Still angry, Rachid Taha comes back to Athens with more fire

The top-selling Algerian-French fusion artist Rachid Taha seems to have found his way with local audiences. Just months after first playing here as one of the numerous highlights at the WOMAD festival in Athens early last summer, the fiery musician is set to make a swift return visit – the festival’s first act to do so – for one show at the newly launched Gagarin 205 club (205 Liosion, near the Attiki train and metro station) this Saturday night. Taha, the son of Algerian immigrants who has a penchant for mixing anything of various North African styles with influences that range from rock to African pop to contemporary dance, has made an angry sociopolitical outlook the core of his work. His commercial success, which came belatedly for the 44-year-old musician, has not softened the artist’s unsparing stance against racism. «I’m always angry. Nothing has changed in France, and I for one, was not surprised with [Jean Marie] Le Pen’s results in the elections,» Taha told Kathimerini English Edition in a recent telephone interview, referring to the extreme right-wing politician’s strong showing in the first round of France’s presidential elections earlier this year. «For immigrants living in France, the reality is still the same when looking for a job, or an apartment, for example. As for the police, they seem to be looking for opportunities to be more violent, repressive. ‘Le Haine’ [the Mathieu Kassovitz film] is a postcard compared to reality, which is far more dangerous,» he added. This anger is reflected in Taha’s most recent studio album, «Made in Medina,» a relatively belligerent outing delivered with plenty of venom. Released in 2000, it deviated from Taha’s previous efforts which were mostly dominated by modern renderings of various North African styles – often fused. Taha’s long-term producer, Steve Hillage, renowned for his work with the 1970s experimental act Gong, and who helped launch Taha’s career, describes Taha in a biography as having a «unique vision of how North African music, jazz, and rock are all part of one musical whole.» Taha, who spent his formative days working factory jobs and DJ-ing at night, displayed a tendency to amalgamate musical styles from early on. As a club DJ, Taha’s choices typically included a diverse spread of global dance styles from Arabic music to rap, salsa and funk. Around this time, while still in his teens, Taha emerged as a musician and as leader of his first band, Carte De Sejour (Residence Permit), a politically fueled rock act that specialized in hurling out punk-influenced songs about worker and immigrant rights. At best, their success, commercially, was mild. Nowadays, Taha recalls the band’s attempts at trying to pierce the French mainstream as vain because of various non-music-related problems, including lack of support from record companies and retailers, many of which, the artist insists, refused to stock the band’s albums to avoid Arab customers. Most likely spurred by the blossoming world music circuit, however, Taha, the solo artist, has met with less resistance in foreign markets and subsequently attracted a considerable global audience. In more recent times, Taha, who went solo a little over a decade ago, has toured the world extensively, often performing at large much-celebrated venues, including the Hollywood Bowl in the USA. In France, Taha’s growing appeal was recently highlighted with a music award that ranks as the country’s equivalent of a Grammy Award, the Victoire de la Musique. Taha’s recent rise, however, does not seem to have extinguished the artist’s fire. «It’s a privilege, of course, but, at the same time, I have to do something with it. Otherwise, if you don’t use power it means nothing. But, bear in mind, even with the minorities, they choose who gets to talk,» Taha said, who described both his own course and those of peers as a continuing struggle in France. «Sure, we’re part of the showbiz milieu, but, at the same time, Arabic music does not feature on commercial radio – only on stations such as France Inter (state-run, culture-inclined) or Nova (alternative). So really, this is a long struggle. Music is a kind of struggle.»