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Algerian singer/songwriter Rachid Taha became an iconic revolutionary figure in his adopted French homeland due to his eclectic blend of native rai and chaabi influences, raw punk energy, and rebellious rock & roll attitude. Born in Sig, Mascara Province in Algeria in 1958, Taha emigrated to France with his family at the age of ten. While working in a heating factory in the '70s, he founded his own nightclub, Les Refoules, which played mash-ups of Arabic pop hits over tracks by the likes of Led Zeppelin and Kraftwerk. In 1980, he formed Maghreb punk outfit Carte de Sejour, who recorded two albums, Rhorhomanie and Ramsa, and scored a hit with an anarchic cover version of Charles Trénet's Douce France, before disbanding in 1989. Two years later, he launched his solo career with debut LP, Barbes, but achieved his biggest success with 1998's traditional Algerian/Arab-inspired Diwan and 2004's Tekitoi, both of which were produced by long-term collaborator Steve Hillier. Taha has also performed with Robert Plant, Patti Smith, and Brian Eno, appeared on-stage with Damon Albarn's side project Africa Express, and covered the Clash's "Rock the Casbah" for the Joe Strummer film, The Future Is Unwritten, while several of his songs have been featured in Hollywood movies including Black Hawk Down and The Truth About Charlie.
Rachid Taha (Arabic: رشيد طه) (born September 18, 1958 in Sig, Algeria) is an Algerian singer and activist based in France who has been described as "sonically adventurous." His music is influenced by many different styles such as rock, electronic, punk and raï.Cite error: The named reference twsD18 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Jon pareles (July 7, 2008). "Algerian Singer Mixes Rock and Rai". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-04. Al-Taee, Nasser (Spring 2003). "Running with the Rebels: Politics, Identity, and Sexual Narrative in Algerian Rai". Echo (1). Cite error: The named reference twsD13 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference twsD28 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference twsD21 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
Taha was born in 1958 in Sig (Mascara Province), Algeria, although a second source suggests he was born in the Algerian seacoast city of Oran. This town was the "birthplace of raï" music, and 1958 was a key year in the Algerian struggle for independence against French authority. He began listening to Algerian music in the 1960s, including street-style music called chaabi. And music from the Maghreb region was part of his upbringing.
He moved with his parents to France when he was ten years old, settling in an immigrant community around the French city of Lyon in 1968. His father was a textile factory worker, with long hours and low pay, such that his life was compared to that of a "modern slave", according to one account. When 17, Taha worked during the day at a central heating plant, described as a "menial job", and hated this work, but at night worked as a club DJ playing Arabic music, rap, salsa, funks and "anything else that took his fancy." The contrast between menial work during the day and fun during the night may have helped to develop his musical sensibility. In the late 1970s, Taha founded the nightclub called The Rejects or, in French, Les Refoulés, where he would spin mashups of Arabic pop classics over Led Zeppelin, Bo Diddley and Kraftwerk backbeats."Africa's shining music stars: RACHID TAHA". BBC. 2011-06-04. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Born in 1958 in Algeria, Rachid Taha, grew up in France in the poverty-stricken, working-class immigrant community around Lyon..." Philip brasor (Sep 12, 2001). "HIGH NOTES: Rachid Taha". Japan Times. Retrieved 2011-06-04. Robin Denselow (28 May 2001). "Nuclear fusion: Rachid Taha mixes rock and techno with Algerian street music - and the results are so good, he's already been banned from French radio". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. Cite error: The named reference twsD17 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Plastino, pp. 111. Curiel, Jonathan. "Arab rocker Rachid Taha's music fueled by politics, punk attitude and -- what else? -- romance". San Francisco Chronicle. 27 June 2005. Retrieved 14 March 2013. Morgan, Andy. "Can Rachid Taha rock the Casbah?". The Independent. 6 November 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2009.
ContentsCareer1.1 Raï roots1.2 Carte de Séjour1.3 Solo years1.4 Reviews1.5 Personal life
In the 1980s, Algeria's indigenous pop music known as raï began to achieve international attention. Originally raï music was based on "city slickers adapting music from the sticks" and was described as ribald, but it became more of a medium for political protest when young people in the 1960s and 1970s used it to "express their anger and desires." Taha has suggested that Algerian musical styles and rock are "closely linked". Taha was influenced by the North African raï band Nass El Ghiwane which was described as "Morocco's answer to the Beatles or the Stones."
