Rachid Taha: Who Are You?

Algerian future-forward pop star Rachid Taha ends his latest release, Tekitoi, by urging us to be calm in a world that is always in a rush. “You need to be patient for life. It takes nine months to make a baby,” states Taha. “Peace is made with patience. War is made by impatient people who have neither patience or passion.” Taha’s high-energy culture clash freely mingles politics, big beats, impassioned singing, and rockin’ guitars. Everything about it is direct – dancefloor missives designed to spur one to thoughtful action and an Arabic reversal of the Funkadelic principle where the body is freed and hopefully the mind follows.

Born into one of the most tumultuous regions of North Africa, Rachid Taha moved to France as a 10 year-old boy. He discusses how he got involved with music, “Because I couldn't play football! I was angry and full of energy and saw music as the easiest and cheapest way of expressing my feelings. It could easily have been starting a magazine but I didn't have the means to do that. You could say that my music is a journal of some kind, allowing me to talk about things that are happening within me and around me. My early influences were from the Arab music my father played in the house and Indian film music, which is very popular in North Africa.”

As a young adult, he faced angry anti-immigration racism in that country, formed his first band - Carte De Séjour (Residence Permit/Green Card), and began his longtime collaboration with former Gong member Steve Hillage, who continues to co-write and produce music with him today. “I first met Steve in 1984. He heard one of our tracks and wanted to meet us,” comments Taha. “A friend made the introduction, and he's been my producer, friend, and co-conspirator ever since.” One can hear Hillage’s textural guitar style and gift for delay-drenched atmosphere on albums like Angel’s Egg and Rainbow Dome Musick. It’s Hillage’s work with proto-electronica band System 7 (the Orb’s Alex Paterson and DJ Paul Oakenfold) that emerges most with Taha, creating a thoroughly modern combination akin to the renaissance that hit Brazil in the late ‘60s.

Taha is returning to North America for the first time in years to perform a handful of dates, starting with LA’s Knitting Factory West June 27th and San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall June 28th. “I'm coming back to tell the Americans that the Arabs were the first to translate Aristotle and bring democracy, which they might have forgotten since but they were the first,” says Taha, glibly adding, “I'm selling lottery tickets. The winner gets a free trip to Iraq, without passing through the Pentagon.”

Based on his fiery 2002 live release, the shows will be sweaty, protest-filled good times. There’s a serious funk undercurrent to his songs that drew him to work with jam statesmen Galactic on his fantastic 2000 album Made In Medina. “Galactic were great. I really enjoyed working with them,” says Taha. “I saw New Orleans as a melting pot which, although part of America, also encompassed Europe and Africa. I felt at home there.”

He’s used the phrase “an outsider of cultures” to describe himself in the past, explaining that’s “because I like to take the air which is fresher outside.” Rachid uses his wit to soften the blows he lands. There’s also a poetic bent that recalls the great Persian author Rumi and his encouragement to “kneel and kiss the earth.” When asked if Rumi has influenced him, Taha replies, “Absolutely, along with Derrida, Khalil Gibran, John Ford, Sergio Leone, Passolini, Dolly Parton, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, and Einstein.” His list of influential musicians and filmmakers includes artists who worked inside the prevailing system but who also managed to subtly change it by using it without always embracing it - something Taha does continually.

Speaking about how his work is viewed in the Arabic world, he offers, “I'm very happy because since they found my work, they found they're a bit short-sighted and in need of glasses! I've recently performed in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Morocco, but all of those shows were organized by the French Cultural Centers in those countries. The countries themselves have no infrastructure for touring or for presenting concerts. They're all at home watching satellite TV, which is good because it allows them to learn what's going on in the rest of the world but is bad because the only cultural manifestations are weddings and baptisms. Unless you're rich, of course, and then you can hire Michael Jackson.”

The person who introduced me to Taha’s music described him as the “Arabic David Byrne.” When told this, Taha states, “You read rock music from left to right and Arabic music from right to left. My music is rock music but read from right to left, if you see what I mean. David Byrne is the Arab. I'm the American.”

Without a lyric sheet, English-only listeners may miss some of the heavier implications of his albums, which are sung primarily in French and Berber. Luckily, Taha includes translations with most of his releases. He encourages us to just feel what he’s doing saying, “it’s the vibes, man, the vibes!”

The title of his latest album asks the question, “Who are you?” In many ways, this is the central question human beings have to ask themselves, and Taha’s work places us squarely in front of a philosophical mirror. What’s encouraging is that what we see isn’t hopeless, a feeling that’s easy to sink into today. There’s a strong feeling of survival against awful forces in his music. Though he’s often serious, when poked for a reason to be positive about the future, he smiles, “What gives me hope is when I find two socks that match.”

Dennis Cook
JamBase | Worldwide
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revolutionslive starstarstarstarstar Sun 6/26/2005 09:18PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Amazing musician, can't wait for his forthcoming tour through Chicago!