Erin Roan MacDonald

Rachid Taha at the Great American Music Hall

Photo courtesy of

I didn’t know who Rachid Taha was, until Facebook advertised his concert at the Great American Music Hall this past June 5. Finally something interesting happening in that upper right corner instead of stupid ads. Also compelling me was the opener– of my faves whom I hadn’t seen for sometime, Cheb i Sabbah, the historic San Francisco world music DJ who is also Algerian.

Now I consider myself pretty knowledgeable of world music and music in general but surprisingly his name had never come up. I am glad I found his music. Him, I am not so sure about. When I saw the ad on Facebook and found his latest album, I thought he was a new world rock music crossover. Turns out he is world superstar and has been around for quite a while, pissing off the French government for things like recording a French classic as a punk song, covering The Clash’s Rock the Casbah and establishing his identity in France as an Algerian immigrant rebel artist for decades. They say music can transcend borders, but it doesn’t open them completely.

I had heard that he got drunk at his shows, but I was still expecting a young artist as I thought he was new on the scene. Some ladies I chatted with prior to him coming out on stage expressed how gorgeous he was. They were a little older than me and they must remember him in his better days. Needless to say I was a little disappointed when he game out gray and unshaven and lewdly sticking his tongue out like the crazy drunk ethnic uncle at a wedding. But here is the thing…

The music, his music is fantastic. Especially live. The band totally rocked. You can tell he was a product of the sixties and seventies music explosion. Reading up on his history, punk was his thing too. But the marriage of the traditional Algerian sound along with hard rock was fantastic.

I danced, rocked and was compelled to raise my arms and do the hand gesture thing like at a heavy metal show but that’s the thing, I wasn’t at a heavy metal show, I was at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, dancing to Middle Eastern rhythms, the Oud and remnants of Zeppelin in my head. I was also inspired by San Francisco’s international community most likely French and Arab that surrounded me in the audience who were doing the same.

He is obviously well-known, people clearly showed up to the concert just to see him. One of his high energy songs: Barra Barra was featured in the Black Hawk down soundtrack. It rocks, powerful vocals,the Algerian bridge, techno beats, it is still very, very current. “Ya Rayah”’, en enchanting number that starts with the dumbec, that everyone in the audience seemed to know the lyrics to. I realized I had heard many times on a Putamayo compilation.

Barra Barra video

He is a bit of a distraction on stage, at least for me, as he appears drunk or crazy. I was trying to understand what his story was and why he needed to be that way. Maybe he was on high on coke or pills. Here is this incredible band, beautiful composed music and lyrics and he becomes the wacky character on stage, digressing into tangent and incomplete sentences in which he needed his band mates to translate, rubbing on the microphone stand and other lewd postures. You wonder why such a successful artist who creates such beautiful music would need to do that, the pressure of being world-famous just too much? The Oud player was obviously used to being the stage manager and would tell Rachid which song would be next to get him back on track. He had a cheat sheet by the podium which I believe had the lyrics to the songs in case he forgot which I hadn’t seen at a professional show ever. If I liken back to Mick Jagger or Iggy Pop it starts to make sense. Perhaps his early life as an immigrant factory worker in France has something to do with his struggle or maybe he is just another victim to his addicted chemistry.

During the show he kept saying “Fuck PP” and figured I was either left out of the joke or I thought it was just part of the antics, finally I asked someone if it meant anything..he was saying “Fuck BP”, in light of the recent oil spill tragedy. That made a lot more sense and raised his intelligence up some notches. The pronunciation of B and P for Arabs may have had something to do with it.

Since the show I talked to a few people about him-a world music DJ I know said, maybe he has gone downhill and remembers at least one show in the Bay area where there was none of that. I work with a few Algerians and I delightfully have something to talk to them about since they don’t speak much English. One said, that he steals every body’s songs.

I am listening to “This is an Arabian song”, Rachid’s tribute to Johnny Rotten and Public Image Limited’s, “This is not a Love song”. He is a mixture of the past and the future, Arab and French, rock, punk and techno. In his music he is being himself. Maybe he is just nostalgic and grateful for what has inspired him as an artist and I think that is something we can all relate to.


5 replies to “Rachid Taha at the Great American Music Hall

  1. i would say your thoughts on this guy are dead on the money . i saw the band in NC in 2009 and it was so strange to hear such great music and at then same time watch this homeless looking dude who somehow got passed security, jumped on stage, grabbed a mic and attempted his best Jim Morrison strange. a rock star fantasy gone bad ……

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