The Rachid Taha Band (Astoria London – 27 November). Support – Brian Eno + Nitin Sawhey + Imogen Heap. Presented by Brian Eno and Stop the War Coalition.
The last time in was in this grotty rock ’n’ roll amphitheatre was over ten years ago to see Blixia Bargel – the guitarist with Nick Cave – playing with his other band, Einstürzende Neibauten and I watched them spew out a brilliant demented, industrial racket. That night I was guzzling Jack Daniel and I thought I was the son of the devil. Well, haven’t times changed! Tonight I’m many years older, wiser and I’ve been reduced to seeing one of those “world music” artists. Why? Because I love my girlfriend and she loves Rachid Taha. I should warn you though, first she is a girl and second she’s Italian so she obviously knows jack shit about music!
Mr Eno and Nitin Sawhney give us a couple of improvised songs that are far more interesting. Eno was tapping away at some little electronic thing creating a moody and sinister backdrop to some of Nitin’s traditional Asian vocals. I was pretty impressed with Nitin on the Spanish guitar and they played-out with a catchy, solid riff (not something you often get on this instrument) backed by the steady, pounding thud on some real animal skin.
After a lengthy delay - old trick that one - Mr Taha’s band makes a well received but rather unimpressive entrance, none of these guys are gonna be biting the heads off bats, I thought. Then the man himself arrives all dressed in black. He’s wearing a leather trilby, orange shades and he mooches on stage with a slightly comic swagger. The band get straight to business and the audience are loving it already. This is definitely a meeting of musical cultures here but I can’t see the join. They’re both there, the energy and anger of rock and a swirling, eastern mysticism that’s very alluring and seductive, and, it’s making the women wriggle like belly dancers.
The second song sounds to me a lot like Bo Didley, nothing wrong with that. The guitar player is in a world of his own, he’s a whirling dervish, armed with six strings. Rachid’s no giant, I wouldn’t give him more than five’ five’’, but between him and the guitar player they more than fill this stage. The music is uplifting, it doesn’t claw or kick, it’s a tidal wave and it picks you up and carries you off. We’re all riding on Rachid’s magic carpet as he dips and dives and twist and turns through some wonderful songs.
And there’s no let up here. Their material is all upbeat and vibrant with only the occasional gentle moments to give Rachid a break. All around me the eclectic geeks have turned into proper rockin’ dudes. It’s not like the Ramones, they’re not killing each other, but you can tell they’re having a real good time. I realise I’m in the presence of some die-hards fans and I’m beginning to see why. Rachid is charismatic, his wailing voice conjures that exotic feeling of the Islamic world and when he dances with his arms outstretched he’s like Zorba the Greek, loving life and loving his music.
We know it’s coming to an end (and that we’re gonna hear Rock the Casbah) when Mick Jones saunters on stage and put on his silver-plated telecaster. This has become Rachid’s anthem and I think it’s a bit clichéd so I’m praying he doesn’t end it all here. Then there’s a second encore with my personal favourite, Ida, which has this brilliant, infectious brass that makes you just wanna dance. After that I’m thinking, quit while you’re ahead, but no, the audience and Rachid are up for one more magic carpet ride and just when you thought there was nothing left in the tank The Rachid Taha Band really turned the heat up with Garab. It’s a great end to a great gig.
A parting question, is this world music? Who gives a damn! I know one thing for sure; this man and his music do really cross barriers and I guess those eclectic geeks, and my girlfriend, knew more than me. I think I’m gonna have to tell the whole universe about Rachid Taha. But now that I think of it, let’s keep him as our little, magical secret so we won’t have to go and see him playing in some bloody stadium.