Don't call Rachid Taha a purveyor of world music. The Algerian-born, French- raised performer burns with a vision that extends far beyond mere sonic junketeering. While the music on "Olé, Olé," his self-titled Mango American- debut, is certainly imbued by the traditional music of his past, Taha creates a hybrid of techno and tradition, of French and Arabic, that's custom-fit for the pre-millenial era of cultural revolution.
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Taha first gained notice as a member of the band Carte de Sejour during the politically polarized atmosphere of the mid-Eighties. Though only intact for three years, the band gained much notoriety for their cover of Charles Trenet's classic "Douce France," a suddenly ironic and bitterly class-depicting hymn when sung by three immigrants who had been spurned by the "sweet" motherland.
Taha then spent time in Los Angeles, where he worked with producer Don Was, and his Algerian hometown preparing for what would become his first solo album, "Barbes." It was released internationally in 1991, just as the Gulf War was escalating-- timing that spawned a form of subtle censorship. Despite this set-back, Taha continued his development, releasing a second album, which spawned the European hit "Voila, Voila," and earned him a spot alongside Tricky and Massive Attack on the playlists of countless European DJs.
The enthusiastic response of critics and audiences alike to "Olé, Olé," is a testimony to both the sheer emotion of Rachid Taha's vocals and the universal power of his beats, a rhythmic interpretation of longing for a lost homeland that can be felt even by those listeners who do not understand Arabic.
However, this wider acceptance allowed Taha to expand his questioning on his second Island release, "Diwan." Rich with lyrical songs that embrace Arabic instrumentation and vocal patterns, "Diwan" is a rhythmic melange of time-honored traditions and contemporary, urgent messages. Produced by Steve Hillage, it is the voice of immigrants, the downtrodden, the oppressed and the misunderstood. It is a melodic landscape that captures the removal of our pasts while not giving us clear answers for the future, a remarkable reality that defines Rachid Taha not only as a musician of importance but also reminds us that our actions define the hopes of others.
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