The Small World Music Festival kicks off tonight with Algerian-French singer Rachid Taha.
Taha’s always been difficult for North American critics to categorize. He’s been put in the “punk” bin, though it doesn’t really suit him, and he’s veered from the swirling heavy-rock sounds of “Barra Barra” (made famous on the Black Hawk Down soundtrack) to the dance-pop sprinklings of “Voila, Voila,” to the jazzy Serge Gainsbourg–flavoured “El H’Mame”; he’s even covered The Clash with a peppy, percussive “Rock El Casbah.”
Moving from Algeria to France as a child, Taha began as a DJ (mixing the likes of Oum Khalthoum with Kraftwerk, Johnny Cash and Zeppelin), before forming Carte de Sejour (“Green Card”) and releasing three albums. His first solo album, Barbes, mixes the sounds of North Africa with elements of dance, rock, and yes, punk. Since then, he’s released nine albums, worked with Brian Eno, Patti Smith, Nitin Sawhney, as well as golden god Robert Plant, and has performed at the Stop the War Coalition concert in London and the Festival in the Desert in Northern Mali.
Through his musical meanderings, from the dance stylings of Ole Ole to the heavy, hip-hop-meets-guitar sounds of Tekitoi? (French street slang for “who the hell are you?”), Taha remains connected to his heritage. Remember the Paris riots? They weren’t surprising to Taha, who’s been singing for years about the rage, frustration, and despair that so many North Africans (and their descendants) experience. While America had N.W.A. and Public Enemy as the soundtrack for racial discontent, France has had Taha now for close to twenty years. “Ya Rayah,” one of the tracks on 2006’s Diwan 2, is an old anthem for the dispossessed—but damn if you can’t dance to Taha’s version as well. That song plus tracks from the Definitive Collection (released last year) are sure to be performed Tuesday night at the Phoenix. Though Taha’s been a guest of the Montreal Jazz Festival in years past, this will be his first time in Toronto. Bring your zylls; if live footage is anything to go by, it’s sure to be a shimmying good show.
Photo by Bernard Benant.