Taha comes across both as a genuinely likeable man, curious about the country of his...
Colin Buttimer 2007
It’s almost a quarter of a century since Rachid Taha made his debut as leader of Carte de Sejour. That group melded Rock with Rai and though none of its music is included on this Best Of, those threads are sewn throughout its fifteen songs. Born in Algeria, Taha left at a young age with his family during the War of Independence that eventually saw France relinquish its colonial claim to the country.
With a background as an Algerian in France, the singer has explored the experience of exile in many songs. Some of the titles in this collection clearly underline this, even before the brief notes appended to the songs in the booklet drive the point home. Take for example ''Barra Barra (Outside)'', ''Menfi (The Exile)'' and ''Douce France (Sweet France)''. Surely that last one is dripping with irony? So it turns out: a cover of a patriotic song by Charles Trenet, Rachid Taha renders it with a brilliant snarl that reportedly caused uproar in France at the time of its release.
And the music itself? I referred to the melding of Rock and Rai, but Taha’s sound is much more varied than that. A wide variety of other influences is evident: ''Jungle Fiction'' doesn’t betray its name, successfully marrying breakbeats to Rai’n’Roll, Kelma’s horn section sounds like it wandered in from a mariachi band, and ''Bent Sahra (The Girl of the Sahara)'' could be authentic nomad fare, sand-blasted and hard-bitten. It’s difficult not to grin when those Rai strings dip and surge like the quicksilver thrust of a rapier. The music is vigorous, even thrilling at times and stamped throughout with Taha’s throaty roar.
Early copies of The Definitive Collection include a documentary about the singer’s return to Algeria. Taha comes across both as a genuinely likeable man, curious about the country of his birth and a passionate and engaged performer. Long may he continue to be so.