Richie Havens and Rachid Taha Speak their Truths at Duke

Richie Havens
Richie Havens

Duke University’s Duke Performances Presents featured the unlikely pairing of Richie Havens and Rachid Taha for its April 16th Speak Truth to Power concert in Durham, North Carolina. Drawing on a shared background of musical activism by the 1960s folk icon Havens and the French-Algerian rocker Taha, the concert attracted an equally diverse audience of students, folk devotees and Middle Eastern music enthusiasts. Audience members at Duke’s Page Auditorium found themselves at the crossroads between East and West, between the past and present and between old struggles and new ones, reveling in the unifying celebration of music.

Mr. Havens, part of the legendary 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene and 1969 Woodstock’s opening act, took the first set, drifting elegantly to center stage with all the power and surety of a veteran performer. Artfully adept at storytelling, Mr. Havens opened with a brief story about his beginnings in the coffeehouses in New York and how easy it was to get lyrics to a song one admired – all fourteen versions. Then, brushing his long, ringed fingers across the strings of his guitar, Mr. Havens launched into “All Along the Watchtower” to the crowd’s delight.

Interspersing song with storytelling that was often difficult to hear because of his almost whispered tones, Mr. Havens wowed the crowd as he made his way through a soulful “My Love is Alive,” “Maggie’s Farm,” “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and his signature song “Here Comes the Sun.” He ended his set with “You Are So Beautiful” with some help from an enamored audience.

I would like to mention the wonderful guitarist that accompanied Mr. Havens, Walter Parks, who has his own Americana band called  Swamp Cabbage.

Rachid TahaRachid Taha – photo by Angel Romero 

After intermission, Rachid Taha and band took the audience by storm with his razor sharp blend of rock, rap and Middle Eastern music. Backed by a kick ass group of musicians that included guitarist Stephane Bertin, bassist Jean-Marie Brichard, drummer Guillaume Rossel, keyboardist Yves Aouizerate, percussionist Rachid Belgacem, and one of the best ud players I’ve heard in a while, Hakim Hamadouche; Mr. Taha electrified Duke’s Page Auditorium.

Mr. Taha’s set started off a little stilted. The band was great, but Mr. Taha seemed a little stiff and was flipping through a book onstage that seemed like it contained lyrics or a playlist. It wasn’t until the third and fourth song that Mr. Taha found his rhythm and warmed to the audience. Coloring their hard hitting rock sound with rap lyrics, flashes of raunchy grunge and a liberal dose of Middle Eastern percussion and [wiki:ud], Mr. Taha and band sizzled as fans crowded around the stage.

Several students were urged onstage to dance and sing along with Mr. Taha as the group played a popular Middle Eastern song. It was the Middle Eastern songs that attracted most of the attention by the audience. Fierce and meaty, Mr. Taha and band propelled Middle Eastern rock into a crowd that ate up every note.

Buy the artists’ CDs:

In North America:

You can still catch Rachid Taha live during the last leg of his United Sates tour:

4/23 Yoshi’s, San Francisco
4/24 Yoshi’s, San Francisco
4/25 Louisiana International Festival, Lafayette
4/26 Houston International Fest, Houston

Author: TJ Nelson

TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.

Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.

Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.


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