Nobody Listens to…Taïro

NOTE: Welcome to my first post written right here on the wordpress.  It feels nice.  Please keep reading.

NOTE: Yes, I did import and archive all of my previous posts, so you can find everything here.  The Tumblr still exists, but you can get all of the “Nobody Listens to” you want right here.

NOTE: There are hyperlinks all over the place here, but I realize they can be a bit tough to see.  They’re a dark brown color that I can’t seem to change, so keep an eye out for things like this that you can click on.

So according to my site tracker (still not sure if this is a great tool I now have access to or just another corner of the internet that’s going to drag my self-esteem down) literally zero people viewed my blog yesterday.  Hopefully we can avoid that in the future.  With that in mind, I need to write about soul music again.  This week I turn my focus to a young French singer who has truly mastered the sound and aesthetics of a particular type of soul music (sound familiar?) and whose first full-length album has been among my dearest discoveries.  This week no one is listening to Taïro.

If Ben l’Oncle Soul is the young French avatar of 1960s American Soul, Taïro is the same shifted forward thirty years.  In both his music and his smooth urban style, the French-Moroccan singer reminds me of the R&B and neo-Soul artists of the 1990s.  While Taïro himself seems to have drawn his inspiration from more from Dancehall and Ragga than modern R&B, the association I immediately make as I listen to his music is more R. Kelly than Buju Banton.

I actually found Taïro, as seems to be hilariously recurrent, through a lucky mistake.  While trawling youtube for clips of another French group, Makali, I kept coming up with results of a song by someone named “Taïro”.   Exhausting my search for acoustic chanson tunes, I gave the hip-hop-tinged Taïro song “On S’fait du Mal” a try.  I was instantly hooked.

From what I can piece together in bios that have been poorly translated from French, Taïro is the son of a Moroccan immigrant-rights activist father and a French sociology professor mother.  Born Ishmael Jolé-Menebhi, the artist now known as Taïro grew up in Paris in the 1980s, and actually initially tried his hand at an acting career in the early 90s before discovering dancehall and soundsystem subcultures and pursuing a music career.  Though he adopted the moniker of Taïro (a transliteration of the English term “Tyro”, for his novice status among his newly-adopted dancehall brethren) and began appearing with bands on records as early as 1996, Taïro didn’t release a fully-realized musical effort until 2007.  After moderate success with records and live shows, the singer-songwriter recorded his first full-length, professionally-produced album, Choeurs et Ame, in 2009.  This is still his most well-received and well-distributed work to date.

While I tend to peg Taïro as a soul artist, the dancehall and reggae influence that shaped his experience as an artist so dramatically is very clear in his music.  Heavy emphasis is often put on the bass lines of his songs, and staccato guitar skanks and one-drop drums aren’t at all uncommon.  The music moves away from this however when live drums are replaced by a drum machine, those guitar chops fall on the beat instead of between beats, and a chorus of backup singers begin sweetly vocalizing behind the songwriter’s crooning and pleading.  Elements of Dancehall, Soul, Reggae, Jazz, and Hip-hop are all combined in Taïro’s music; any fully-orchestrated music where the lead singer’s voice is central is fair game to be absorbed in the artist’s oeuvre.  For the songs of Choeurs et Ame, the real intrigue of the music actually lies in the small touches and artfully-selected pieces of the background.  A smooth sax solo, a tasteful mournfully wailing guitar lick, and surprising sound effects and patches are really what make Taïro’s music special and captivating to listen to.

None of this should discount the singer’s voice and lyrics and how important he is to the music.  Whether he is softly rapping, raising his voice in a reggae yell, or throwing an unexpected and surprisingly fitting touch of autotune, Taïro has a voice that seems perfectly fitted for the style of music he plays and writes.  At all times the songwriter sounds smooth, as though his lyrics are just rolling over the lightly danceable grooves that are played and programmed underneath him.  The almost understated delivery that Taïro lends to his songs gives them a subtle, sneaky quality to their depth and skill; it’s not until the moment is fully upon the listener that one can appreciate just how hard to hit this note is or how fast the singer delivered that rap verse.  The backing vocals and guest cameos Taïro brings in also do a great job of adding to the almost singer-songwriter-like presence he has in his songs, as rappers connect Taïro to the twinkling piano loops and stacked harmonies of a backing chorus echo bass lines and horn arrangements in dreaded-out reggae numbers.

