By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Rachid Taha, Khaled, Faudel
1, 2, 3 Soleils
SINCE ALGERIA DECLARED independence in 1962, France has experienced a wave of North African immigration, and with it a frighteningly pervasive, internationally publicized wave of populist xenophobia, spearheaded by the far-right National Front party. And while it's no surprise that the Algerian community has proudly turned to its national disco strain, raï, it's interesting to note that the music has become an artistic and commercial powerhouse with whites as well, asserting a crossover appeal not unlike that of hip hop in America.
A global fusion of Moroccan melodies, Spanish-influenced flamenco guitars, salsa horns, disco beats, and rock electricity, raï's sex- and booze-soaked intensity is derided in Algeria for emphasizing the body rather than the soul. Yet, raï is party music as resistance--pop that's as unifying as it is rebellious. For immigrants and French people of Algerian descent, raï serves as a community-building tool, and a way to fashion a small token of rebellion against racist pressure. (For women specifically, raï concerts can be the one time when they're able to let loose, away from their fathers and brothers.)
Recorded at Bercy, Paris's biggest concert venue, on September 26, 1998, 1, 2, 3 Soleils (1, 2, 3 Suns) features three of raï's leading men (its three tenors, essentially): Rachid Taha, Faudel, and Khaled. Taha, who began his career in 1981 with the Lyon rock band Carte de Séjour, may be the most adventurous of the three, recently scoring electronica-flavored hits in England. Khaled is an old-school veteran who has aggressively courted the mainstream, while the youngest, Faudel, represents the new breed, with roots in the projects of Paris.
For the occasion, the three suns were backed by a huge band that included rock instruments alongside North African staples like the oud (Arabian lute) and the gasbar (a kind of flute), as well as both a French and an Egyptian string section. (We're talking 50 people onstage here.) Lifted by an audibly delirious crowd, the singers get the party going with the monstrous groove of "Menfi," and they don't let up for over two hours. Singing solo as well as in various combinations, the vocalists cover a wide array of styles, from the funky, horn-fueled crossover hit "N'ssi N'ssi" to the flamenco-influenced "Omri." Likewise, the panexotic "Indie" overflows with a number of divergent strains--a frenetic, proto-techno beat, a flute supplying a melancholic counterpoint to Taha and Khaled's wailing vocals, and violins that could make Chic blush.
Throughout, politics stays at the foreground, as on Taha's "Voilà Voilà," which attacks French xenophobia and the subsequent anti-immigrant feelings it provokes: "Here it is, it's starting again, everywhere in our sweet France/'Foreigner, you're the root of our problems'/I thought it would be over, but here it goes again/Everywhere they're getting closer." Driving the point home, the song is in French, while all the others are in Arabic. But its string-laden disco-track and urgent horn cries are also wickedly groovy, proving that agit-pop can come in many glorious shapes, forms, and contexts.
1, 2, 3 Soleils is available through online retailers at:www.fnac.fr andwww.novalis.fr