Carte de Séjour
In 1981, while living in Lyon, Taha met Mohammed and Mokhtar Amini and the three of them, along with Djamel Dif and Eric Vaquer would soon form a band. In 1982, Taha was the lead vocalist for the Arab-language rock group which they named Carte de Sejour, meaning Green Card or Residence Permit depending on the translation. He sang in both English and Arabic, but usually in Arabic. Taha was inspired by the group The Clash:
Taha met members of the group The Clash in Paris:
Taha believes his early recordings helped to inspire The Clash to create the song Rock the Casbah. A New York Times music reporter wrote:
These were difficult years since record stores often refused to stock their records "because they didn't want Arabs coming in to their shops." There was little money; the band performed in suburbs of Lyons. Taha took a standard patriotic French song entitled Sweet France (in French: Douce France) which had originally been recorded by Charles Trenet in the 1940s, kept the lyrics, but sang it with "furious irony" which irritated many French listeners, particularly coming from a "scruffy, bohemian-looking Arabic singer," to the point where Taha's version was banned from French radio. The "acerbic" song created a "splash", nevertheless, and won Taha some recognition as a serious artist. The group never achieved much commercial success and, as a result, Taha had to work a series of day jobs in a factory, then as a house painter, a dishwasher, and later as an encyclopedia salesperson. They recorded their first maxi album Carte De Séjour in 1983. In 1984, with the help of British guitarist Steve Hillage, the group achieved a "sharp, driving sound" which played well on the radio, and the LP was entitled Rhoromanie. In his songwriting, Taha wrote about living in exile and the cultural strife associated with being an Algerian immigrant in France. In 1986, his "sneering punk-rock cover of Douce France" was seen as an "unmistakable protest against the nation's treatment of its immigrant underclass," and caused consternation in French political circles. His song Voilà, Voilà, protested racism. Taha has had to cope with anti-Arab sentiment and confusion; for example, the New York Times stated in a front-page story that Taha was Egyptian rather than Algerian, but later posted a correction. Later, in 2007, Taha-as-an-immigrant was mentioned in France's National Center of the History of Immigration.
When performing live, Taha wore various outfits, including at one point a leather fedora hat, then later a red cowboy hat. Their second and last LP entitled Ramsa (Five) was released in 1986. The band dissolved in 1989.
In 1989, Taha moved to Paris to launch his solo career. At one point he was invited to Los Angeles to record with musician Don Was, who had been a producer associated with the Rolling Stones. Taha mixed a variety of instruments and styles for his sound. With a drum instrument called a doumbek or darbuka, his new group played Arabic-style beats. It appeared at one point that Taha might become an "overnight success", but after the release of the album Barbes, sales were disappointing in the United States, possibly because Americans were not keen on Arabic-sounding music during the time of the first Gulf War.
In 1993, Taha again worked with Hillage who helped produce Taha's second solo album and helped him achieve "the kind of clubland-raï synthesis." Hillage worked on three solo Taha albums from 1993 to 2001, helping Taha return to his "north African roots". In 1995, he released his solo debut album entitled Olé Olé with Taha looking like an "Aryan androgyne" with dyed blond hair and blue contact lenses, to make a point about anti-Arab bigotry and at the "homophobia of North African culture." In 1997, his song Ya Rayah became a hit. He performed in the Canary Islands.
In 2001, Taha released Made in Medina, and a music critic commented that he used a "full and varied instrumental palette" along with "a dizzying vocal facility that transcends whatever style he's plugged." The album was recorded in Paris, New Orleans, and London with input from the American jam band Galactic. Taha saw parallels between African and American music and said "New Orleans is like Algiers ... They were both French colonies at one time, and there's even an area there called Algiers," and he noted that Louisiana Zydeco drum patterns were similar to raï music. Made in Medina combined Algerian roots, techno, pop music, and early rock and punk influences with "remarkable consistency" with previous works, according to Hillage. There were elements of political protest in his music leading a BBC critic to describe him as a "shit-disturbing artist who risks challenging his own culture as undemocratic." He wanted to record in New Orleans "because I see parallels between African and American music, and between the music of the African slaves who came to New Orleans, and that of the Gnawas, the black desert tribes who became slaves of the Arabs in north Africa. And New Orleans is like Algiers. They were both French colonies at one time, and there's even an area there called Algiers." He was delighted to find that some of the local Louisiana Zydeco drum patterns are remarkably similar to raï. A report in The Guardian suggested that Taha had achieved a cult status in pop music.
Taha's breakthrough album as a solo artist was his bestseller Diwân, featuring remakes of songs from Algerian and Arab traditions. The album featured traditional instruments like the oud but with a "contemporary veneer of programmed percussion and samples added in." Taha mixed the oud with strings using a contemporary beat along with guitar work, according to one account. Taha's album Tékitoi, produced by Steve Hillage and released in 2004, brought acclaim and recognition from other rock musicians. The title track is "street slang" meaning, roughly, Who the Hell Are You? (from the French Tu es qui, toi ? shortened into T'es qui, toi ?) and the music had "echoes of Joe Strummer", according to a review in The Observer. In 2005 Taha performed with Robert Plant, Patti Smith and Brian Eno. He covered The Clash song Rock the Casbah which he retitled with the Arabic name of Rock El Casbah. This song appeared in the 2007 film about Clash frontman Joe Strummer entitled The Future Is Unwritten. The song suggested rock music as "banned but unstoppable." And, in one concert, Taha performed the song along with The Clash musician Mick Jones. The Guardian selected Rock El Casbah as one of the top 50 cover songs.
