A Rough Guide To The Music Of France

Various Artists

A Rough Guide to the Music of France(World music Network RGNET 1111, 2003)

Back in the mid-70s I heard a lot of the French band Malicorne featuring, among others, Gabriel Yacoub. They sang and played music from various parts of France, utilised instruments which were sometimes unfamiliar and were a totally mesmerising experience.

Now Yacoub has a presence on this wide-ranging compilation. One of his two pieces is Le Garcon Jardinier a song from his Malicorne days. And I have to say his voice has grown even better with the passage of time. His other track, La Mariole, doesn’t actually feature him. He wrote it and invited various bagpipers and hurdy-gurdy player, Gilles Chabenet to perform it. It is a fascinating sound both solemn and uplifting at the same time and it’s prompted me to go back to investigate Yacoub’s more recent work.So what else is there ? The quintessential voice of Edith Piaf, supported by orchestra, chorus, accordions, the whole works. It may sound a little dated but it is still attractive. At the other extreme, Massilia Sound System combine turntables/electronics with oud and rap on a reggae-ish workoput, Mefi. They mix influences comfortably and their sound is undeniably contemporary, reflecting something of this multi-cultural nation. Striving to sound contemporary, according to the cd notes, Les Ogres De Barback are a young band whose impassioned singing and spirited accordion are very listenable but not what I would have called very contemporary.
There is a great deal of variety elsewhere: an adapted Latin liturgical text sung acapella by Corsican band A Filetta, a lively example of a bourree from 1935, some gypsy guitar and violin from Romane and Angelo Debarre that swings like crazy and acknowledges Django Reinhardt’s influence. Of course no French compilation would be complete without a Breton presence. Here it is provided by pipe band Bagad Men Ha Tan who let loose the inimitably thrilling skirl of the bombard and pipes. They are joined by Senegalese drummer, Doudou N’Diaye Rose who lends it an extra force. Another Breton staple is the call and response singing, kan ha diskan, here represented by mother and daughter Eugenie Goadec and Louise Ebrel. It is a fine example of the genre – the Goadecs have been doing this for years! It is good to hear the tradition being kept alive.

For anyone wanting a sample of French music this is an interesting and diverse set covering both native traditions and the other cultural influences that colour France’s musical output.