Rachid Taha: Musician who became a voice for immigrants

23 September 2018 - 00:00 By the daily telegraph

Rachid Taha, who has died of a heart attack aged 59, was a singer and songwriter whose potent fusion of Arabic music and rock made him a giant of the French pop scene, unafraid to tackle political and social issues.
In 1986, with his band Carte de Séjour (Residence Permit), he kicked up a controversy when they recorded a rock version of Charles Trenet's sentimental 1949 ode to his motherland, Douce France (Sweet France), then handed out copies of the song at the French parliament as legislators were considering changes to the nationality laws.
Among Taha's greatest influences was the Clash - perhaps the most political of the major punk bands - although he speculated that he might also have influenced them in return. He met the band in 1981 when they were playing in Paris and, he said, gave them a tape of his music.
"They looked interested," he recalled, "but when they didn't get in touch I thought nothing of it. Then, a few months later, I heard Rock the Casbah. Maybe they did hear it after all."
Rachid Taha was born in northern Algeria on September 18 1958. He was immersed in Algerian music from an early age, but when he was 10 he moved with his family to France, where they settled in an immigrant community in Lyons.
There, after leaving school he worked in a central heating factory while DJ-ing in the local African community at night. He began writing political songs and poetry and founded Carte de Séjour, who combined Arabic music and punk in songs which were intended, he said, to comment on "working conditions and the way that immigrants are treated".
But despite their succés de scandale with Douce France, which was banned on French radio, they made no money, and Taha's day jobs included house painting and washing dishes in a restaurant.
His eponymous solo debut (1993) established him as a force on the French music scene, especially the antiracist song Voilà Voilà, which became a hit in British clubs, and he went on to record albums that joyously mixed African and Western influences.
Taha is survived by his partner, Véronique Pré, and their son.

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