*This is the second installment of my new blog “Nobody Listens to This”. You can find last week’s by clicking here, or by simply scrolling down on the page.
My knowledge of the French chanson group Makali begins almost four years ago on a dreary Saturday morning. I was a freshman in college and had lazily woken up to a cold, grey Indiana weekend (full disclosure: it may not have even been “morning” by this point). Per residence hall rules I didn’t have the luxury of toasting my pop tarts in my own room, so I walked down the hall to use my dorm’s communal toaster. While preparing my highly nutritional breakfast, I decided to surf the channels on the university’s cable set-up. I landed on TV5 Monde, the worldwide version of a French station.
As I sat in the Foster Quad lounge eating pop tarts and watching TV, a program called TV5 Acoustic started, and an in-studio performance by Makali started. I was instantly taken. I rushed back downstairs to my room and read everything I could about the group online. By the end of the week I had ordered their CD from Amazon.com.
Makali is a six-piece band from southern France who could best be described as falling within the genre of chanson, a sort of French folk music characterized by lyric-driven melodies that reflect the French language (most other modern French pop music follows English-language speech rhythms). Makali itself began in 2003 as a trio comprised of vocalists Armelle Ita and Barnabé Saïd-albert and guitarist Andrea Papi. After the group began performing live cellist Audrey Saturi, bassist Cleps Puig, and drummer Nico Rew joined the lineup to fill out the band, with Ita also adding clarinet lines and Saïd-albert playing rhythm guitar behind Papi’s electric lead.
Makali’s first significant exposure came from the use of their song “Il Faut du Temps au Temps” in the soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s 2006 film “A Good Year”. Makali continuing touring and performing throughout France and released their debut albumDe La Chanson et Puis C’est Toutin 2008, and my breakfast-and-French-television epiphany happened early in 2009.
De La Chanson et Puis C’est Toutis an effortless album to listen to. Bright and full arrangements that draw equally from the band’s acoustic roots and their diverse and expansive instrumentation characterize most of the tracks on the album, but each has its own distinct groove and melody. The songs themselves are all instantly catchy and often seductive, and the intertwining male and female vocal lines blend well together. The sound of Makali owes as much to classic French singers like Édith Piaf and Jacques Brel as to Caribbean reggae rhythms and American jazz and swing sensibilities. The result is an album that the listener can easily lay into his or her background – until the melodies and rhythms lead to uncontrollable dancing.
De La Chanson et Puis C’est Tout alternates tempo every few songs, from the upbeat romps of “Mais Bon” and “Comme le Mal Emporté” to the low-key swings of “En Papier Mâché” and “On S’fait du Mal”. There are moments of levity, and the emotional high note of “Assise Là”. I don’t personally speak French, but the dense textures, well-written melodies, and sensual voices of the singers tell me all that I need to know about Makali. De La Chanson et Puis C’est Toutis an album that requires multiple listens: not only are there layers to each groove that fly under the radar, but by the time the listener has reached the end of the disc there is almost a nostalgia for the events along the road from the lead-off of “Il Faut du Temps au Temps” to the closing hidden track that plays after “Je Te Suis Parmi Les Gens”.
As far as I’m aware, Makali hasn’t performed as a group since July 2009, but various members are still active. Vocalist/Clarinetist Armelle Ita has released a number of electronic and dub reggae-influenced tunes through her myspace and soundcloud profiles. The tracks are interesting and do well to spotlight Ita’s unmistakable vocal chops, but lack the vibe that Makali captured. It doesn’t appear that Ita has released an album that is available in the U.S., but it is encouraging to know that she is continuing to write, record, and release music.
De La Chanson et Puis C’est Tout is an impressively versatile album, and one that is fit to be listened to in any number of situations. Whether they are the center of attention or the sonic backdrop to everyday life, Makali presents a light and airy type of music that seamlessly blends a number of easily recognizable genres into a version of chanson that is both soothing and exciting. While Makali may not still exist as a live band, their one studio album is still available through several online shopping markets. Other than their occasional appearance on breakfast-time TV programming at universities and one song that made its way into an American film, Makali still lacks much exposure on this side of the Atlantic. Given all of this, taking a listen to Makali at their website or jumping straight to a purchase from Amazon seems a worthwhile endeavor. Nobody is listening to Makali right now, but I believe that the blend achieved by the musicians in the band and the sound they put forth is one everyone should discover, whether it’s accompanied by pop tarts or not.