Almost every Taïro song kicks off in one direction before revealing itself to be a completely different sort of tune.  The light organ syncopation that begins “Je ne t’Aime Plus“, the opening track on Choeurs et Ame, quickly gives way to a mid-tempo drum machine beat and a string arrangement.  Similarly, the drawn-out wah-wah guitar of “Jamais Eu” suddenly is filling in gaps between a persistent one-drop reggae groove.  Even the standout “l’Animal Geint” swells from a simple acoustic tune (though with deceptively fast lyrics) into a layered groove with complex vocal arrangements.  Whether it’s ostensibly rap, R&B, reggae, or the quasi-hispanocaribbean of “Mama“, the songs of Choeurs et Ame all offer a great deal more depth than a precursory listen might suggest.

  With his perfectly manicured five o’clock shadow and meticulously-placed dreadlocks, Taïro easily looks the part of any of the slow-jams-and-sappy-love-songs R&B singers that American audiences came to know and love during the early 1990s.  To look further, however, reveals a much more musically diverse catalog that increasingly plays up the singer’s interest in modern Caribbean dancehall music and culture.  In fact, Taïro’s latest release, Amen, sees the artist playing up that Jamaican influence with a track dubbed “Bonne Weed” and a quintessentially French take on the wildly popular “Me Hold Yuh” riddim*.  While there’s no mistaking Taïro or his music as authentically or directly Caribbean, to assume as much would really miss the point.  Despite the almost overbearing adoption of musical ideas and subject matter from dancehall that his music has recently bent towards, Taïro is still the son of an immigrant who sees reggae and its related forms as a music that speaks to and for marginalized people all over the world.  Following Taïro on twitter and facebook gives the listener the added dimension of seeing an artist who is very conscious of the idea of urban style, but reflects with a legitimate ideology.  Nobody is listening to Taïro right now, but the subtle touches- both musical and stylistic- that the artist has woven into his personal blend of modern R&B and reggae makes him quite an interesting subject and a smooth, enjoyable listen.

*This probably deserves a footnote: a riddim is, in Jamaican music, a recorded musical track that is used and re-used several times by different artists to record different songs in a process referred to as versioning.

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NEW PAGE

So I’ve decided to move my blog here from my tumblr.  I still like my old page, but I’ve realized that for what I want to do with this blog, the format and content expectations here on WordPress fit a bit better.  You can even sign up now for my posts to be emailed directly to you.  So here we are.

I’ve gone ahead and transferred all of my previous “Nobody Listens to” posts, so for anyone who’s new to the blog, my past entries are all still easy to find here.

Aside from that, a few updates on some of the artists I’ve written about:

Sol.illaquists of Sound are releasing their new album (the third and final chapter of their “listener trilogy”) tonight through their website.

K’naan‘s new full-length album God, Country, or the Girl is due out…soon.  All of the online sources I can find list May 1st as a release date, but the album definitely hasn’t come out yet.  So stay tuned.

Of Monsters and Men are huge (relatively speaking) now.  They’re continuing to add and announce tour dates both in North America and Europe.

-As I mentioned in my post about them yesterday, Among Criminals are currently shooting their first music video, and their brand new album is available electronically and as a hard copy through their website.

That about wraps it up.  I hope you all continue reading and listening, and I’ll keep writing about something new each week.

P.S. If anyone knows how to change the color of my hyperlinks, please let me know. At the moment they’re a little to close in color to normal text, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to fix that.

Nobody Listens to…Among Criminals

There may be a little bit of pressure writing about a band when I know that at least one of its members will read this.  Having said that, when I remember that I watched these guys play acoustically in a park in my hometown when the Dallas stop of their first national tour was cancelled, I can breathe a bit easier.  In any case, this week brings you the best act to come out of Philadelphia since Will Smith: hard-rocking and reggae-grooving Among Criminals.

