Writing about the French globetrotting troubadours Lo’Jo requires some effort, as any music journalist familiar with the sextet will attest. A dictionary is required along with a sense of childhood whimsy. All preconceived concepts of world music must be tossed out so that an emphasis on “playing” music comes through loud and clear. When it comes to describing Lo’Jo to my friends and colleagues, not to mention readers of my articles, I’ve been stumbling over words since 1998 when I first caught these musicians on a small indoor stage at WOMAD USA.
I wasn’t into world music yet nor did I have any idea that over a decade later I would blog about the healing power of music. Lo’Jo’s enchanting music elegantly brought many cultures onto a single stage, thus proving that we could all get along if we spoke the universal language. I woke me up from a collective trance. And since 1998 and 2001, (the 2nd appearance of Lo’Jo at WOMAD USA), I have been astounded at what this small group of determined and passionate French musicians could achieve.
The musicians have traveled to places many of us had no idea existed, they co-produced a music festival in the middle of the Sahara Desert with nomadic Tuareg people and touched the hearts of music lovers worldwide. Who can even guess how many air travel miles Lo’Jo has accrued. More important is how many hearts they have captured with this universal music.
However, Lo’Jo disappeared off of the North American radar in recent years. The group gave its last Canadian performances in 2003 and its last US performances in 2002. I was pleased to hear that the musicians are returning to North America, even if only for 4 performances (Toronto, Montreal and New York). If you read this article and you happen to live in any of the above cities, go see Lo’Jo.
I caught up with bandleader Denis Pèan as Lo’Jo prepares to hop over the pond and reconnect with its North American fans.
WME: It has been 8 years since Lo’Jo toured the U.S. and 7 years for North America (Canada). Why has Lo’Jo not toured in North America for that many years?
Denis Pèan: We don’t have agents in North America. And we had so many (other) countries to visit and things to do and experience.
WME: Lo’Jo has recorded at least 2 albums during that time. Will any of the albums be released in North America?
DP: It’s the same thing: no tour no release, no release no tour!
WME: What changes have occurred with Lo’Jo over the past 8 years?
DP: We change the drummer. The girls and many of us had babies. At the beginning of the band we became our own producer and publisher. We used to receive artists in Lo’Jo’s house (Mûrs-érigné, western France) giving energy, political and social implications close our own area.
We had an amazing project in Caucasus “Babel Caucase” in a way to meet Georgian and Chechen people. The band travelled into Laos, Morocco, Algeria, Australia, U.K, New Zealand, Slovakia, Latvia, etc… We created the big circus show “Lo’Jo Music Circus”. We drunk good wine with spirituals sisters and wrote poetries about futility or eternity. We had a change of the French President–it’s a pity for culture and intelligence.
WME: I know that Lo’Jo made sacrifices in support of the festival au desert and Tinariwen, both of which have reached worldwide success. Does Lo’Jo feel like proud parents for helping the festival and Tinariwen in the beginning? In a way, you did give birth to the festival and recorded Tinariwen’s first album.
DP: Lo’Jo gave birth to the first “Festival au désert” like an innocent child drawing his dream without imagining the impact. The best thing in this incredible adventure was the friendship we kept with Tinariwen and other Sahara nomads. In early May we played in Bamako and we appreciated the mixed crowd of European, northern and southern Malians; music makes it. Music provides education for each one, a collective inheritance and we feel great to act as a junction for a destiny.
WME: Tell me about Lo’Jo’s current music. Have you added any new genres or musical flavors over the years? What are they?
DP: All the music I met gave me a good or a bad fate but most exciting for me is to create a theater of sensations, an emotional possibility. I would like to play my own genre, to paint a specific instant in an illumination with a woodblock or a funky symphonic orchestra with a tear of Indian Ocean or a Persian rhyme.
WME: Finally, do you have any West Coast dates planned for North America?
DP: We don’t have concrete project except the concerts in Toronto, Montreal and New York. I hope we will return in the West Coast soon.
June 12, 2010, Luminato Festival (Queen’s Park North), Toronto, ON, Canada
June 13, 2010, La prise de la Bastille, Montreal, QC, Canada
June 18, 2010, Zebulon, Brooklyn, New York, US
June 20, 2010, SummerStage, Central Park, New York, US (3:00 p.m. and FREE)
The SummerStage concert also features Salif Keita (Mali) and Tabou Combo
Recordings available: Boheme de Cristal (World Village, 1997), Mojo Radio (World Village 468003, 2002), L’une des siens (Emma Productions/Universal, 2002), Au Cabaret Sauvage (World Village 468007, 2002), Ce soir-la (World Village 468027, 2004), Bazar Savant (2006), and Tu Connais Lo’jo (2007)
(This article is from The Whole Music Experience blog).
Patricia Herlevi is a former music journalist turned music researcher. She is especially interested in raising music consciousness. She is looking for an agent and publisher for her book Whole Music (Soul Food for the Mind Body Spirit). She founded and hosts the blog
The Whole Music Experience and has contributed to World Music Central since 2003.