RACHID TAHA (Algeria)
WINNER - MIDDLE EAST/NORTH AFRICA
Small of stature but huge in presence, Rachid Taha is a genre breaking musician who constantly pushes North African music into new areas. Taha’s beautifully gruff voice, willingness to mix Algerian rai music with Western flavours and dynamic live concerts have won him a wide audience. If perhaps not wide enough: I’ve interviewed Taha twice and he hates being labeled “rai/Arabic”, preferring to see himself as more the North African offspring of Johnny Cash and The Clash.
Born in Oran, Algeria, and raised in Vosges, France, Taha’s first musical foray involved the band Carte de Sejour (“residence permit”). Spurred on by punk’s confrontational nature, Carte de Sejour courted controversy when, in 1984, they recorded an ironic cover of the French standard Douce France. The band dissolved in 1989 and Taha released several solo albums that were occasionally inspired but too often a mishmash of rock and rai.
Then in 1998, working with British producer/musician Steve Hillage, Taha recorded Diwan. This superb album of old Arabic songs – sounding fresh and fierce in Taha’s hands - made Taha a star and turned the album’s opening tune, Ya Rayeh, into a popular dance anthem. In 1999 Taha sealed his iconic status in France by appearing alongside Khaled and Faudel – the King and Prince of rai music – at a huge concert in Paris. For 2000’s Made In Medina album Taha and Hillage crunched tough rock guitar and techno beats into the North African mix. Taha’s audience now ranged from Algerian youths through clubbers, rockers and world music fans. The singer’s high profile and plain-spoken nature made him a natural opponent to France’s extreme right politicians.
2004 found Taha-Hillage pushing the electronic rai boundaries further with Tekitoi (even covering The Clash’s Rock The Casbah – that band’s guitarist, Mick Jones, joined him on stage in London). Taha is never predictable and when he released Diwan 2 in 2006 he was once again exploring his roots. Many cheered – here was one of the best Arabic singers of recent times again singing tough, timeless songs that appear to have lingered in smoke filled Algerian tea rooms and bars forever.
Read other people's comments then Tell us what you think:
Sabina, London England
Graham Stewart, Glasgow
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