African Soul Rebels, The Anvil, Basingstoke

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The Independent Culture

This opening gig of the African Soul Rebels package tour - reminiscent of a Sixties' soul review show, but featuring one-time residents of Colonel Gaddafi's training camps - promises to be a memorable night.

This opening gig of the African Soul Rebels package tour - reminiscent of a Sixties' soul review show, but featuring one-time residents of Colonel Gaddafi's training camps - promises to be a memorable night. The line-up comprises: the Touareg stars of the Festival of the Desert, Tinariwen; Senegalese rappers Daara J; and the veteran Rai star Rachid Taha.

Tinariwen opened the evening, their heavy bass-rich music flowing like an interior monologue. They are largely static, though singer-percussionist Hassan is liable to break out into Bez-style freaky dancing, hooded tracksuit exchanged for silver-blue robes and black turban, as the guitars, bass and percussion chop out those intent, repetitive rhythms. There are dark, still spaces in their music, where the chords twist and fall away, their midnight desert blues proving to be as spell-binding as ever.

There is an intensity in their presence of a band that learnt its craft not on stages but around camp fires in Libya and southern Algeria. The legacy of those years seems to have blown all extraneous matter away from their music. They closed with one of several new songs, the acoustic guitar more to the fore, adding new tonal levels to the band's sound. On tonight's performance, they proved more than ever to be one of the most exciting bands around, and shouldn't be missed.

Daara J come on like balls of energy, reeling their take on rap back to its African sources, their lyrics hot with the street life of Dakar, and sweetened by Senegalese harmonies. With a DJ controlling the boards behind them, they dominate the stage and the audience, who are up on their feet for the duration. They rap in a mixture of English and their native Wolof, and there is a kaleidoscopic vividness to their songs. On the likes of "Boomerang" and "Identite", their message is toned by a pragmatic positivity and wit that's in sharp contrast to the overblown corporate nihilism of much US rap.

In dark glasses and a beret, perched on a stool next to his oub player and guitarist, bass percussion and second guitar driving up from the rear, Rachid Taha opens his set with "Mamachi" from the latest album. Then the beret and jacket come off. "Kasbah" comes early in the set and the audience is again on its feet.

Taha's latest album, Tekatoi (Who Are You), is a strident and streetwise collection of monologues, exhortations, observations and accusations, all delivered with vehement passion. New songs feature prominently, Taha exhorting the audience with his gravely guttural rebel yell. The band creates a thick, sometimes thunderous sound and it's more about raw power than musical subtlety. All that distinguishes him as world music rather than rock or dance is the fact that he doesn't sing in English.

Some believe that world music is all about tradition. It isn't. It's all about music, and tonight was a rare opportunity to explore three very different avenues of Africa's newest music in one night.

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