Wednesday, October 22, 2008

One Wish List : French Culture Clash

My partner is a college prof who likes to introduce the concept of culture clash at borderlands regions in the world by mixing together vinegar and baking soda on a dish in front of the classroom. What happens? A chemical reaction! Fizz! Bubbles! Foam! Transformation into something new.

I'm a believer that culture clash is producing some of the most interesting music out there these days as populations emigrate, walls are torn down, internet reaches isolated areas, and traditional instruments meet digital technology.

Since my "wish lists" for bands to come to the Cedar are always about a mile long, and because so many of the bands I love are in that "never gonna cross the Atlantic" category so the list never gets any shorter, today's post is going to focus on in on one country where culture clash sometimes brings about some violent headlines...and sometimes gives us some tasty music - France.

Put away any notions of bad French New Wave and check out these three bands, any of which would be very Cedar-friendly, should they ever choose to make the trip.

Let's start in Marsailles, a cultural crossroads for over 2000 years. Check out Watcha Clan rocking "Goumari" from their release earlier this year Diaspora Hi-Fi. Here's what the review in Rootsworld had to say. "..."Goumari," is an absolute monster track: a raging electric guitar line pulses through the song, which sounds like a mutant Moroccan-Tuareg disco. "Goumari" is relentless; the chanting grounds the groove, and feedback occasionally spirals and squalls right above the mix..."

Frontwoman Sista K takes center stage singing the Yiddish songs of her childhood as well as songs in Arabic, Spanish, and French before a backdrop of Afro-Pop guitar licks, beats, percussion and samples. They draw from all over that end of the Mediterranean and the sound includes everything from North African to Gypsy to reggae to rap to dance. Or as the folks at the Calabash site described it "From the Balkan mountains to Mediterranean shores, oral traditions from Maghreb to the London dance scene, Watcha Clan propose a musical and spiritual journey both political and mystical where each member of the group, from different musical backgrounds, brings their skills and their secrets. Gypsy sorcerer, elephant surfer from the mountains... the musicians of this strange cooperative of sound invites you on a voyage of multiple layers. The sound of the entire world intertwining with samplers, or ancient languages, in the image of Hebrew and Arabic, answering to rap styles to be reborn in an energetic style, mixing traditional and cultures to modern expression of electro hip hop."

Here's the full text of the Rootsworld nice review of Diaspora Hi-Fi, hitting some of the same political notes that I did. The BBC says "Drum 'n' bass and reggae are their preferred rhythmic templates, onto which they graft gnawa (Goumari), Balkan gypsy brass and Ashkenazi/Sephardic flavours (Balkan Qoulou, Marashtein, Tchiribim), Egyptian-style strings and rai flute (Les Courbes De Ton Corps), to name a few examples." Watcha Clan did actually cross the ocean to play at the the Droma New York Gypsy Festival last month, but I would love to see them travel a bit deeper into our country sometime soon.

Head northwest and check out Orange Blossom from Nantes. This a cool little promo vid with concert clips interspersed with bits of interviews. Yes, there are subtitles.

What 's going on now with Orange Blossom? They rocked WOMEX in 2006, put out the very cool disc Everything Must Change in 2005. [Then I called it "a soundtrack for the French immigrant experience"] but I'm not sure about their current status. Their former website is a dead link, but their record company still lists them on the roster and says a new disc is coming out in 2008 sometime. Hope so. Anyway, it's a cool video montage withbits from some of their more trance tunes as well as their really driving loud stuff.

Everything Must Change works as a cohesive whole or as a set a wildly disparate tunes. Brooding bass lines underpin samples. Raging guitars take over from careening fiddle. Hand percussion and Arabic melodies give way to lush vocals and string arrangements. Horn charts and electro beats make you get up and shake it. Yeah. Really. But listening to the disc as a whole is like taking a journey, coming around corners to scenes of incredible light and beauty, then turning around to harshness and anger. Culture clash ethno techno. Mmmmm. My favorite kind. Here's a video clip with lots of percussion.
Check out the energy and watch for the fiddler's famous leaps!

Don't ask me why a French band with an Algerian singer, a wild Mexican beats guy, a one very athletic fiddler (I love it when the classically trained ones cross over to the dark side!) and a hand percussion player who's very into African drumming would call themselves "Orange Blossom." Like the old fiddle tune "Orange Blossom Special?" ??? Trying to Google this band is interesting; you get the aforementioned fiddle tune or websites that sell soap. Here is their MySpace; how's your French?

OK, one more band from France and I'm going to quit for the week.

Not too far away in Angers in a sprawling communal household on a farm of sorts live the six current members of the Lo'Jo tribe. They've been around in some form for almost 20 years, incorporating a crazy variety of influence including, but not limited to street performance, French chanson, Afro Beat, Desert Blues, Arabic, funk, Berber, dub, Indian, Gypsy. Sounds like it could be a mish mash, but no. It just sounds like them. Founder Denis Pean's gravelly voice speaks the wise poetry but the B-52s-esque harmonies of the Nid El Mourid sisters are what really make it for me. Fiddle, percussion, piano, bass, kora or clarinet may be part of the mix on any given night. Here's an interview from a few years ago that gives more of the band's history.

Now if a BBC radio review says "If this group comes within 100 miles of where you live, make the trip to see them” you would take that seriously, right? How about knowing that they were one of the founders of the Festival in the Desert? That they're good pals and often tour with Tinariwen? The BBC also give them a World Music Award in 2007, noting "Their magpie mix of chanson with funk, dub/reggae, North and West African sounds and touches of Gypsy music constitutes a candid sonic portrait of a truly polyglot nation, where the majority of the population (56%) claim to have a foreign background."

I'm just going to wonder for moment that all three of these bands have their website in French, not English. You can think about what they mean by that. (I'm kinda inclined to say "More power to ya!")

Although I am a fan of all three bands, none of them really sound like each other. Judging by this little sample from my wish list, you might imagine that I'm into high energy culture clash ethno techno with female vocals.

Sometimes, yeah.

You can think about what I mean by that.

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I'm psyched for the Crooked Still show at the Cedar on Halloween!

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Hoven Droven put up some very fun photos from their Nordic Roots 10 adventures on the website. Check them out! Thanks guys!

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