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FOLLOW FRIDAY: Rachid Taha, the French Algerian Joe Strummer

October 30, 2009

RACHID TAHA, an Algerian-born, Lyon-raised ‘French’ singer songwriter has written (and rewritten) some of the most vital songs of the last 30 years.
As the leader of the band Carte de Séjour in the 1980s he helped pave the way for a new conception of French music, breaking down the barriers between rock music and those of the immigrant French and traditional music of France. The band’s name referenced the residency card most immigrants were required to have in France.
The band, which eventually split in 1989/1990, was best known for its ironic reworking of the Charles Trenet chanson/ song Douce France a version which raised questions about the status of the North African immigrant French and their status in a France that was witnessing the rise of the Le Pen-led Front Nationale.
But it was after the split with Carte de Séjour that Taha would go on to become the great star of what is rather patronisingly called ‘world’ music. He comes out of the tradition of Rai singing and his fusing of the North African and arabic world with everything from punk to dance, to rock to techno has seen him become a hero in his adoptive home and throughout the Arabic disapora.
Through the 1990’s his relationship with British producer Steve Hillage saw him produce some excellent music, the albums Olé Olé, Barbès, Rachid Taha, Made in Medina and the single Voilà, Voilà which appears on the brilliant 1997 album Carte Blanche on the cover of which he looks uncannily like Joe Strummer cira-London Calling.
The Clash link is important to the understanding of Taha because much of his music treads the punky esoteric line of the British band’s Sandinista album. Taha met the Clash before a 1981 show in the Paris theatre, the Mogador which has become legendary in the country – French music’s equivalent of the Pistols at the Free Trade Hall.
Taha is an awkward, radical punk at heart, a champion of the underdog and a natural heir to his great hero Strummer. This Socialist Worker interview sums it up.
Taha and Strummer never met again, but there were plans afoot for them to get together at the time of Strummer’s untimely death nearly seven years ago. Taha’s real overground breakthrough would be his Arabic cover Rock El Casbah (from Tékitoi) which appeared in the Strummer documentary The Future is Unwritten.
Taha’s real breakthrough album in the English speaking world came with 1998’s ‘Diwan’ which featured a trio of his calling card songs, Ya Rayah, Habina and Menfi.

He has gone on to make great albums in the 2000s, Tékitoi, Diwan 2 which is perhaps the greatest example of Rai music committed to vinyl/ CD/ digital format. He also released the tremendous best of Rachid Taha: The Definitive Collection which contains a bonus disc beautiful 30 minute documentary following Taha back to Algeria produced and presented by Andy Kershaw – his strongest advocate in the British music media.
His new album Bonjour was reviewed today in the posh papers, we’ll reserve judgement before we review it at GM.
FOLLOW FRIDAY 10 on Spotify

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