World music matters - Zakouska: French quartet spiking sounds of the Mediterranean
Zakouska is a Russian hors d'oeuvre you knock back with a glass of vodka, but the band serve up a meatier dish. Their mastery of the violin, lyra, accordion and guitar, coupled with great complicity as a quartet, means they can take sounds from the Mediterranean, throw in some country guitar and clucking hens, and it makes perfect sense and exciting listening.They share their third album La Criée.
Elodie Messmer (violin), Arthur Bacon (accordion), Aline Haelberg (violin/Cretan lyra) and Fabien Bucher (guitars) are classically-trained musicians. They met and began playing together a decade ago in Strasbourg, nurtured within the Assoce Pikante collective.
Their first album, Musique Roumaine Amoureuse, was largely reinterpretations of Romanian gypsy music; on the second, A Dos de Géants, they wove the occasional original melody into music from the Balkans. La Criée (Fish market) is, you might say, their coming-out album: original pieces inspired by their travels in Mediterranean ports in Crete, Corsica, Marseille, Athens and Istanbul.
Aspasia is a tribute to a woman bar owner in the south of Crete and gives pride of place to the lyra: a beautiful pear-shaped three-stringed lyre similar to the violin but which you play with the back of your nails rather than fingertips. Haelberg fell in love with it but admits "it's quite difficult," to master.
La Valse des Vagues (waltz of the waves) is a wonderful guitar and accordion two-hander, inspired by "a Greek-Turkish mode called saba but played in a more western way with influences from gypsy jazz and musette," says its composer, Bucher. "It's a sort of meeting between a musette accordionist and Greek buzuki player in a bar in Athens."
Lautari gypsy music, heady rebetiko blues, jazz... Zakouska revel in experimentation giving full vent to their desire for both slow, wistful melodies and more frenetic, turbo violin.
They have a wicked sense of humour too. A few appreciative hens found their way into the mix and make a notable contribution to Cowboy. Click on the photo above to listen to the hens and much more.
Zakouska official site here
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World music matters - Glen Hansard's new album born and nurtured in Paris
Glen Hansard wrote his 4th solo album, This Wild Willing, on a residency in Paris. The city was an inspiration for the Irish-born Oscar-winning singer-songwriter. He tells RFI about feeling new freedom and anonymity in Paris, working with Iranian musicians and words of wisdom from Joni Mitchell.
In the summer of 2017, Hansard found himself in a city he didn’t know, surrounded by people and language he didn’t understand and far from the sea and mountains of his native Dublin which have been a constant source of inspiration. Paris allowed him to reconnect to the grime of urban life, to stop milking the idiom of the sea.
“The sea has been a huge part of my vernacular as a songwriter but you can draw on the same well too much,” he says.
“Paris is sitting in its juice, there’s so much history, you can really put your hand into the sky and pull out a line.” He pulled out many.
A year later he returned to record the album and in yet another chance encounter of "the Paris experience" ended up working with the Khoshravesh brothers from Iran whose sounds seemed strangely familiar - he explains why in the interview - along with a couple of experimental rock musicians.
“I knew I was dealing with a band I knew not how to control and that excited me.”
The juices flowed and This Wild Willing is the result of those largely improvised sessions: an edgy album, heavy on electric guitar, more resonant of his early years as lead singer with The Frames.
I've looked at clouds...
But the sea and weather vernacular are not dead and buried. Praise be. He describes the sound of the daf frame drum used by the Persian musicians “like clouds coming in”.
And the last track on the album Leave a light (he plays it live on the programme) is in tribute to his friend Danny Sheehy who died at sea shortly after they and two other musician friends completed a five-week journey along the Bay of Biscay. A magical trip on which “nobody showed a passport and the rules were no money, no beds, no complaining".
Music has been Hansard’s obsession since he left school aged 13 to try and make a career out of busking. In 2008 he won the Academy Award along with Czech Markéta Irglová for Best Original Song for 'Falling Slowly, he's starred in Alan Parker's 1991 film The Commitments, he's played alongside Bruce Springsteen, jammed with Van Morrison, toured with Bob Dylan and was one of the only non-Canadian musicians invited to Joni Mitchell's 70th and 75th birthday celebrations. He's had a turbulent life and sounds contented at last.
So could he give it all up? Listen in.
Glen Hansard is in concert at Le Casino de Paris on 27 April and touring extensively in Europe and the U.S.
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World music matters - Julia Sarr: breaking the codes in African song
Senegalese-born singer Julia Sarr has become one of the most sought after backing vocalists in France. Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Lokua Kanza and Francis Cabrel figure among the big names who’ve called on her powerful yet delicate mezzo soprano voice. With two solo albums and a third in the making, she’s building a successful solo career too, blending jazz and traditional percussion with her native Wolof. She talks to RFI about breaking the codes, working with her icon Miriam Makeba and the big break she got playing at Carnegie Hall in 2005.
