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Rachid Taha Rocks

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“Rock el Casbah: The Best of Rachid Taha” (Rachid Taha)

Rachid Taha is great, too bad he didn’t see fit to include Chicago on his recent tour.

An old-school rock star headlined SummerStage in Central Park on Saturday afternoon. Grinning and unshaven, he strutted around the stage, sang in a knowing growl and cued his band for extended, hard-grooving versions of songs using fuzz-toned guitar riffs over a dance beat.

He wore a leather fedora, then switched to a red cowboy hat. He dumped a bottle of water onto audience members — redundant, since it was raining — and onto his own head. He twirled his microphone on its cord, joked about Ecstasy and cocaine and was less than reverent when handed a flag. For his encore the band vamped and chanted, “Get up, get up,” and the star declaimed, “My name is James Brown! My name is Marvin Gaye!” But his other songs were serious: reflections on exile and cultural strife.

The star was Rachid Taha, an Algerian now based in France. Mr. Taha is the most rock-influenced of Algerian rai singers, who mix Arabic and North African elements with Western ones; he has collaborated with British musicians including Brian Eno, Steve Hillage and Robert Plant. At SummerStage his songs dipped into hard rock, reggae, rumba-pop and Bo Diddley, but often they used Arabic-style beats defined by the hand drum called a darbuka, and Mr. Taha’s voice was answered by oud solos.

Rai’s blunt lyrics have made it both popular and persecuted in Algeria, while in France the music has become a voice for Arab-speaking immigrants. (Mr. Taha had a band in the 1980s called Carte de Séjour, or “residence permit.”) One of Mr. Taha’s hits, and an extended centerpiece at his SummerStage show, was “Ya Rayah” (“Party”), an old Algerian song about emigration and the longing for home, which began with an unmetered, tradition-tinged introduction before the beat kicked in.

Mr. Taha has just released a greatest-hits album in the United States, “Rachid Taha: The Definitive Collection (Wrasse), and he sang some of them, including “Rock el Casbah,” his precise Arabic translation of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” a song about rock as banned but unstoppable music.

[From Music Review – Rachid Taha – Rachid Taha, the Algerian Rock Star, at SummerStage – Review – NYTimes.com]

We’ve raved about Mr. Taha previously

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric K. Arnold is also a fan:

Rachid Taha compares his music to a plate of couscous. Interviewed via translator from his home in France, the 49-year-old Algerian-born singer and global punk icon says he was happy to discover that “Frank Zappa had come to the same conclusion when he said, ‘How to describe my music? Difficult to explain if you’ve never tasted couscous.’ “

Known for playing a modified version of the oud called the mandolute, Taha says he represents a link “between Africa, the Orient and the West. In the same way as Omar Sharif is to cinema,” he adds wryly.

A career-spanning Taha retrospective, “Rock El Casbah: The Best Of,” was released in the United States this month, in time for a four-city tour (which brings him to San Francisco’s Stern Grove Festival July 13). Like couscous, the 15-song CD draws its flavor from many different elements. There’s the punk side, represented by his celebrated version of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” and the rabble-rousing “Douce France.” Taha’s love of traditional folk music comes through on his covers of Farid El Atrache’s “Habina” and Dahmane El Harrachi’s “Ya Rayah.” A philosophical, existentialist aspect shows up in “Kelma” (“Thoughts”), and “Ida” (“If”). And “Menfi” – which translates to “The Exile” – addresses a prominent theme in Taha’s music, that of identity.

Specifically, the identity of being Algerian, Arabic and Muslim while living in a country that hasn’t always been friendly to immigrants. Coming to France from Algeria at a young age, he says, “I knew what to expect.”

Tradition plays a big role in Taha’s music. Yet he’s incorporated progressive elements into his style, paving the way for such later artists as Natascha Atlas and Cheb Mami. In his solo career, he’s worked extensively with producer Steve Hillage, who, in addition to adding electronic textures to Taha’s sound, “is a guitar-playing Peter O’ Toole,” he says. (Think “Lawrence of Arabia,” not “My Favorite Year.”)

[From Rachid Taha’s punk world music]

I probably already own most of the songs on the Greatest Hits package1, but I’ll probably still pick it up.

Footnotes:
  1. I’m too lazy to check right now []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 7th, 2008 at 10:51 am

Posted in Music,Suggestions

Tagged with ,

One Response to 'Rachid Taha Rocks'

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    Dante Lechman

    14 Jun 17 at 8:42 am

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