Among Criminals

I was still in high school when I first heard Among Criminals.  At the time I was pretty plugged into the community of fans that followed the band State Radio (read: I geeked out reading and occasionally posting on the band’s fan forum), and heard about a really great group out of Philadelphia that not only had some great music, but made a point of being accessible to anyone who followed the group.  I followed the group’s progress, downloaded their albums, and struck up an online correspondence with the band through the myspace page that they personally managed. 

According to Ryan Gaughan, Among Criminals’ singer and guitarist who was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the group, he and the bassist known only as “Bean” were childhood friends who reunited as bandmates upon returning to Philadelphia after time in Boston and Las Vegas, respectively.  While in Boston attending Berklee College of Music Gaughan met drummer Jarrod Pedone, who happened to come into the market for a band at the fortunate moment that Gaughan and Bean were looking to round out a band.  Among Criminals was born by fire when Gaughan introduced his prospective rhythm section immediately before the group’s first show in Trenton, New Jersey.  The trio hasn’t looked back since.

Gaughan truly has found a way to live the dream.  After Among Criminals’ early rehearsals, the three decided that they didn’t have anything better going on, bought a van, and proceeded to play roughly four hundred shows in three years (“that number inflated depending on who we talk to!” reveals Gaughan).  After three self-produced albums and sharing bills with State Radio, SOJA, Dirty Heads, and Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys, Among Criminals went for broke (literally) and recorded their first professionally produced work.  As I write this the band is in Los Angeles shooting their first-ever music video.

The three shaggy-headed members of Among Criminals each brings a wild energy to the group’s recordings.  Gaughan lists 90s alternative rock giants such as Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters as playing as much a role in the band’s musical heritage as punk and reggae acts The Clash and the Police.  Each song is as likely to settle into a hard-edged reggae bounce or a hot latin groove as it is rise into a distorted and blistering rock song; for that matter several of Among Criminals’ songs boast all of the above. Pedone is an impressively fluid drummer, and shifts styles somewhat effortlessly as the group’s varied music demands.  Bean seems constantly in the pocket, and ensures that the bass guitar demands as much attention as any other aspect of the power trio.  Gaughan remains in the center, his soft vocals juxtaposed with his virtuosic brand of Joe-Strummer-meets-Carlos-Santana-on-amphetamines lead guitar work

All of this accompanies the righteous anger and hope beyond hope that the highly political and social lyrics of the music contains.  The group has no qualms about wearing their beliefs and ideologies on their collective sleeve, and Gaughan’s calls for an end to violence, war, and political corruption fall in line with both a musical style that is recognizably influenced by The Clash and Rage Against the Machine and a social stance that has led to the group’s placement on bills with Tom Morello and Anti-Flag (Among Criminals signed on for two shows to benefit Iraq Veterans Against War that never happened, much to Gaughan’s chagrin).

As can be imagined, Among Criminals’ songs are typically highly dynamic.  From the quasi-latin riffing of “Cold Solider”, “Fire”, and “Last Bullet” to the distortion-heavy numbers “Bare-handed Hitman” and “Smartest Man in the World”, elements of the song are both hauntingly distant and unabashedly in-your-face.  Working through the band’s discography, however, reveals unexpected surprises: almost tribal chants float over a constant guitar skank in “War”, the world nearly comes to an end in the genre-bending odyssey of “Ghost”, an upbeat funk groove belies more angry lyrics in “Step Back”, and lighthearted acoustic tunes like “Go Say” and “I See” occasionally pop out (mentally prepare yourself for the guitar solo in the latter before listening).  The pacifist ballad “Killin’ is Killin’” even features steel pans.

To note any differences from album to album would be an exercise in futility, as each album is more the result of funds coming through to record tracks that are constantly in flux.  The freshly-minted 2012 release Among Criminals even features new recordings of several songs that appeared on the trio’s earlier releases,Kill the Myth and Happy History.

