Brian Eno rarely plays live, but this Sunday he’ll be on stage at a charity gig, playing punk Arabic music. He explains why
The Independent, 25 November 2005
I will be appearing on stage with Rachid Taha at a benefit concert on Sunday, singing live backing vocals in Arabic (Rachid has helped me with the pronunciation). It is mainly to raise money for the Stop the War Coalition, but it also shows that a bunch of Muslims and so-called Christians can quite easily work together on projects like this. I rather like the flyer we sent out, with a picture of Rachid looking like a dirty Arab giving me a big kiss on the cheek. I also support Rachid’s music for its ability to disrupt. It’s not because it makes a specific political statement, but I think it would probably be the greatest social revolution in America if American kids started liking Muslim music, like they once loved Elvis or reggae.
You can’t imagine how happy it makes me feel when I am up there playing this punk Arabic music, live with Taha’s band. I don’t often perform live these days – the last time I was on stage in Britain was about four years ago, with the Brazilian Caetano Veloso – because being on stage doesn’t interest me generally. But I have played with Rachid, who is an Algerian-born singer-songwriter, three times this year in Paris, Moscow and St Petersburg. I have enjoyed that more than any other stage experiences I’ve ever had.
This is because it is great being in a big band – there are seven in Rachid’s – without much responsibility. There is so much energy to this new music – I call it “punk Arab consciousness” – and I just wish all those guitar bands doing Talking Heads remakes would wake up and listen to what’s going on in the rest of the world.
I don’t expect you will see a concert quite like this for some time. Mick Jones will be coming on for “Rock the Casbah”, because of course, Rachid recorded his own version, “Rock el Casbah”. The line-up for this concert – with Nitin Sawhney and Imogen Heap – is pretty amazing
A friend of mine, the guitar player Leo Abrahams, will also be appearing. His guitar feeds into my processors, and then I can do things that no guitar has ever had done to it before. It sounds like live cut-and-paste with Arabic inflections. I’ve been experimenting a bit with this sound with Herbie Hancock this year, originally for his album Possibilities, but the track wasn’t used in the end. It was probably too weird for them.
My involvement in this concert isn’t really so much about politics as it is humanitarian. There is a tragedy unfolding. It’s quite as bad as some of the other awful tragedies that have happened this last year, the tsunami and the earthquakes, but it is one we created. I really think we should be trying to do something about it.
The reason I really resent this war, apart from the fact it has hurt a lot of people and caused chaos in the Middle East, is that it has so far cost at least $200bn. According to the World Health Organisations estimates, for that amount of money we could have eradicated malaria from the planet, given everybody on the planet clean water, given every Aids victim in the world the best treatment available. We could have done all those things and we still would have had change. Is this how we are going to spend our resources in the future – on these ridiculous vanity projects?
I have never used my own music as a mechanism of protest. I am not interested in using music in that way – but I think all music has a political dimension because it suggests a way of being. Just as reggae suggested a world where you chill out, in a society in which is desperately driving consumers to be obedient workers in order that they earn enough money to buy goods, Rachid’s mix of punk Arabic music says: “Let’s take the world by the scruff of the neck, the whole of it, and shake it up”. People may think that because Rachid is a Muslim, he is therefore knee-jerk anti-American, but actually he is anti-Arab as much as he is anti-American. He is very coherent when he talks about the failings of the Arab states. His music makes people think: “Do I live in the little world of white rock’n’roll, or do I live in this big world where everything gets absorbed and thrown back out?
What a lot of Arabic music is about is a different way of moving your body – there is a spinning and whirling motion, rather than stomping and getting down. If you listen to some of the melodies in Rachid’s tracks, they are very complex. To try to remember them as a Western musician is very hard. They are very elaborate. It is a whole different way of thinking about music. So instead of polarising the West against the Islamic world, Rachid’s music merges the two. This is accepting and surrendering to each other’s sensibilities – and if we can do this through music, surely we can try to do that in the world.
The Stop the War Coalition benefit concert is at the Astoria, London, on Sunday (www.stopwar.org.uk; 020-7278 6694)