Rachid Taha Made In Medina

In a tradition of singing best known for its spirit of rebellion and outlawed sexuality, Rachid Taha is rai's crowned bad-boy star. His popularity ranks him up with Algerian kings Khaled, Faudel and Cheb Mami, but the guttural sweetness of his voice and a penchant for bombastic arrangements brings his presence in equal proximity to a '70s rocker like Robert Plant. The first half of Made In Medina, his first album in five years, supports the latter claim. The opening track, "Barra Barra," introduces him with an uncomfortable riff of metallic power-chords, while the slow stomp of "Aï Aï Aï," with its Arabic string lead, rumbles like Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." For the first-time listener, all of this might sound like a cheesy attempt to gain creditability in the Western market, except that these arrangements forsake neither the lyricism of traditional rai nor the spirit of Taha's volatile performance. Many of the songs deal with the loneliness of an émigré as well as the perennial theme of desire. Set to a traditional Moroccan rhythm, "En Retard" is by far the most potent, with its oblique portrait of the lover who is always late. Produced by Steve Hillage (System 7), Made In Medina also reaches for unexpected meetings between rai and electronic music. The final track, "Garab," takes Taha's voice over techno beats up to the middle, when its programming magically throws the rhythms into a traditional spin. Rather than guitars, it'd exciting to hear him and Taha pursue these kinds of experiments on their next outing. (Universal)