I heard moans once Rachid Taha started his set. The distorted tone of the electric guitar pierced through the crowd and created a division in the ranks. Couples dropped their pitas with spicy chipotle hummus out of pure confusion. The West Hollywood women in their belly dancing outfits didn’t know how to dance to it. It was only rock and roll and they liked it…sort of. In other countries, Rachid Taha is a rock star. For America, Rachid Taha has to be marketed as an “eccentric world music artist” or something like "The Algerian U2." It's not that Rachid has ever denied his Algerian roots, but he brings his Algerian influences to the 21st century when America still wants to hear him sing in the style of the 19th century.
It’s somewhat understandable. Most of us drawn to any kind of alternative culture seek what is different from our own. The kids who dress like Cholos in Chiba, Japan and the Mexican kids who dress like American Emo kids do it for the same reason non Islamic American women wear a Khimar strictly for fashion, they just think it looks cool. In fact it was funny to see how many Non-Arabic people at the show dressed in Traditional Arabic clothes and to see the Arabic people dressed to the nines in high-end fashion.
It was only after performing "Ecoute-Moi Camarade," a song off his 2006’s brilliant Diwan 2, his “traditional album,” that the audience woke up. From then on it was a full-on dance party. Rock and traditional songs were equally appreciated by most of the crowd after that. Rahid’s line-up consisted of the basic elements for a rock band (guitar, bass, drum keyboards) with the addition of the tradition instrumentation (The Oud and Arabic percussion). Neither traditional nor modern instrumentation dominated; they blended together quite well, even in a live setting.
Rahid’s backing band reminds me of Manu Chao’s backing band. The two groups contain excellent musicianship, are full of energy, and contribute to the show as much as their leader. Both groups have the ability to play the traditional but can’t shake their punk roots. The last song of the night was Rahid Taha’s version of The Clash “Rock The Casbah” sung in Arabic, complete with a “Fuck Bush” and a “Vote Obama” at the end. On top of all that, Rachid Taha came out in an emerald green silk suit with no shirt underneath ...Chiao!!!
Joe Strummer would have been pleased.