Rachid Taha: Algerian Roots, American Rock 'n' Roll

Rachid Taha

hide captionRachid Taha's Bonjour mixes rock energy with a unique blend of North African pop and techno.

Courtesy of the artist

Singer Rachid Taha was born in Algeria, but came of age in the rock 'n' roll milieu of France in the '70s. He sings in Arabic, but his music is as apt to channel The Rolling Stones or The Ramones as any other source. On his new album, Bonjour, Taha puts a gonzo North African spin on American country and folk-rock.

Few rock 'n' roll sounds are as familiar as an electric guitar strumming out the Bo Diddley backbeat. But in his song "Selu," the drums kick in with the distinctive lilt of Algerian rai, and when the vocal hits, it's clear we're not in Mississippi anymore.

The dark chord changes, torn-up half-spoken vocals and seasonings of electronica are quintessential Rachid Taha. And so are the idiosyncratic lyrics. Taha veers charmingly from the sublime to the ridiculous, as in a North African take on country rock, where he turns the Arabic "Habibi," or "My Love," into "Ha Baby."

Taha's blend of North African pop, techno and rock has always set him apart. In Arabic music's world of polished virtuoso singers, Taha slurs, sneers and growls. He's a rocker at heart, and on Bonjour, one with a penchant for raw Americana. The title track, a duet with his producer Gaetan Roussel, nods first to Bob Dylan and then to Talking Heads.

The 10 songs on Bonjour are short, sharp and refreshingly varied. Taha's sonic world is a celebration of contrasts; a place where strummy acoustic guitars and techno beats vibe together naturally. Maybe that's because he's so at ease with his own contradictions as an Arab exile in France in love with rock 'n' roll, and a Muslim bad boy who reveres history and loves poetry, booze and The Clash. Taha puts all that into his songs, and Bonjour extends one of the most offbeat and original bodies of work any North African singer has given us.

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