Live Reviews: Rachid Taha

Vicar Street, Dublin, 24 November 2005

Rachid Taha is a leading figure among the new French-Algerian musicians who blend techno-trance/dance influences with rai and other North African sounds. If this suggests that his following in Paris would be predominantly among the young, the audience that filtered into Vicar Street for this Note production on 24 November seemed a little older, but with some North-African zest added to the usual jazz/world crowd.

The band went for a high-impact stadium-style opening: pounding percussion, strutting guitarist in agony/ecstasy over every note… This was impressive in its way but where were they going to go with it? Having started on such a high, would they get louder, more ecstatic, more everything? As it happened, whether in response to the nature of the audience and the venue (with table seating in front of the stage) or because this is the way Taha usually operates, we were in for quite a varied and unpredictable show.

The driving beats recurred throughout but there were examples of the to-and-fro, singer-chorus interplay characteristic of both traditional and contemporary popular music from North Africa and the Arab world. (My personal favourite at the moment is a Toraia Orchestra of Algiers song from the 1950s with a chorus of ‘ya boy, ya boy, ya’– silencing any doubts about the powerful historical connections between Cork and North Africa. Ignore the pedants who title the song ‘Ya Bay!’) There was growled-out aren’t-I-sexy stuff, there was a plaintive farewell-I-must-away number, there was a fine oud solo and another piece in which flamenco rhythms underlay Arabic singing. There was even a dramatically reimagined version of the Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’.

As the band realised that the audience was with them, they seemed to throw fewer shapes and to really enjoy themselves. The audience warmed up too and at one climactic moment, as well as whooping and gyrating in front of the stage, some enthusiasts climbed aboard and – without in any way impeding the music – treated us to some spontaneous flag-waving, chest-baring, hollering, swaying and just a little wobbling. The encore was four numbers long but the band still didn’t want to stop and launched into some more of the heavy pulsing with which they had begun.
All this might not amount to the most rewarding home listening, but it certainly made for an exuberant evening’s entertainment.

Published on 1 January 2006

Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music.

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