It’s been four years now since the night I gathered a few friends and met Among Criminals as their van rolled into a neighborhood park in the suburbs of Dallas-Fort Worth.  Whether it was the impressive skills each member of the band has honed on their instrument of choice or the diverse influences that form Among Criminals’ music, I always felt that the songs translate just as well to an acoustic setting as to the high-decibel rock that characterizes the majority of the trio’s shows.  In any case, Among Criminals is a band that tours tirelessly, and spares no expense in their continuing quest to make a name for themselves.  As mentioned above, the group is currently shooting their first music video for a single from what they hope to be their breakout album (an album which, by the way, can be purchased for just seven dollars on the group’s official website).  The self-titled Among Criminals is currently available to stream in its entirety on the band’s facebook page, and members of the trio still regularly communicate to fans through social media.  If nothing else, this is one of the most endearing aspects of Among Criminals’ life as a band: in addition to writing and performing good music, the group makes an effort to be responsive to those who follow their music.  Nobody is listening to Among Criminals much right now, but hopefully the hard work that the band has put into both connecting with fans and producing a powerful sound will soon pay off with appropriate success.

Nobody Listens to…Kemuri

I often feel that I’ve not fairly represented the whole world with these posts.  For better or worse I have more to to say about musicians from South America, Europe, and Africa more often than Asia.  I can comfort myself, however, by claiming that the Asian groups I do write about are among the most impressive that I feature.  Such is the case with this week’s post about the Japanese ska-punk band Kemuri.

Kemuri

I have been a fan of ska music since I came to the realization that it isn’t just punk reggae music (ska actually predates reggae as a musical style).  Especially in its recent incarnation as a punk-infused, fun-loving genre centered around positivity, ska music is just exciting to listen to.  Much like reggae, ska has become a worldwide phenomenon stretching from its native Jamaica to the U.K., the U.S., and further still abroad.  With this in mind, it’s no surprise that Japanese ska is a vibrant sub-genre, and one that churns out no shortage of incredibly talented and polished bands.  One of the headliners of this group was Kemuri.

Kemuri busted onto the Tokyo ska scene in 1995 with frenetic punk arrangements, a dedication to positive lyrics and content, and a really awesome logo.  In 1997 the band released their recorded debut, Little Playmate, which remains a landmark both for the group and for the ska-punk genre in general.  Riding Little Playmate’s success and an intense live show, Kemuri went on to tour heavily and record nine more full-length studio albums, thrice releasing multiple LPs per year.  After the tenth-anniversary double release of Waiting for the Rain and Principle and a similar double-down two years later at the tenth anniversary of Little Playmate, the band released a statement thanking its fans for carrying the music farther than anyone had expected and announcing Kemuri’s amicable breakup.  In keeping with their “Positive Mental Attitude” ethos, the band elected among themselves to stop at the height of their success to conclude in a positive way.  The band has briefly re-formed, presciently enough, for the 2012 Air Jam music festival.  So far there is no word on whether this will be a full-fledged reunion or a one-off.  In any case, Kemuri’s original lineup (sans trumpet player Ryosuke Morimura, who passed away in 2003, drummer Shoki Hiraya, and saxophonist Mike Park, who hasn’t played with the band since 1998) will be together on stage once again this year.

Kemuri plays a hyper-precise brand of ska punk that honestly puts a good deal of the well-known American ska groups to shame.  The punk rhythm section comprised of guitarist Hidenori Minami, drummer Shoji Hiraya, and bassist Noriaki Tsuda hammers away like a well-oiled machine.  Tsuda’s bass parts are perhaps the most impressive part of the band, as the bassist shifts effortlessly between metallic picked bass lines that are so indicative of punk music to wild walking lines that fly up and down the range of the instrument.  The band is rounded out by sax player Ken Kobayashi (formerly Park and Morimura lent their talents to an on-point horn section as well) and the constantly almost-yelling Fumio Ito on vocals.  Ito sings the vast majority of his songs in English, which further helps to set Kemuri apart by the heavily-accented English lyrics the group screams over distorted guitars and staccato horns.

