Like Bob Marley or Fela Kuti, he has achieved that rare status of untouchability, where his fame is such that no politician would dare eliminate him for fear of the popular protest such a move might unleash.
“Who are you?” “Who am I?” It sounds like there’s an existential storm broiling deep inside the soul of France’s number 1 musical upsetter. ‘Tékitoi?’, the title of the latest in a long line of probing, provocative and highly original Rachid Taha releases, is a punchy piece of French street lingo whose tone actually says…
But where exactly is Rachid Taha today? With the success of ‘Voilà Voilà’, ‘Ya Rayah’, and his participation alongside fellow Khaled and Faudel in the epic ‘1-2-3 Soleil’ concert at the Bercy stadium in Paris, which yielded a million-selling live album, Rachid was definitely a big star in France in the 1990s. But he never bothered to capitalise on that status. Commercial strategies and speculations are just bore him frigid. When I ask Taha about the collapsing recorded music industry in France he just quips, “hang on, I’ll pass you my Financial Director and you can talk to him.” Ok, ‘nuff said.
It was one of those perfect moments, when passion burns up the concept, and Iness Mezel’s words begin to canter excitedly as she remembers it: “You arrive at the studio with all your baggage and paraphernalia and you lay them out and something just happens, beyond all expectations. Beyond trance. Beyond consciousness. And I love…
When Tinariwen launch into one of their songs on one of their good nights, I’m immediately transported to the place they come from. My nostrils prick up to the smell of tea, tobacco and gasoline. The pentatonic drone of the music rolls out the endless line of the desert horizons. The perpetual polyrhythms put wanderlust back into my heart and my feet.
Long ago, Staff Benda Bilili understood that any real handicap exists only in the mind, rather than in the legs. Stricken by polio whilst still young, abandoned to their fate in one of the toughest and most dysfunctional cities in the world, forced to survive by courage and wit alone, Ricky, Coco, Roger and the crew have always known that life’s path clings to a vertical cliff face which towers above them. The only way has been up.
This battle for recognition in the hierarchy of the hard is the subject of one of K’naan’s best loved tunes, ‘What’s Hardcore’, with its immortal line “If I rhymed about home and got descriptive / I’d make Fifty Cent look like Limp Bizkit.”’ But what might seem like ghetto-boy posturing was actually part of a deeper struggle to gain respect.