.) Taha made sure the first single of this album, “Douce France,” a Charles Trenet song given an Arab makeover, was distributed to every member of the French Parliament, insuring the band’s fame, or infamy. It was banned from French radio.
After two albums, Taha left Carte de Sejour but continued his collaboration with Hillage, who had been blending Arab sounds into his own music even before he met Taha. After a trip back to Algeria to immerse himself in the music of his homeland, and a brief stay where session with producer Don Was went nowhere, Taha and Hillage released Barbés (1991 Barclay France) named after an Arab ghetto in Paris, and followed it up with Rachid Taha (1995 Barclay) which included the hit “Voila, Voila,” a dance track with an anti-racist message aimed at the French public. Ole Ole (1996 Barclay France, 1996 Mango US) continued to blend electrionica and Algerian traditional music. It featured a portrait of a blond haired blue eyed Taha on the cover that confounded both fans and critics. Diwan (1998 Island) took the hits and classic songs of Arab singers and writers, most with a political message in their lyrics. The vocals are fiery and the dance music is tempered by blues, rock, rai, chaabi (an older style of Algerian pop.) In 1998 Taha teamed with two stars - Khaled and Faudel – for a super session style concert that was released as 1-2-3 Soleil (1998 Barclay.) It went Gold in France and set up Made in Medina (2000 Arc 21 US, 2000 Barclay France.) Medina was Taha most adventurous outing including punk, salsa, techno, rock and Afropop all with a strong Arab flavor driven by Hillage’s sharp production and Taha’s commanding vocals in French, Arabic and English. Tékitoi (2004 Wrasse) continued his winning streak and included the international hit “Rock el Casbah” an Arabic rewrite of The Clash song, “Dima” a co-write with Eno and Hillage, the thumping club groove of “Voila, Voila,’ a remake of an early hit. It used the sounds of acoustic oud, darbuka (Turkish goblet drum), bendir (frame drum) and mandolute (a guitar/oud hybrid) to balance the electronic textures. Diwan 2 (2006 Wrasse) is a return to the acoustic roots of the Arab music Taha heard as a boy. There is a bit of electric guitar and some drum programming evident, but most of this is smooth and acoustic with a guest shot from Egypt’s Cairo String Ensemble adding their swinging string charts to arrangements of tunes made famous by Oum Kalsoum and Mohamed Mazounia as well as an Arab/African take on Francis Bebey’s “Agatha.” Rock el Casbah – The Best of…was released by Wrasse in 2007. In 2008 he relaesed the LP Rock N Rai, followed by Bonjour (2009), and Zoom (2013).