Taha played in Morocco in 2005. In 2007, Taha performed in Canada and a reporter from the Montreal Gazette described his performance while wearing a "pewter pimp suit" which was "stunning":
Some critics attribute Taha's unique sound to his use of the mandolute, a mixture of the traditional oud with European fretted instruments. One critic described his arrangements as "no less bombastic" since they mixed North African rhythms and "string orchestra flourishes" with "pummeling big-beat techno, distorted electric guitars, snatches of Bo Diddley, Led Zeppelin and other macho sounds."
The song Barra Barra from his album Made in Medina was featured in the 2001 film Black Hawk Down as well as in the Games Convention 2008 trailer of the game Far Cry 2. It was featured in the 2007 film The Hunting Party. He performed with the band Dengue Fever.
His song Garab from Made in Medina was used in the movie The Truth About Charlie in 2002, and also in Blood and Chocolate in 2007. In 2008, Taha was growing increasingly prominent, with greater audiences in places such as Canada, although there were reports that his music had "trouble getting airplay" in France. He performed with Nigerian artists Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti and Seun Kuti. as well as Brian Eno in an anti-war concert in London. He was described as a ""wild Algerian punk fan" performing among a lineup which read like a "Who's Who of west African music", and was part of "Africa Express", a response to the lack of African musicians at Bob Geldof's Live 8 musical extravaganza.
In 2009, Taha released Bonjour which The Guardian music critic Robin Denselow described as "calmed down" under a new producer, Gaetan Roussel. Denselow wrote: "The result is an unlikely set in which Taha appears to be deliberately courting a new, wider market by playing down that wild rebel image." Denselow felt the music was more "commercial" and "not his most exciting." It included a "rousing tribute" on his cover song Rock El Casbah to the late Clash guitarist Joe Strummer. In 2010, Taha played in Toronto to large audiences. Taha performed with Algerian artist Mehdi Haddab who plays the oud. Taha's song "Habina" was featured in the 2010 film, "It's Kind of a Funny Story." Guitarist Carlos Santana recorded his song Migra which went on to sell over 25 million copies. In recent years, Taha toured nations including the United States and Dubai.
ReviewsMusic critic Philip Brasor in Japan Times commented that Taha's album Made in Medina featured Arabic "chanting" which was meant to evoke "the generalized chaos of society" and which features "heart-stopping break beats, flamenco guitar, African choruses, crunching hard rock and the inevitable sappy love song."Music critic Robin Denselow felt Taha's Bonjour album was calm -- "he switches between Arabic and French in this mix of pleasant ballads and novelty pop, with just the occasional reminder of the old passion and anger." Denselow felt his album Tékitoi (2004) was his "most powerful, direct fusion of rock and north African styles to date." Denselow wrote:New York Times wrote about Taha's song Ah Mon Amour:BBC News music critic Martin Vennard described Taha's music as a "seductive mixture of traditional North African, rock, techno and dance music."Canadian music critic Philly Markowitz named a Taha album one of the best in 2005.French music critic Amobe Mevegue described Taha as an "eclectic artist".
