Singer Rachid Taha was born in Algeria and came of age listening to rock 'n' roll in France in the 1970s. He sings in Arabic, but his sound is reminiscent of The Rolling Stones or The Ramones.

Reviewer Banning Eyre says Taha's new album, "Bonjour," puts a North African spin on American country and folk rock.

BANNING EYRE: Few rock 'n' roll sounds are as familiar as an electric guitar strumming out the Bo Diddley backbeat. But in this case, the drums kick in with the distinctive lilt of Algerian rai music, and when the vocal hits, well, it's clear we're not in Mississippi anymore.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. RACHID TAHA (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: The dark chord changes, torn-up half-spoken vocals and seasonings of electronica are quintessential Rachid Taha, and so are the idiosyncratic lyrics. You probably wouldn't guess that this song is actually a tribute to Arab writers and philosophers.

Taha veers charmingly from the sublime to the absurd, as in his take on country rock, where he turns the Arabic phrase habibi, or my love, into "Ha Baby."

(Soundbite of song, "Ha Baby")

Mr. TAHA: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: 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 duo with producer Gaetan Roussel, nods first to Bob Dylan and then to Talking Heads.

(Soundbite of song, "Bonjour")

Mr. TAHA: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: The 10 songs on "Bonjour" are short, sharp and refreshingly varied. Taha's sonic universe 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 - an Arab exile in France in love with rock 'n' roll. A Muslim bad boy who reveres history, love 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.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TAHA: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: Banning Eyre is senior editor at He reviewed "Bonjour" by Rachid Taha.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. TAHA: (Singing in foreign language)


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