Rockin\’ The Casbah

Rachid Taha

Tekitoi (Wrasse Records. WRASS126X, 2004)

Although originating form Algeria, Rachid Taha has been adopted by France, even being described as a ‘French superstar’ on his live CD from a couple of years ago. Whatever his cultural origins, his music continues to create an exuberant fusion out of several diverse influences. He loves rock, has a fair amount of punk attitude and mixes Arabic percussion with the Egyptian String Ensemble. And over all this comes his rasping, snarling and cajoling voice, something you can’t ignore.His voice is the perfect vehicle for the restless disquiet of these lyrics,
whether provocatively questioning identity on the title track or even more
virulently attacking a long list of offenders including ‘liars, thieves,
oppressors, traitors, propagandists’ and others on ‘H’asbu-Hum’. The percussive
drive seems to fuel his passionate delivery as a chorale of discontent chants
the title, which translates as ‘Ask Them For An Explanation’. It may sound like
a polite request though it is anything but.

The righteous anger continues into ‘Safi’ which opens with dramatic strings
and Hamid Hamidouche’s mandolute then erupts into a storm combining Steve
Hillage’s guitar and Taha’s acerbic vocal. His target centers on oppression, the
fact that people have been ‘neutered’ by their rulers. Taha declaims, ‘Our
culture is not democratic’ and ‘There’s no right to speak’, whilst asserting ‘My
heart is pure’. The quest for purity reappears on ‘Dima’, its dark, probing
lyrics underscored by the spare strings and skeletal percussion. His use of the
strings is particularly effective, sometimes adding a gloss to the music but
more often creating a tension, for instance on ‘Meftuh’ where they combine with
guttural guitar and female chorus.

Not everything is imbued with a sense of threat or drama. On ‘Shuf’ the
rhythms recall the Talking Heads of ‘Remain In Light’ with the twin guitars of
Hillage and Francois Delfin creating a choppy backdrop to the words which point
to the coming of ‘a goddess from the Arabian Nights’. Instrumentally there are a
couple of spine-tingling solos on what sounds like a cross between a nagaswaram
and a bagpipe.

For bonus tracks Taha revisits ‘Ya Rayah’ with Hamidouche and the strings
making a thrilling combination. There is also another airing for ‘Voila Voila’,
though this time in Spanish and reminding us that Taha has an acute ear for the
dance floor as well as the podium. But his punk inclinations are also manifest in
his homage to The Clash. ‘Rock The Casbah’ features an extended line-up and is
bursting with enough energy and verve to match the original. ‘Sha-riff don’t
like it’ but I do.

If you get hold of the special edition there is also a DVD featuring interviews,
road footage and some tantalizing concert extracts. And there are some insights
into the man himself and his views on music, politics, culture and anything
else he is questioned about. A fine bonus to an excellent CD.

[Buy his previous CDs

Made in Medina
, buy

, buy

Ole Ole
, buy