Sarr is working on a third album with French pianist, composer and percussionist Fred Soul. She promises a similar jazz vibe with piano and percussion, but also some “sophisticated” Senegalese mbalax.
Prayers, the album’s first release, is out today.
“It’s about being in Europe or anywhere in the world, far from family,” she tells RFI, “and especially far from my mother who is getting old; I couldn’t really take care of her. So the song is really a social question for every migrant, everyone who goes abroad.”
“I don’t write happy songs,” Sarr says with a smile after singing Djelima (prayer) from her second album Daraludul Yow at RFI. Watch her in the video above.
“It says ‘there’s hair on my head, but inside there’s my spirit’. It’s a song about keeping faith even when life is really hard sometimes.”
The song Adjana (heaven) was inspired by the feeling of loss at the death of her sister and Sentoo (waiting for a child) “is about a woman taking legal action against nature” when she discovers she’s infertile.
Breaking the codes
Sarr partnered with French guitarist Patrice Larose for her debut album Set Luna (so I’ve observed) and was given a huge break when Youssou N’Dour invited them to play at Carnegie Hall in 2005 for his “Fresh Face of African Music” concert.
For her second album, Daraludul Yow, she was accompanied by five different pianists. It was described, quite aptly, as "a vision of the piano in the savanna".
She defends her mix of Wolof, traditional percussion and the quintessentially western piano.
“Africans can be allowed to do another music, not specially folk or traditional [...] it's much larger than what people can imagine.
"I try to casser les codes [break the codes], it’s really important not to think that Africans should do this music and not something else, it’s not fair.”
Julia Sarr is in concert at the festival Rares Talents, Montreuil, 6 April 2019.
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World music matters - Altan: passionate trailblazers for Irish traditional music
Altan are without question one of Ireland's great traditional music groups. They talk to RFI about The Gap of Dreams, their 13th studio album, why no two reels are the same, and giving their all whether playing to huge crowds or just one man. "Music is like eating and drinking," says Ni Mhaonaigh, "it’s part of what we are".
Founded by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Frankie Kennedy some three decades ago, the five-piece band has packed out the world's biggest concert halls and played for American presidents. But they remain modest, confident in their skills as consummate musicians.
And the tradition of passing songs and music down through families in their native County Donegal continues. Ni Mhaonaigh's daughter Nia has composed "Nia's Jig" for the album and guitarist Mark Kelly's son Sam "The Beekeeper".
"They’re getting the bug," Ní Mhaonaigh laughs.
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World music matters - France's Joseph Chedid embraces family heritage on album Source
When you're passionate about music and art, but your big brother M is a star in France, your dad Louis is a successful musician and your grandmother was a much respected poet and thinker, what do you do? French singer-songwriter Joseph Chedid talks to RFI about finding his own voice within the famed Chedid family as he releases the second part of his album Source.
In 2015 Chedid released his debut album Maison Rock under his second name Selim, followed by an en famille album Louis, Mathieu, Joseph et Anne Chedid after their successful nationwide tour.
His second, Source, published under his own name Joseph Chedid, marks a kind of coming out as he explores his place within the multi-talented family.
"It's my quest to find my path, my identity", the 33-year old singer, writer and guitarist told RFI. "It talks about finding some answers and some light in the darkness."
Comparisons with his exuberant older brother M (Mathieu Chedid) are easy to make, but not always easy to live with.
"We are different persons and I have just have to take my time to make my music," he says while admitting "it's hard to be yourself and to be confident and to grow with time, like a tree".
Reveal your true self... gradually
Chedid produced Source himself and chose to release the 12 songs on three separate EPs before the full album in June to generate interest in his story. A deliberately slower form of publication that felt "natural" to him.
Part 2, out today, is heavy on electric guitar and includes the upbeat Dévoilez-vous (Reveal your true self).
"No matter how people look at you, accept your body... be generous with your beauty," Chedid sings nonchalantly before breaking out into the catchy falsetto "dévoilez-vous" refrain.
Bipolaire (bi-polar) begins with Chedid quietly lamenting "I go from laughter to tears like Baudelaire," before giving full vent to his passion for electric guitar for the best part of three-minutes.
Part 1, published in December 2018, features the ballad "Guerir" (Heal).
"If you're suffering, having taken the wrong path, I'm going to heal you with a flick of my magic wand... I will erase your wounds with a stroke of my silken glove," Chedid sings, as the video shows him walking, alone, through a forest of pine trees.
An artistic project in several dimensions
Source isn't just an album, but an artistic project with music, painting and cinema. There'll be an exhibition of paintings accompanying each song, a film Guérir, the album and the live shows.
"With my brother and my family, we all have cards [to play], some are easy some more difficult," Chedid explains. "But the question is 'what do I want to do, what do I love to do'? And that's music and art. I want to express some stories and live [my] music, without too much reflection, too many barriers.
Joseph Chedid is in concert at Les Trois Baudets 4 April, 4 May, 2019.
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And watch the Chedids en famille here at Victoires de la Musique awards 2016