Rachid Taha Concert at Bowery Ballroom in New York

Rachid Taha
Rachid Taha

Review Author: Robert Weisberg

Bowery Ballroom (New York), July 6, 2005

Rachid Taha really does put on a great, fun show – the vibe is reminiscent of going to shows in the 80s, but without having to feel overly nostalgic the way going to see an 80s band on reunion tour does. His old-fashioned rock posing and stage manner that is a little corny, but he can get away with it. But yeah as Mike (another FMU DJ who posted on the concert) said, there may also be a bit of a smarmy / ick factor – best to suspend disbelief I guess…I’ve never really made the effort to confirm this, but it’s possible that his period rock posturing and even the rock elements in his music are a little bit of a self-conscious and relatively recent undertaking – I guess in cahoots with longtime producer/collaborator Steve Hillage: if you listen to his early solo albums (he was originally in a band, Carte de Sejour) they’re pretty euro-disco-y! And even last night his drummer went there a few times!

And even now, with the possible exception of Made in Medina his CDs don’t really give a sense of what he does live. The first time I saw him a few years ago, I was stunned that it was such a rock show – I never expected it from
the CDs. I know it’s a cliché – but you have to see this live!

Okay, now a little armchair analysis: I think part of the trick is the way Rachid and band – and audience – work two angles – the old-school rock show styling is one thing. But some of the things Mike mentioned are a not unusual in African and other ‘world music’ shows: a lot of dancing including people dancing on stage, sing alongs, a lot of back-and-forth with the audience etc. And community: In addition to the fact that he is quite popular especially in Europe and many fans naturally know his originals, he works in popular hits from Egyptian and North African music (many recorded on his CD
Diwan) that really get
the émigré audience going. For instance “Ya Rayah” by Damane el Harrache (who he name-checked along with the famous flamenco martyr Camarón de la Isla during the intro) had many singing along.

It’s especially fun to see a show by an artist like this in New York City, because a good chunk of the audience are home-away-from-home anyway, know him from Europe, understand his French banter – while others are getting off on the strangeness of it.

Personally, I’m really partial to the handful of people on the ‘world music’ circuit who in various ways work the 70s/80s rock angle – not coincidentally, most are in their 40s. None do the posturing quite like Rachid, but others are Yat-Kha, Tinariwen, Kristi Stassinopoulou from Greece… It counters the
tendency towards loungey remix cheese in world music circles…

Robert Weisberg produces the world music show Transpacific Sound Paradise: Popular and Unpopular Music from Around the World for WFMU (New York).