Rachid Taha, the rock soul of Raï

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The history of Rachid Taha, one of the greatest Raï musicians ever, capable of fusing rock with this extraordinary genre

Birth and beginnings of Rachid Taha

Rachid Taha was born in 1958 in Sig, Algeria (although some sources claim he was born in Oran) and at the age of 10 he moved to Lyon, France, where his father worked as an underpaid worker in a textile factory. To help her family, from the age of 17 she began working during the day in a thermal plant, while dedicating her nights to music, her great passion, working as a DJ of Arab music, salsa and funk. More and more bewitched by Raï and by its potential as protest music, in 1980 he founded the band “Carte de Séjour” (in Italian “Stay Card”) with which he began his musical journey, being struck in 1981 by the Clash, who defines the perfect mix between militantism, hedonism and various musical genres.

While starting with great enthusiasm, the beginnings are not the best, as French shopkeepers refuse to sell his audio cassettes for fear that this will entice Arabs to come to their shops. This, combined with the ever-increasing tension between the Arab population and the French one, will lead him to his first great success: “Douce France”; originally this song was sung by Charles Trenet as a tribute to his country and in this version Rachid Taha does not change the text but puts all the irony he can, so as to soon have the song banned from every transalpine radio. Although this does not generate particular economic income, so much so that the band is forced to do other jobs to make a living, this situation however gives the whole group a great local fame, which will bring Steve Hillage into their lives, who will be fundamental for the creation of the album “Rhorhomanie”, in which he recounts his condition of exile in France.

In 1989 the band splits and Rachid begins his solo career, which will lead him to become that artist we all know and love.

Legend of Raï

In 1990 he goes to Paris to begin his solo career and will make his debut the same year with the album “Barbés”, which will obtain great successes everywhere except in the USA, but probably this is also due to the fact that right then the First Gulf War was underway. For the second album, called “Rachid Taha”, she decides to rely again on Steve Hillage, with whom she will begin a collaboration that will only end in 2006; the second album is particularly important as it contains “Ya Rayah”, one of his greatest hits ever.

This passage is part of the popular Amazigh, Algerian and Andalusian tradition and tells of the condition of travellers, migrants and exiles; the first to transform it into a modern song was Dahmane El Harrachi, one of the most translated Algerian authors ever, and Taha will draw inspiration from the latter for his famous version. In 1998 Diwan was released, an album that contains some of his most famous songs such as Menfi and Ida. That same year he performed at Bercy with Cheb Khaled and Faudel in a legendary concert that went down in history under the name of 1,2,3 Soleil and which is still today the highest point ever reached in the history of Raï and Maghreb music in general; this event will be the one that more than any other will consecrate him as an absolute star of his kind, so much so that even today he is considered a timeless star of Raï.

Global success and death

While also producing several other albums, the most important of the early 2000s is undoubtedly Tekitoi? of 2004, which also features Rock El Casbah, the Arabic version of Rock The Casbah by The Clash, which gave him the opportunity to perform with artists such as Patti Smith, Robert Plant and Brian Eno. From that moment on he was considered an international star and exhibited more and more often with artists from all over the world, including the Palestinians DAM, managing to make his art and his country known in every corner of the world. globe.

One of Rachid Taha’s peculiarities is in fact that he has always placed himself on the side of the weakest and most defenseless, so much so that he has repeatedly criticized US interventions in the Middle East and renounced having a French passport (despite having the possibilities). ; it is no coincidence that his latest album, released posthumously, is called “Je suis africain”.

In 1987 he was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, which will condition his stage presence throughout his career, but what killed him was a heart attack that struck him on the night of 12 September 2018, just six days before he turned 60.

Between rock and Raï

The truly unique characteristic of this extraordinary artist was without any doubt the ability to merge extremely different instruments, musicality and themes, while managing at the same time not to lose the deep connection with one’s roots and thus creating something new, unique and sensational.

Although he is classified by all as a “Raï singer”, in fact, his is a genre in its own right and in many ways more related to rock than to Raï. His musicality is in fact more raw and intense than the classic Algerian tradition, making him one of the most recognizable singers of all the Arab world. His choice to devote himself above all to social issues, then, allowed him to enter the heart of all the colonized and the sensitive, so much so that even today he is celebrated not only among the greatest artists, but also among the greatest men of culture within Algeria in particular and Africa in general.

Follow me on facebook, Spotify, YouTube and Instagram, or on the Telegram channel; find all the links in one place: here. Every like, share or support is welcome and helps me to devote myself more and more to my passion: telling the story of the Middle East and the “Islamic world”. Support the Medio Oriente e Dintorni project by funding Crowdfunding, active from 12 January to 12 February 2023, and the Patreon, active from the following day. For you many exclusive contents and previews, including a magazine to discover the Middle East and the “Islamic world” at 360 degrees; the second issue will have an Algerian theme and will have, among the various previews, the story of Cheb Hasni, one of the biggest stars of Raï ever.

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