The Philadelphia Inquirer, High-Test Algerian dance-rock >>
Plenty of pop stars flirt with self-parody. Rachid Taha grinds against it on the dance floor, his tongue flicking friskily in its ear. At the Theatre of Living Arts on Tuesday, the Algerian-born singer flaunted his garish ensemble – orange shades, leather pants, striped sports coat, shiny flowered shirt – with the same air of sleazy playfulness that runs throughout his music.
For several years, Taha has revitalized rai by upping the testosterone level of that hyper masculine breed of Algerian dance-rock. At the TLA, his six-piece band’s dirty metal guitar and techno-style beats (both live and recorded) were even brawnier than on his latest album, Tekitoi. Non-Western elements – virtuoso plucking on the oud, a traditional Middle Eastern lute, and synthesizer facsimiles of North African string arrangements – provided lively counterpoint to the hard-rock thrust.
Live, Taha is a scruffy little guy with a drunk’s uninhibited dance moves, nowhere near as burly or macho as his guttural shouts might suggest. His ingratiating stage presence bolstered his between-songs banter, which was punctuated regularly by an enthusiastic “OK” as it strayed wantonly among at least four languages.
Thanks to an accent almost as thick as his scraggly mop of hair, even some of his jokes in English were lost on all but the proud Algerian contingent that paraded its homeland’s flag around the venue. But his music’s political edge runs deeper than lyrics such as “Our culture is not democratic,” or Taha’s spoken denunciations of dictatorial Arab regimes, or a cover of the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah,” which was introduced with pointed references to American GIs.
Maybe the parade of gyrating ladies streaming onstage from the audience offered a sight no more salacious than anywhere else on South Street. But in Algeria, where a repressive government continues to duke it out with fundamentalist militants, the florid sexuality of the groove that lured those women toward Taha remains revolutionary.
-Keith Harris 07/07/05