September 13, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
Rachid Taha, the Algerian singer who broke ground with his genre-fusing new wave group Carte De Séjour, died yesterday after suffering cardiac arrest at his home in the eastern Parisian suburb of Les Lilas. He was 59. Taha's family released a joint statement with the record label Naïve announcing the singer's death and marking their "immense sadness."
Born in the north coastal town of Oran, Algeria, in 1958, by early adulthood Taha was living in France and running a Lyon-based nightclub called Les Refoulés (the Rejects). In 1981, Taha was touched enough by the punk movement to put together Carte De Séjour (Residence Permit) with several friends. The group mixed the rising new wave templates with Algeria's native folk genre of raï, spawning a new field pegged rock n' raï. Carte De Séjour's debut single from 1982, "Halouf Nar," caught the ear of CBS Records, who signed the group for 1984's intoxicating full-length Rhorhomanie.
After the Clash scored a hit with "Rock the Casbah" (released the same year as "Halouf Nar"), Taha would suggest that song may have been based on a demo tape he handed Clash singer Joe Strummer in 1981. "When they didn't get in touch [about the tape], I thought nothing of it," Taha said in 2007. "Then, a few months later, I heard 'Rock The Casbah.' Maybe they did hear it after all."
The Clash were a primary influence for Carte De Séjour, which is why Taha decided to pass their members his recordings in the first place. According to Clash guitarist Mick Jones, Strummer (who died in 2002) was familiar with Taha's work and thought it was "fantastic" but may not have known Taha and the person who handed him that demo tape in 1981 were one in the same.
Carte De Séjour released one more album, 1986's 2 ½, which includes the group's very controversial cover version of "Douce France" ("Sweet France"). A patriotic standard, Carte De Séjour subverted the composition to stand up against racism and injustice immigrants such as themselves were facing at the time. The single was banned from radio after complaint from conservative listeners.
Taha went solo in 1989 and eventually he gained popular footing with a 1998 disc of raï standards, Diwân. In 2004, Taha covered "Rock The Casbah" on his Tékitoi album; Mick Jones joined the singer for at least one television appearance of the song. Jones and Taha worked together again on the latter's 2013 release Zoom, which also features contributions from Brian Eno.
Damon Albarn, whose 2007 Africa Express project includes Taha, remembered the singer as "a beautiful person, very naughty, impish and with bright eyes and generous with his time. I just loved him and always enjoyed performing with him."
Taha had recently completed a new album which is due for release next year.