Taha has been described as "gregarious" and "quick with a smile" who likes to party throughout the night. He has a cosmopolitan group of friends including a French girlfriend who recently attended Brown University in the United States. Taha was quoted as saying "I've never wanted to just stay in my own neighborhood, my own community ... It's a kind of conformism. You have to be adventurous." He does not like contemporary French cinema and said "I'd much rather watch some dumb Hollywood movie than another haute bourgeois auteurist piece of crap." He has been a critic of the Bush administration although he has made comments favoring a bombing raid on Iran, and said that "Iran shouldn't be allowed to have nukes."Cite error: The named reference twsD12 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Robin Denselow (22 November 2007). "Rachid Taha: Tékitoi (2004)". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. Robin Denselow (29 October 2004). "Streetmusic Arabe". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Nass El Ghiwane, one of the most important bands in the history of north-African music, ... back in the late 1960s, and a major influence on the Rai movement that shook up the music scene over the border in Algeria, they've been described as Morocco's answer to the Beatles or the Stones. ... Ideally, they should have shared the bill with some of the great musicians they have influenced - Rachid Taha..." John Lewis (30 March 2007). "Paris calling: Rachid Taha was just one of the musicians inspired by the Clash's visit to Paris in 1981. John Lewis explores the band's enduring influence in France". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. Jody rosen (March 13, 2005). "MUSIC; Shock the Casbah, Rock the French (And Vice Versa)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-04. Cite error: The named reference twsD13 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference twsD18 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Cite error: The named reference twsD11 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Corrections". The New York Times. March 20, 2005. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "A front-page index entry last Sunday for an article about the singer Rachid Taha misstated his nationality. He is Algerian, as the article said, not Egyptian." Michael kimmelman (October 17, 2007). "Ready or Not, France Opens Museum on Immigration". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "National Center of the History of Immigration ... Otherwise, the museum makes do with ... Rachid Taha, the singer of dual French and Algerian citizenship ..." "A guide to surviving the Fest". The Ottawa Citizen. July 3, 2008. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "... Rachid Taha, the cowboy-hatted Algerian-French rocker whose recorded oeuvre includes a version of the Clash's Rock the Casbah ..." Martin Vennard (11 November 2001). "Womad wows Gran Canaria". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Rachid Taha ... There can't have been a pair of feet at the Womad Canarias festival that weren't at least tapping to his seductive mixture of traditional North African, rock, techno and dance music. ..." CanWest MediaWorks Publications (July 8, 2007). "A rock'n'rai finale". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Rachid Taha: Tekitoi? (Wrasse)". The Observer (London). 19 September 2004. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "The rocking title track is street slang for 'Who The Hell Are You?' and if Taha could work that one out he could be huge. Echoes of Joe Strummer, Khaled and Manu Chao - and promise aplenty." Sarah Liss, Jason Kavelman (Jan 28, 2011). "Rachid Taha: "Rock the Casbah"". CBC radio 2. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "... It is off the soundtrack from 'The Future Is Unwritten,' the film about Joe Strummer from the Clash. It's a remake of an old Clash favourite... It's really different and really cool...." "The OMM top 50 covers". The Guardian (London). 2004. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "32 Rachid Taha - Rock el Casbah (2004) (orig. The Clash, 1982) -- An Algerian rai rebel reclaiming the Clash's potshot at Arab nations who ban Western music is irresistible." "Africa in pictures: 24–30 June". BBC News. 30 June 2006. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "A Moroccan girl is entranced by the music of Franco-Algerian singer Rachid Taha during his performance at the Essaouira world music festival over the weekend in Morocco." Ben sisario (April 16, 2008). "ARTS, BRIEFLY; Summerstage Fills Its Lineup". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "The New York buzz band Vampire Weekend and the author Richard Pricewill be part of Central Park SummerStage this year. ... Rachid Taha and Dengue Fever (July 5);" CanWest MediaWorks Publications (January 3, 2008). "Jean Leclerc, Malajube, Rachid Taha. ... Know their music?". The Gazette (Montreal). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "the great Rachid Taha, a hero in Montreal, still has difficulty getting airplay in France. Yet modern French-language music manages to be aesthetically competitive with anglo-American and global infusions. Anomalies run rampant." Robin Denselow (26 September 2008). "Collaboration with every nation". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "But Fela's sons Femi and Seun will certainly be present ... Rachid Taha." Dwight garner (January 23, 2008). "Living with Music: A Playlist by David Rothenberg". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "... I saw Rachid play the Astoria in London with Brian Eno in an anti-war concert a few years ago." Robin Denselow (25 October 2008). "Africa Express/Africa Now". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "The lineup read like a Who's Who of west African music ... and the wild Algerian punk fan Rachid Taha. ... Africa Express, a movement that set out to present African and western musicians on an equal footing, in angry response to the lack of Africans at Bob Geldof's Live 8." Robin Denselow (30 October 2009). "Rachid Taha: Bonjour". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Rachid Taha". cbc (Canadian news). June 12, 2010. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Reuben Maan is a huge fan of the Algerian musician Rachid Taha. Reuben shared his enthusiasm when he joined Mary to talk about Taha, who's come to Toronto to play a concert today (June 12) at 4 p.m. at Queen's Park North as part of the city's Luminato festivities." Robin Denselow (25 September 2009). "Speed Caravan: Kalashnik Love". http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/sep/25/speed-caravan-kalashnik-love-review (London). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Born in Algeria ... Mehdi Haddab is a virtuoso of the ancient classical Arabic lute, the oud ... he sets out to match the furious rai-rock fusion work of Rachid Taha, with Taha himself joining in on vocals ..." Philly Markowitz (2005). "Best Albums of 2005". cbc.ca (Canadian news). Retrieved 2011-06-04. "Some are releases from big name artists: ... Rachid Taha ..." Amobe Mevegue (2009-10-27). "Culture: Music news with Amobe Mevegue". France 24. Retrieved 2011-06-04. "In this edition, our music critic Amobe Mevegue talks about eclectic artists who perform worldwide. He starts with Moby, Rachid Taha and Papa Wemba. Then we will follow at the Lyons Opera the dancers of Pockemon Crew."