Rachid Taha, 59, Algerian Rocker Who Spoke for Immigrants, Dies

Rachid Taha performing at a festival in Budapest in 2007. He became a voice for France’s North African and Middle Eastern immigrants,CreditCreditAttila Kisbenedek/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Rachid Taha, who became a rock star in France with assertive lyrics and music that melded his Algerian heritage with punk, funk and electronic beats, has died in Les Lilas, a Paris suburb. He was 59.

The cause was a heart attack he suffered in his home, according to a statement from his family to Agence France-Presse and a notification on the Facebook page of his label, Naïve Records, which said on Wednesday that he died overnight.

Mr. Taha became a voice for France’s North African and Middle Eastern immigrants in the 1980s as the leader of the group Carte de Séjour, singing in Arabic about immigration, injustice and racism. (A carte de séjour, or residence permit, is the French equivalent of a green card in the United States.)

He stayed provocative and polemical in the solo career he started in 1990s, with songs denouncing repression and dictatorship in the Arab world, Western misunderstanding of Arab cultures, blind nostalgia, prejudice and malfeasance on all sides. “H’asbu-Hum!” (“Ask Them for an Explanation!”), a song on his 2005 album “Tekitoi,” condemned “liars, thieves, humiliators, killers, oppressors, traitors, the envious, the rotters, the diggers, propagandists, destroyers, humiliators, slavers, the lazy/Get rid of them! Ask them for an explanation!”

Mr. Taha had a rocker’s swagger, with a gruff voice and a rowdy stage presence. He described his music as “Western music read from right to left” — that is, in the direction of Arabic writing.

Mr. Taha was born on Sept. 18, 1958, in Saint-Denis-du-Sig, now called Sig, near Oran, Algeria’s main seaport. He moved to France with his family when he was 10, and later worked as a disc jockey at African and Arabic clubs in Lyon, France, playing an international mix of dance music.

Mr. Taha in an undated photograph. He described his music as “Western music read from right to left” — that is, in the direction of Arabic writing.CreditRichard Dumas

Inspired by the raucous insubordination of punk bands like the Clash, he founded Carte de Séjour in Lyon in 1980. With Mr. Taha singing in Arabic and band members dressed in both Middle Eastern and Western clothes, the group brought together rai, an outspoken Algerian style — the word means “opinion” — with rock and reggae.

In 1986, Carte de Séjour drew nationwide attention when it released a mocking remake of “Douce France,” a sentimental Charles Trenet song about memories of a French childhood, lacing the verses with oud and hand drum and snarling the chorus with a punk-rock rasp.

In his solo career, Mr. Taha extended both his musical fusions and his blunt lyrics. Based in Paris, he continued working with the English producer Steve Hillage, who had been a member of the progressive-rock group Gong and became a producer for Carte de Séjour.

Mr. Taha’s albums in the 1990s and 2000s incorporated synthesizers and electronic beats alongside oud, rock guitars, the strings and reed flute of Egyptian pop, fierce North African rhythms and an occasional rap. He sometimes dressed to challenge racism, appearing on the cover of his 1995 album “Olé, Olé” with blond hair and blue contact lenses.

Mr. Taha recorded pop songs in Arabic that he had heard growing up on his 1998 album, “Diwan.” One track from the album, “Ya Rayah,” an Algerian song originally released in 1973 by Dahmane El Harrachi, about the loneliness and homesickness of an emigrant, became an international hit. Mr. Taha revisited the Arabic-pop heritage with the album “Diwan 2” in 2006.

In a watershed event for Algerian music in Europe, Mr. Taha headlined a 1998 arena concert in Paris with two top rai singers, Faudel and Khaled. The concert also yielded a live album, “1,2,3 Soleils.”

He turned decisively to hard rock on “Made in Medina” in 2001, while on his album “Tekitoi,” released in 2005, he put his mark on the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” translating it into Arabic. Mick Jones of the Clash was a guest on Mr. Taha’s final album, the 2013 “Zoom,” singing an English-language chorus on “Algerian Tango”— “I don’t forget those who love/I don’t forget those who betray me” — that paid apt tribute to the fervor and rage of Mr. Taha’s music.

Mr. Taha, whose survivors include his son, Lyes, had completed an album due for release next year.

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