Tékitoi? (Who are you?): If you look at the album cover you'll understand. Some people take one look at the photo on the cover and they're like, "Look at his face, you'd think he was an Al Qaida terrorist!" But if you take a closer look at the photo, you'll find what my face is really expressing is more of a critical, appraising look. It's like I'm saying "OK, who are you?" Who are we? Well, basically, you're me and I'm you. And me without you means I'm not me anymore. I originally wrote the song in Arabic and then when I decided I wanted to have the lyrics in French I thought, "I can only do this with someone I get on really well with, someone who's on my wavelength." And I knew it had to be Christian Olivier from Les Têtes Raides. Christian instantly got the rhythm of the words right and fired them off in the right direction. Steve actually turned round to me one day in the studio and pointed out that Christian's got a bit of an African edge to his voice. And I found out later that Christian was actually born in Africa. His father was a cabinet maker in Mali or Chad or somewhere like that. But it's funny, I didn't know that at the time!
Rock El Casbah: I felt like this song just had to be on the album somewhere, because right from the beginning of my career with the group Carte de Séjour people have always associated me with The Clash. You know, for a long time I really wanted to sing with Joe Strummer and I was just on the point of meeting him when he died. Joe Strummer is someone I have a lot of respect for. He never sold out or lost his rebellious streak. He was totally rock'n'roll. Rock El Casbah seemed to me to be an ideal way of linking East and West.
Lli fat mat! (What's done is done): I was getting sick and tired of everyone talking to us Africans and Algerians about our past. They try to get us to believe that everything that's going wrong is because of colonisation. And one day I turned round and said to myself, "Hang on a minute. Some of these countries they're talking about have been independent for over forty years! We've grown up now, you know. It's time to take ourselves in hand and move on!" This song is basically an expression of that anger and frustration, a sort of alarm bell, if you like. The violins you hear on the track are from the Cairo Orchestra. Steve went over to Egypt and sorted that out. He took care of the Oriental side of the production and I sorted out the rock guitars. We work well as a double act!
H'Asbu-Hum (Bring them to account): A protest song. The track was inspired by a photo I saw in a French magazine which showed Algerians taking to the streets to protest against corruption. I've heard that in some Arab-speaking milieu the song's been interpreted as an incitement to riot. But for me it's just a song about what I see happening in the world. It's rare to write a song like this in Arabic and actually get to sing it!
Safi (Pure): What I'm talking about in this song is the general concept of democracy. It's like it starts out with you having communication problems with your father because of the weight of culture and tradition and then, later in life, you have the same problems of communication with the powers that be because you can't sit down and dialogue with them. The problem, in my opinion, is that we're living under a one-party system. It was a chat I had with a journalist from Al-Jazeera which helped open my eyes to that. I came to realise that democracy is just getting kicked out the door in the western world. In the name of 'freedom', they want to impose a freedom which is much more radical than any other and that's starting to create a new kind of radicalism on both sides that genuinely scares me. Let's face it, there's an entire generation who've grown up knowing nothing but war, so I'm not exactly surprised to see the emergence of suicide bombers. It's not just the fault of the West, though. Things are the way they are because certain governments in the Arab world have not allowed supporters of freedom and democracy to express themselves.
Meftuh' (Open): A bit of hope, my way of saying that despite all the closed doors and all the despair, hope exists, too. This album's a very political album, hence the fact that the guitars are so important on it for me. They're like antinomic bombs!
Winta?: This song came about as a result of me meeting a Georgian singer in Paris. He was a big fan of Ya Rayah and he wanted to do something with me, so I turned round and said, "OK, let's write a song together." Winta is a song about hope, a song about paradise.
Nah'seb (I'm counting): The clock of life ticking away! The final countdown! It's like everyone's sitting around waiting for the Messiah, hoping to be saved. But my belief is that the only person who can save us is ourselves. So let's stop waiting and start acting!
Dima (Always): This is a track I composed with Steve and Brian Eno. Eno had already appeared on the album, actually; he did keyboards and backing vocals on Rock El Casbah. I knew I'd get to meet Eno one day – and he said he knew it, too. The funny thing is, the first time we met we were dressed exactly alike! Dima is the most radical protest song on the album. It's the strongest denunciation of dictatorship. The song talks about countries where there's absolutely no freedom of expression, where thinking and even singing are banned.When I look around and see what's going on in France right now with this anti-racist, anti-Semitic climate, I have to say I'm scared. I'm scared of communities turning inwards on themselves. When I see young Arab guys committing anti-Semitic acts, it makes me really mad.
Mamachi: The name of the first Raï singer I ever heard. It was at a wedding in Mostanganem. I must have been around eight at the time. This was my way of paying tribute to Mamachi and speaking about basic values like wisdom and serenity.
Shuf! (Look!): A song about beauty, an extremely erotic story which basically says "Come here and let me take you!" No beating about the bush! In Muslim culture, you have the right to take pleasure in love and I wanted to add that you're allowed to enjoy it in all its splendour. The song's a declaration of love to a princess who's been "hand stitched." You know why that is? It's a reference to virginity before marriage.
Stenna (Wait a moment): This is a song about patience dedicated to my son. I believe, in spite of everything, that those who go round doing harm don't win in the end. It's those who have clear hearts, no trace of malice or envy in them, who will win out in the end.Over in the UK my album's been hailed as a masterpiece. It's funny, they're opening their arms now and saying, "We've found our rocker!" It's very important, politically, to get recognition in the UK with all the fundamentalists living over there. This is my answer to them.
Rachid Taha Tékitoi? (Barclay-Universal) 2004
Interview Pierre-René Worms Rfimusique (the site)