It should be pointed out that Kemuri is more than just a punk band with horns, as ska-punk groups occasionally devolve into.  The band gets loud for certain, and the guitar, drums, and lyrical ethos are all soaked in late 1980s American punk music, but Kemuri also shows a great interest in the Caribbean ska roots of their primary style.  As such, Kemuri joins with the top echelon of ska-punk bands in truly striking a balance between the component parts of their music.  Also notable in looking at Kemuri’s music is the relative lack of change over time: in a career than spanned ten studio albums in as many years, songs from 1997’s Little Playmate would sound just as at home on 2007’s Blastin’ (and vice versa).  It seems that Kemuri simply had dozens of songs they needed to put out from the beginning and needed ten years to finally record all of them.

Because of the lack of progression, it is easy to listen to all of Kemuri’s music as one work.  From the rare Japanese-language slam of “Ato-Ichinen” to the band-defining “P.M.A.”, horns and gang vocals soar over a rhythm section that alternates between punk distortion and upbeat ska skanking.  Standout tracks along the way include the Boston-stomp of “Go! Under the Sunshine”, the horn-driven instrumental “Sunset”, and the super-catchy singalong chorus of “Rainy Saturday”.  While many of the songs are similar, instead of leading to boredom or disinterest each track just shows further the band members’ command of their instruments and the style they play.

KemuriWith Kemuri reuniting this year after a five-year hiatus, it’s difficult to say what may be next for the band. As of this moment Kemuri has two websites: an outdated Universal Music page that has some fun graphics, but little helpful information, and an official website that features only a brief message about the group’s appearance at Air Jam 2012.  The group has little presence on social networking sites, though in fairness they haven’t been a band during much of the development of that phenomenon.  In any case, it is exciting that such a talented and productive ska-punk group is playing together again, and the chance that new music could be a reality in the not-so-distant future is encouraging.  In the meantime, it is entirely worthwhile for listeners to reacquaint (or acquaint) themselves with Kemuri’s Japanese ska-punk music.  Nobody is listening to Kemuri right now, but between the band’s dedication to positivity and positive attitudes and their blistering musicianship, the group definitely deserves another go.

Nobody Listens to…Sol.illaquists of Sound

Though this is still a very young blog series, I imagine that it’s already pretty clear that I really have a penchant for rappers and groups that talk about social issues in inventive ways.  I also geek out over complicated rhyme schemes, extended metaphors, changing meters, and soulful voices.  Orlando-based rap and hip-hop group Sol.illaquists of Sound packages all of these into a slick product that lays everything on the table and still leaves me wanting more.

Sol.illaquists of Sound

For over a year after I was first exposed to the group, the title track from the group’s 2006 debut As If We Existed.  From my first listen I was a fan and proceeded to add the track to playlist after playlist, but I didn’t probe deeper until I heard an advance track from the Sol.illaquists’ 2008 follow-up.  Fast forward four years, and I happened upon a CD copy of As If We Existed at a record store in Dallas.  I’ve been trying to absorb the messages that the Sol.illaquists of Sound lay into their tracks since.

Sol.illaquists of Sound formed in Orlando in late 2002 with the collaboration between producer and DJ DiViNCi and rapper Swamburger.  By involving their respective romantic interests in their musical pursuits, the duo was joined by poet Tonya Combs and singer-emcee Alexandrah to round out the quartet as Sol.illaquists.  The group often lives to subvert expectations and contradict conventional wisdom as a group fronted by duets between a rapper who calls himself “Swamburger” and an intentionally bald female emcee whilst a DJ manipulates as many as four MPC sample sequencers and a slam poet occasionally chips in spoken-word interludes.  Four unique individuals somehow blend seamlessly as Sol.illaquists of Sound, and an unexpectedly cohesive sound is presented.

Sol.illaquists of Sound’s sound itself is one that is simultaneously pleasing to the ear and maddening to the mind.  This is a heady group, with both hyper-intelligent lyrics and musical compositions that require a bit more investment from the listener than a more run-of-the-mill hip-hop group might.  To bring up the listener indeed is key, as the group’s debut album begins with a soliloquy (appropriate) raising up the question of the listener’s role in music; additionally the group has repeatedly stated that their first three albums will center around one concept that has been dubbed “the listener trilogy”.  Processing everything that happens in each Sol.illaquists song is no small undertaking, but the levels each resonate with the letter to the extent that it’s almost possible to fall into the groove and just listen passively. Almost.

