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Rachid Taha and Vieux Farka Toure at the Barbican (review)

PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2007 8:59 am
by howard male
Rachid Taha and Vieux Farka Toure at the Barbican

The usual ritual at Barbican world music gigs seems to be for the audience to remain resolutely seated until the last couple of songs. Then they'll get up, sometimes reluctantly, and jig about for a bit until the switching on of the killjoy houselights makes them wonder why they didn't start enjoying themselves earlier.

So it was something of a surprise, nay, shock, when a sizeable percentage of punters were up and bopping before Algerian punk rocker Rachid Taha and his 7-piece band had barely begun their second number. Maybe it was something to do with Spring being here at last.

But before we get to all that, we have young Vieux Farka Toure to consider. Being the son of the late great Ali Farka Toure, combined with the fact this was his first UK performance, meant the Malian guitarist and singer had a lot to prove. But unfortunately he didn't quite live up to expectations. His 4-piece band were ragged round the edges and most songs were turned into somewhat self-indulgent jams. Hearing material stretched beyond its natural length by a musician of Vieux's undoubted talents isn't entirely without its pleasures, but it would have been infinitely better to have heard closer renditions of the songs which has made his recent sprightly and confident debut album such a gripping listen. They managed to get up a decent heard of steam by the end, with a cover of Vieux's father's Sindia, but work needs to be done to make their sound more lucid, rather than it just being an African take on the barroom blues.

So back to Rachid. As sartorially idiosyncratic as ever, in white shirt, charcoal suit, flame-orange tie, and white shoes, he stalked the stage, growling his Arabic rebel rock tunes as dozens of women clambered up to flirtatiously dance around his diminutive form. The Algerian star was here to kill two birds with one stone; to play a smattering of tracks from his recent covers album Diwan 2 including the Mariachi trumpet-led Ecoute Moi Camarade, and to keep the long-standing fans happy with a few stormers from the just-released Definitive Collection.
It wasn't hard to guess who the 'surprise guest' announced earlier in the evening would be, but that didn't make it any less thrilling to see the Clash's Mick Jones appear for a trio of songs, including, of course, the Clash's own Rock the Casbah. Ostensibly Rachid's version isn't radically different from the original (apart from being sung in Arabic), yet it still has to be one of the most pointed and subtly politically-charged covers of all time. Tonight's muscular rendition literally sent shivers down this old punk rocker's spine.

Unfortunately the evening didn't end on this insurmountable high, but, inexplicably, on the turgid disco-rock drone of Garab which isn't even on the new 'best of'. Perhaps the man's too proud to finish on someone else's song. But no matter, it didn't spoil the pleasures of an otherwise solid and stirring show.

Independent on Sunday 15/04/07