Rock el Casbah

Algerian rebel gets tougher; King of Rai purrs for the wine

Rachid Taha and Khaled are often mentioned (and reviewed) in the same breath. It's not hard to see why. Both are Algerians who live and record in France. Both have enjoyed international success, and both use rai's already hyphenated convergence of beats as a jump-off point for something else.

In Taha's case, that means a sound increasingly more aggressive, guttural, and thanks to a longtime collaboration with former progger Steve Hillage, rock and roll. While his songs still bear many Oriental influences, Taha's a take-no-prisoners kinda guy—even if you don't understand Arabic, it's clear he doesn't do nuance. Six of his new Tekitoi's titles are punctuated with exclamation points, and one of those, "Safi!" ("Pure!"), kicks off with a modulated, undulating calm before exploding with a fury that'd make Zach de la Rocha jealous. Taha's rebel heart beats loudly in "Rock el Casbah." According to the owner of Brooklyn's Rashid Records—a Middle Eastern/North African music shop where both of these imports are available—Taha's Arabic version of the Clash's classic sticks to the original lyrical script. (The chorus, co-sung by Brian Eno of all people, is in English.) Even so, it's hard to deny the impact (and humor) of a Muslim shouting, "Sha-Riff [sic] don't like it!"

Khaled's groove thang is still finely tuned.
photo: Mondo Melodia
Khaled's groove thang is still finely tuned.

If Taha's roaring, Khaled prefers to purr. His mélange of rubbery funk, jazz fusion, the instrumentation of traditional Arabic music, and creamy (often corny) French café has, deservingly, crowned him King of Rai: Khaled's careening, galvanizing tenor has a last-call-for-alcohol burnish (his love of red wine is well known), and in the elegantly accordion-embellished "Man Hani" he's a rai Romeo. As befitting his elder-statesman status, much of his new Ya-Rayi is languid and lush. Yet when old cohort Don Was pops up on the title track, Khaled proves that his groove thang is still finely tuned—and that, like Taha, he knows how and when to go in for the kill.

 
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