Warwick Arts Centre, February 20th 2005
Leicester De Monfort Hall, February 25th 2005
"Anyone expecting Rachid Taha live to emulate the sublime, stylish production of his studio albums prepare to be disabused of that erroneous belief. This is rough and ready, this is in-your-face, this is rock and roll as you’ve never heard it before.
Taha headlines the African Soul Rebels Tour in the UK, supported by Tinawiren and Daara J, and we’re unbelievably lucky enough to see 2 gigs on our doorstep within a week. (I’ve been having a Taha fest since July and have now seen him four times!)
Louche and rakish, sporting a growth of piratical stubble, Taha dispenses with ceremonious entry, strolling onto the stage along with his tour band; unrecognised by the uninitiate, untill he seats himself and roars at us, in viseral, gutteral Arabic , Mamachi - and from that moment he has the audience in the palm of his hand.The voice, honed by the cigarettes he habitually lights on stage, is raw and throaty, chewing the words and spitting them out. Then he’s all action, the jacket goes, the stool goes and he’s everywhere, his exhuberence dominates the stage. Never sparing himself for a second he throws at us numbers from Tekitoi? - the confrontational and mouthy H’asbu-Hum, Safi, and The Clash classic, Rock the Casbah - his homage to the late Joe Strummer, who he claims as a formative influence (and aren’t we Brits proud of that!). He continues to belt out familiar and well loved numbers from his back catalogue - Kelma, Bent Sahra, Barra Barra, Ida, Yah Rayah.This is a boyant and hedonistic performance from him and his enthusiastic, roughish band - this is what we want! The powerhouse delivery of the encore, Habina, from Diwan, signals that performing and his audience are his life blood; his good-humoured rapport and engaging banter with the crowd, not forgetting his lengthy tour schedule, are the proof of this. It is no wonder that his consumate passion for what he does inspires affection and respect from his fans.
The experience at the two venues is very different. At Warwick, the venue accoustics are poor, the crowd large but inhibited. We’re in the balcony and can see dancing isn’t their forte - standing about is. Hakim, he of the mandolute balancing trick, encourages women onto the stage to dance with Rachid, freaking out the over-zealous venue security, who also forbid photography. Before the encore - they allow us that - he jokingly complains about the paltry 45 minutes for his set and has the full agreement of the now appreciative audience.Leicester is a different story, acoustics that work, a smaller audience (500, I am told, about a third of the capacity), but from the start they are up for it, they know the words and could they dance! They are there to enjoy themselves and no one is going to stop them. The venue staff, more relaxed and sociable than Warwick, encourage me to go down to the dance floor, leaving the old man on the balcony, and who could resist such an opportunity; literally letting my hair down I’m at the front, dancing with members of Tinariwen, still in their heavy robes, who have joined the audience. Taha has awakened the old headbanger in me yet again! For the remaining deluded souls who think Taha is Rai, then be warned, this is Rai from hell - he melted the snow for miles around!
Look out Canada - the thaw is coming early this year!!! "
Yvonne Mitton copyright 2005.