The beat and samples that DiViNCi creates are dynamic and varied; smooth guitars exist with hyperactive and syncopated drum machine loops to give a steady sway to each tune.  To this end, “instrumental” solos come in unexpected forms, as synthesized bass and analog drum samples.  On the next layer are Swamburger’s vocals, which are aggressive, percussive, and highly intelligent.  The rapper is clearly no stranger to four-syllable words, and seems equally comfortable unleashing free-flowing rhymes in duplet- and triplet-based time signatures.  In the gaps between Swamburger’s rhymes are Alexandrah’s own rhymes, which are a smooth contrast to her male counterpart’s.  While Swamburger has a short, dry delivery, Alexandrah’s voice slides and glides effortlessly through rhythm, melody, and overdubbed self-harmony to flesh out the vocal lines in Sol.illaquists of Sound’s music.  When all of the group’s components are firing on all cylinders it approaches the sound of a New Orleans brass band with DiViNCi laying down a base over which the two vocalists harmonize and deliver fast and articulate rhymes in unison.

2006’s As If We Existed seems to be a stirring of the listener, an awakening from complacency.  From the opening monologue, the album draws attention to harsh truths of reality in modern urban America while reminding the listener of his or her power to affect that reality.  On the swaying 6/8 groove of the title track, a smooth delivery by Alexandrah gives way to a second verse by Swamburger that may be the most impressive display of on-point rapping I’ve ever heard that releases into the insistence that “you’re not just a voice” with an ending that drops the music out to an a capella conclusion.  And this is only the third track on the album.  The next song itself is another triumph, as the listener is introduced to the “Mark It Place”, in which bigoted and presumptive advertising campaigns are ruthlessly attacked as Swamburger and Alexandrah trade lines and accusations.  The album continues with high points like the inventive hook to “Ask Me If I Care” and the unbelievable alliteration on “Ur Turn”.  Not only is As If We Existed a staggering accomplishment as an album, it is meant to be only the first installment of a trilogy.  Sol.illaquists of Sound set the bar high for themselves.

If As If We Existed was an awakening for the listener, 2009’s No More Heroes is a call to action.  While I’m still processing the album, it takes the implied comic book imagery that adorned the liner notes of As If We Existed and fleshes it out and combines it with even more time-warping rapping, bombastic synth beats, and effortless vocal acrobatics.  Part two of the so-called “listener trilogy” is hard-edged and adds elements like a series of short films and odes to Harriet Tubman, Kunta Kinte, and hip-hop producer J-Dilla.  While Sol.illaquists of Sound look for heroes to reappear and save the comic book caricature parallel universe that the album appears in, the listener finishes the album anticipating a conclusion on the yet-to-be-released third album 4th Wall.

Sol.illaquists of Sound

So this is the state of the listener that features so prominently in this group’s music.  The finale of the concept trilogy is due out later this year, and the more I listen to the first two releases, the more interested I am as two what direction it will turn.  For the time being, sparing live shows and the Solilla website are the main avenues to taking in more Sol.illaquists of Sound.  No one is listening to this intense hip-hop quartet, but the highly intellectual level of the music and the stirring performances each member of the outfit delivers make this a rap band that begs for more listeners (and to engage with them on a personal level).  Sol.illaquists of Sound should have a few more ears bent their way, if only for the upcoming conclusion of a trilogy of interrelated rap albums of undeniable quality.  On As If We Existed, poet Tonya Combs wonders if sound even exists without the listener.  If sound is so reliant on the listener, the Sol.illaquists deserve listeners just to sustain such impressive talent.

Nobody Listens to…La Rue Kétanou

This post is for the buskers.  Over the past five years I’ve spent some time on street corners and at farmers’ markets yelling and picking away at my guitar.  It’s a tough way to earn money, but maybe the most enjoyable I’ve experienced.

Pause for me to go google search good spots to busk in Fort Worth.

Pause for sadness upon learning that Fort Worth police are tough on buskers.

…and back to the actual article.  This week I’m writing about former street performers and grand purveyors of French chanson music, La Rue Kétanou.

