Rachid Taha, the radical French Algerian singer, will join Brian Eno, Nitin Sawhney and others for the most exciting musical event of the year.
Put together by the Stop the War Coalition, the Bring the Troops Home concert on Sunday 27 November is going to raise money for the International Peace Conference in London in December and the Military Families Against the War campaign.
Rachid told Socialist Worker, “Performing at an anti-war concert is the logical continuation of what I do as a musician and as a human being. The war in Iraq has cost too many lives – Iraqi, American and British.
“The majority of people around the world are opposed to the war. It is a useless war, a catastrophe for humanity. Bush and Blair are talking about promoting democracy, well, imposing democracy is not the way to do it.
“We are surrounded by reactionary governments. Those leaders are fanatics, always talking in the name of god when they commit atrocities.
“Unfortunately it’s been a long time since we had a revolution, but even if we haven’t managed to bring down our governments yet we need to keep protesting. The leaders always try to keep us submissive, to make us feel guilty about everything we do.
“The anti-war movement is just the beginning, but it is a good one.”
Rachid Taha was born in Algeria in 1958. Ten years later his family emigrated to France. Here he came face to face with racism for the first time – at school where children repeat what their parents think of North Africans.
In the early 1980s he started a job in a factory in Lyon where he met Mohammed and Moktar with whom he formed his first band, Carte de Séjour (residence permit).
Carte de Séjour released a version of a French classic, Douce France, in their rock Arabic style, as public opinion grew in opposition to immigration.
Originally a nostalgic song written by Charles Trenet about the virtues of France, similar to White Cliffs of Dover in Britain, it became a bitter (or ironic) love declaration to a country in which first generation French people are still excluded.
On the riots taking place in France today, Rachid says, “The authorities didn’t listen to us when we first sang about exclusion and racism 25 years ago. Today it is even worse. When I was younger my parents had jobs, they existed as individuals.
“Now the older generation is retired, but the difference is that their children are unemployed. Young people of North African origin around Paris are very angry. They see their older brothers, sisters, or neighbours study to get a chance of finding a job, only to be refused opportunities because of their origins.
“They become unemployed, they can’t rent a flat and they are even not allowed into nightclubs.
“They are angry because unlike the older generations who needed a residence permit, they are French. They don’t understand why they are cut off from the jobs they can find where they live. If France is a republic, everyone should be equal.
“Young people should be able to work regardless of their colour. Instead we are seeing a sort of apartheid.
“The problem is that France is dominated by an administration and by employers who are mainly reactionary. And among those there are a lot of people sympathetic to the far right. There are still some people who haven’t accepted the loss of Algeria.”
Rachid Taha considers himself a “citizen of the world”. On his album Tekitoi he sang the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah” in Arabic as well as Ya Rayah, a classic song of North African immigrants by Dahmane El Harrachi.
This is a song about the harshness of being an immigrant. When asked about this melange of genres, Rachid says, “It is my daily music, it is who I am. Music has no borders.
“When I am on tour I meet and work with a lot of different people. It makes itself felt in my albums. I think that music is universal. It is a place where you can talk, listen, get informed and exchange.”