INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Australian JUNE 4, 2009 - by Lynden Barber
ENO ACTS ARE SAFE CHOICES
Rachid Taha. Sydney Opera House, June 1. Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, tonight; Prince Bandroom, Melbourne, Friday.
Brian Eno's curating of the Sydney Opera House's Luminous music festival includes some inspiring choices (particularly Jon Hassell) and some interesting but relative unknowns, which is exactly how it should be.
But while certainly not lacking in credibility, his program's two African acts, Afrobeat bandleader Seun Kuti and French-Algerian rocker Rachid Taha, are relatively safe choices given the vast range of potential options available. They make me wonder how in touch Eno is these days with contemporary African music, much of which is overflowing with vitality, little known here and yet to get anywhere near an Australian live venue.
Taha and his band gave a raucous and extremely loud demonstration of his brand of Arabic hard rock, the unshaven and top-hatted vocalist roaming the stage like some latter-day Artful Dodger in an apparently intoxicated bliss.
If you could have isolated any of these tracks they would have been invigorating. As a whole, the preponderance of songs in a similar tempo brought diminishing returns; not that the wildly enthusiastic audience seemed to mind.
The songs typically follow the recipe of a North African Led Zeppelin (the nearest reference point would be Kashmir). Take one thunderous rock pulse, add a pinch of Arabic polyrhythms and a tablespoon of electric oud (Arabic lute). Sprinkle with singalong choruses, then bake at an obscenely high volume.
With its rasping vocals and spare use of crunching power chords, the song Barra Barra demonstrated how effective this can be. But after a while, a kind of bludgeoning monotony set in.
There was nothing that couldn't be solved with a smarter use of dynamics, those useful little tricks involving the juxtaposition of silence and noise, soft and loud, slow and fast.
Some way into the set Taha brought on Eno, who spent several songs joining the backing vocals and dancing like a teacher trying to be down-with-the-kids at a school disco.
Sydney support act Lolo Lovina deserves attention for its spirited and deservedly popular opening performance, in which Romanian Gypsy music, bluegrass and Irish folk were blended with great warmth, sometimes at hair-raising speed. Fiddler Jess Randall and accordion and saxophone player Leonid Beshlei were impressive.