La Rue Kétanou

I first heard La Rue Kétanou during a phase in which I had to listen to as much chanson as possible as quickly as possible.  While it’s not tough to find great bands that fit the bill of the seductive French genre that blends folk, gypsy music, pop, and maybe a bit of reggae, La Rue Kétanou stood out.  Their music is more energetic, more lively than the usually-sedate tunes that thechanson chanteuses typically churn out.  It’s still bohemian street music, but more the sort to jump and skip down the road than to stroll leisurely while holding a romantic partner’s hand.

The core of La Rue Kétanou is the trio of Parisians Mourad Musset, Olivier Leite and Florent Vintrigner, all former students of the Théâtre du fil. As street performers the three began performing in 1996, living and breathing with the streets they played on.  The band took their name, in fact, from a play on the phrase “C’est pas nous qui sommes à la rue, c’est la rue qui est à nous”, implying that they are not of the street, but the street takes its life from them (the performers).  The late 90s saw the group connecting with members of established chanson act Tryo, who invited the young La Rue Kétanou on a leg of their tour as an opener.  By 2001 La Rue Kétanou had produced their debut album, and have since released four more, and continue to tour, bringing their personal style of freewheeling street music indoors and onto the stage.

Most of what I know about La Rue Kétanou comes from their 2009 release, A Contresens.  The album is really quite polished, as could be expected from the fourth studio output of a band that had been playing together for thirteen years, though the free spirit that seems to define the group is still recognizably present.  Each member of the group sings, and the standard lineup features Vintrigner on accordion and Leite and Musset on guitar.  True to their bohemian roots, however, each member is liable to trade his guitar out for another stringed instrument or any element of percussion.  The album A Contresens itself boasts instrumentation as wide as to feature upright bells, strings, and electric guitar, though none of these ever takes precedent over the acoustic forefront that La Rue Kétanou has defined itself by from the beginning.

The songs of A Contresens bounce from the lighthearted to the plaintive and back again.  The album’s opener is “Todas las Mujeres”, a French romp with a Spanish title that pulses from a cajón and loosely strummed guitars.  The reggae-tinged “Germaine” follows, and the album continues a musical world tour with chanson interpretations of cabaret, tango, and bossa nova songs (“Ton Cabaret”, “Elle est Belle”, and “Sao Paolo”, respectively).  Numbers such as “Je Peux pas te Promettre” take a turn for the dramatic, but lighthearted and playful moments such as the jawharp solo to lead off the folksy “Prenons la Vie” are never far off.  La Rue Kétanou always seem to be joking, but when more closely examined, the songs often have much to say about life as the artists see it.  The aggressive and powerful roll of “Maître Corbeau” is led by a descending accordion line and percussive rap-like lyrics that muse on life’s winners and losers (and a crow character? maybe lyrical analysis of a language I don’t speak is a bit unwarranted).  In any case, the songs that fill A Contresens are at once worldly and quintessentially French, compounding the duality of a successful band of bohemian street performers that reflect the tragic and the comic in their words and their melodies.

La Rue Kétanou

The philosophy that La Rue Kétanou puts forth is a fascinating one, albeit not the most unique: that the individual doesn’t behave one way or another because he comes “from the streets”, but rather that individual makes the streets what they are.  To this band, such is life; out in the public domain where the marginalized and the elite pass each other there is a vitality that the slinky rhythms and gang vocals encapsulate well.  And this is especially well taken from a group that has come literally from performances on street corners to accompaniment by full orchestra. Along this journey the band has released five full-length albums, and has continued to tour, though largely within French borders.  La Rue Kétanou can be found most easily online through their twitter handle and a French music-only Myspace takeoff.  For the second week in a row I’ve managed to profile a group that doesn’t have an official website per se, as following a link directed to www.larueketanou.com only takes the user to the associated act Tryo’s page.  Web problems aside, La Rue Kétanou deserves to be listened to for both their folksy fun sound and their urban-organic ethos.  Nobody is listening to La Rue Kétanou at the moment, but the accordion-and-acoustic-guitar-driven act that sprang from Paris’ streets makes for a great listen that is improved with every toe tapped and head shaken.

Long live the buskers.