On stage he’s a wild torrent of punk energy channelled into an eclectic musical output. In person, he locks eyes with you and declares in his accented English, “you are my brother.” Rachid Taha is a self-confessed hippy punk rocker with a big heart
He is off to a late start after a night of partying at Momo’s. A couple of days before that he was in Cape Town. No doubt by the time you read this he will have resumed his customary schedule when at home of playing in up to a dozen different clubs a night often until 10 o’clock in the morning.
He likens the difficulty in finding a good description of his music to the indelicacies of describing the physical act of love. I am not entirely sure what he means…
His first interview of the day was at half past two and I am informed it was done stark naked from his bed. In order to ensure he put some clothes on, Ian from Wrasse Records has arranged for our interview to take place in the trendy blue glow of the Cumberland Hotel’s lobby.
Rachid collapses on the sofa and the first of an endless chain of cigarettes is lit. His trademark porkpie hat sits alongside him on the leather sofa. Given his lifestyle and the endless smokes, the 47 year old sat next to me is in remarkably good condition especially considering he is suffering from jetlag and lack of sleep.
He likens the difficulty in finding a good description of his music to the indelicacies of describing the physical act of love. I am not entirely sure what he means but perhaps he is talking about the gulf between the description and the experience.
“The stage for me is a ring but I am fighting not for a championship but against war and for the future.”
Disarmingly honest at all times, he admits that the youth are only really interested in pop and hip hop rather than his music. “In France, rock and roll is listened to by the bourgeoisie, by the ‘bo-bos’ (bourgeois bohemians). They listen to The Clash and they listen to Rachid Taha.” He adds with a smile that women in particular seem to like his music, something he does not seem to be too unhappy about.
“What is the difference between Bedouin music and Jimi Hendrix or Elvis? It is all the same. Rock and roll is traditional music. U2 is just folkloric. Ireland, Alsace or Benin: it is all the same.”
What is never in any doubt when talking about or even to Rachid Taha is his attitude: “In my music, I am the boxer. You know Jake la Motta [from Raging Bull], ‘you fuck my wife?’ The stage for me is a ring but I am fighting not for a championship but against war and for the future. I have a child of 22. What is the future for him? It is not for me it is for him I fight and it is very important.”
“‘I am English, you are French’. Fuck you, you are a human being today and tomorrow you are dead.”
Although Rachid Taha has a complex relationship with Islam, it is still a core part of his identity, “My Islam is tolerance and love and poetry. I am Sufi. But just as in Judaism you have different categories. Right now you see everyone put together because the Americans need someone to take the place of the Russians as the enemy. Before we were brothers in Afghanistan and now enemies. Bin Laden used to play with George Bush, they are the same thing, both from rich families. In America there is just one party, the war party. There is no such thing as democrats and republicans. Maybe in the future it will be the Chinese who take our place.”
In the aftermath of the French elections which saw the election of the right wing Nicolas Sarkozy (he of the famous comment that those people rioting were just ‘scum’), Rachid Taha offered a pretty downbeat analysis of French politics: “All we have is right, right, right. Ségolène Royal is not a socialist. She is the same as Tony Blair. Do you think Tony Blair is a socialist? The left is finished in France. Also in France the politicians only talk about what is happening in France. Never do we hear about Iraq or Gaza. No, no. Just about the police and ‘crazy Africans’. For me this is fucked.”
Throwing punches against prejudice and for peace, Taha is a true humanist, “I have one culture. You are my brothers. It is not different for me. What is important for politicians though is to define different communities. ‘I am English, you are French’. Fuck you, you are a human being today and tomorrow you are dead. The fight is for humanity. Yes I know it is a cliché, I am a hippy, a punk hippy, always.”
Rachid Taha and Vieux Farka Tour?© – Barbican, London
Rachid Taha – The Definitive Collection
Rachid Taha – Diwan 2
Rachid Taha – Tekitoi
Rachid Taha website
Wrasse Records website