On September 26, 1998, in Paris, France, one of the major events of Algerian music took place -- the concert termed 1,2,3 Soleils. Together on the same stage Khaled (the king of rai), Rachid Taha (the musical rebel), and Faudel (rai's young prince) entertained a crowd of over 14,000. It was a coming of age for the music and for the Algerians themselves, too long regarded as second-class citizens. The audience's excitement is palpable right from the start, as the orchestra (arranged throughout by former prog rocker Steve Hillage) launches into the instrumental "Khalliouni Khalliounni" to massive cheers that only become louder as the three principals take the stage to share vocal duties on "Menfi." From there it's a series of duets and solos and two more trios in the middle before they come together for three more tunes at the end, culminating in an explosive version of the classic "Ya Rayah" before closing out with "Comme D'Habitude." Certainly one of the most interesting pairings is "Eray" with Faudel and Khaled together, the youngster holding his own with the master. It's tempting to think of it as handing on the baton, but instead it's really two wonderful vocalists singing as if their lives depended on it -- as is the case when they come together again for Khaled's hit "Aicha." For their solo spots (Khaled, as the biggest name, gets two), each man gives his party piece, "Ida" for Taha and the hit "Tellement N'Brick" for Faudel (Khaled contributes "Wahrane Wahrane" and an R&B take on his breakthrough "N'ssi N'ssi" that turns it into an Marvin Gaye-goes-rai number). Perhaps inevitably, it's Khaled, the best-established and best-loved performer, who casts the longest shadow, and Taha, the iconoclast, who seems most in the background, although he does shine given his moments in the spotlight. It's great music that is expansively performed and the album is a commemoration of a moment that's as much historical as musical.
© Chris Nickson /TiVo