â€¦ your heart out
What is it about the records that we become obsessed by? They are not necessarily ‘favourites’ but they won’t let go. There is something there that draws us in, time and time again. And there is not necessarily any logic to the records we become preoccupied by. There is a curious kind of logic to the LP Noir et Blanc by Zazou/Bikaye/CY1. It is the sort of record that can consume the listener. It was made in 1983 by an Algerian-born arranger, a Zairean singer, and a French electronics duo. Hector Zazou directed proceedings, Bony Bikaye did the singing, and CY1 were responsible for the electronic sounds. Other singers and players participated, and the record came out on the Belgian-based Crammed label. It has been placed at No. 73 in the FACT magazine top 100 albums of the 1980s, if that counts for anything. Hector Zazou was one of those elusive characters about whom one is never quite sure. He was a conceptualist, composer, conductor, choreographer, co-ordinator and circus master. He seemed to take great delight in saying: “Let’s put x together with y and get them to do z to see what happens”. David Toop called him “a convenor”. That makes sense. Orchestrator might be better though. Hector did draw people together in ways that would not occur naturally. And there did not always seem to be any real logic to what he got up to from one project to the next. In 1983, though, there was nothing particularly unusual about the idea of mixing aspects of African culture with other forms of pop music. There were some high profile examples from around that time: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock spring to mind. But it is hard to think of anyone else who approached the idea of collusion/fusion in the same way as Hector Zazou, which was to use electronic music to create an LP of African or Congolese pop songs, with lyrically no concession to the laziness of the Anglophone Western pop audiences.
Electronics and synths would increasingly become a part of African music as the ‘80s developed, so what Hector Zazou was doing should be kept in perspective. It is possible, for example, to see similarities between Noir et Blanc and some of the rai music that would come out of Algeria. The 1990 Earthworks compilation Pop-Rai and Rachid Style from 1990 illustrates this perfectly, focussing on the productions of Rachid Baba Ahmed as he experimented with mixing new technology with traditional vocal ideas. The Cheb Sahraoui track on that collection, Lila Sekri Andi, sounds wonderfully like a North African take on Gary Numan’s Cars. Somehow, though, it seems as if the idea of Hector Zazou doing a rai record would have been too obvious, too tidy. As with some of the most appealing pop-rai productions, even at the time of its release there must have been something curiously quaint about the music on Noir et Blanc.
The approach of CY1 to the electronics on this record is closer to, say, the Some Bizarre synth sound than to the Street Sounds electro style. As the LP gets going it is the second Suicide LP on Ze that most readily springs to mind, with suggestions of maybe Mr Ray or Dance. Take that juddering sound and add extra elements such as some occasional discordant guitar, a fleeting eerie violin, a little brass and woodwind. The percussion of Chris Joris is also a particularly important feature of Noir et Blanc. Hector Zazou’s reasoning was that as an outsider in Paris he felt more affinity with musicians from Africa who were exiled in France, so it seemed a natural progression to work with someone such as Bony Bikaye, one of many singers and players in Paris who had left Zaire for one reason and another. His singing may be fairly conventional in an African pop context, but pitched in with the electronic music of CY1 it still sounds ridiculously wonderful and incredibly moving and infectious. A particular highlight of Noir et Blanc is Lamuka which seems to anticipate the digidub roots sound that the likes of The Disciples, Alpha & Omega, Dread & Fred would go on to make. There are even the martial horns present that became a marked feature of that style of production. The preceding track, Mama Lenvo, as a stark contrast, has an almost dainty melody, that makes for an exceptionally beautiful ballad which is exquisitely understated and elegant, and as ridiculously moving as Dream Baby Dream. Later compact disc editions of Noir et Blanc come with a couple of remixes which at that time were presumably intended to give a more contemporary electro feel to some of the songs. And while the remixes are entertaining enough, it is these which now sound rather clumsy and dated, while the original oddness of the LP versions seems peculiarly captivating. Often it is the little details on Noir et Blanc that seem to be the most striking features: a slide guitar here, some forced laughter there, the irregular percussion at work, some dub effects, and so on. Noir et Blanc was not the first time Hector Zazou had played with ideas about fusing Congolese songs with contemporary pop. The previous year he had recorded Malimba, a 12” for Crammed with the great Papa Wemba on vocals. This was slightly more orthodox in the way it put together disco and Zairean ideas in what is a ridiculously infectious form. Nevertheless whenever it is played it would be futile to resist trying out a few absurd moves in an attempt to do physical justice to its magnificence. And in tribute to the sapeur (the Society of Ambianceurs and Persons of Elegance) phenomenon which Papa Wemba pioneered let’s look the part too. There are elements of Malimba that suggest an accelerated take on the mutant disco/balearic track I Love You S ... which appeared on the LP La Perversita, a record from the end of the 1970s credited to Jeanne Folly, J.L. Hennig, VXZ 375, Hector Zazou and Bazooka. It’s as rare as common sense, but it made No. 54 in Woebot’s The 100 Greatest Records Ever, a list now available in the irresistible and exasperating Big Book of Woe (is me, me, me, me). The two lead extended discomix tracks (La Soupeuse and I Love You S ...) are easy enough to find on YouTube though, and give an indication of the LP’s idiosyncratic contents: erotic gothic disco minimalism with accompanying explicit illustrations by Kiki Picasso, a conceptual work which might more readily be expected to have come out of New York’s art scene. While Hector Zazou was playing with ideas about creating a hybrid of electronic and African pop he was simulataneously working in different areas. His LP Géographies, recorded between June 1982 and July 1984, was a modern classical work for
Crammed’s Made To Measure series. There are all sorts of ideas swirling around: jazzy film scores with suggestions of theremins at work, Satie-rical piano pieces plus Edda Dell'orso soprano-style swooping voices. There are appealing hints of devotional works, half-remembered folk songs, and nursery rhymes, with combinations of strings, woodwind, and striking use of marimba and vibes. As a whole it is adventurous but easy on the ear, as such it will appeal to fans of Simon Fisher Turner’s soundtrack work for Derek Jarman/él records and Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure or those who adore André Popp and Arvo Pärt. A few of the tracks were composed for a dance piece by Kitsou Dubois. Naturally, after Géographies and Noir et Blanc it would be worth Hector Zazou having a go at marrying ideas about classical composition and afro-electro production. So, in 1986, he put together the remarkable Reivax Au Bongo, a highly original soundtrack nominally for a rather absurd photo-novel put together by Xavier Lambours (who took the striking photo of Noir et Blanc-era Zazou Bikaye with the Eiffel Tower in the background), now included in the CD booklet, which features secret agent Reivax being given a mission in the imaginary African kingdom of Bongo to thwart an attempt by his old adversary Zorello to depose the approved King Lolo X. The text, incidentally, is translated by Alig of Family Fodder, and the whole thing could never be described as po-faced and prim. The record itself is an enchanting mix of jazz, classical, electronic colouration, with operatic and African pop vocals. Again there is great use of percussion, strings, woodwind and brass, with traces of traditional folk music and sacred elements, experimental splashes and often exquisitely beautiful passages. The striking mezzo soprano tones of Catherine Renoult (who sang on Géographies) feature, but before that Hector pitched in amongst the classical performers the beautiful voices of Bony Bikaye and his Congolese colleague Kanda Bongo Man with wonderful success. It is particularly fascinating hearing Kanda Bongo Man’s sweet voice so out of context, without the accompaniment of Diblo Dibala on guitar creating the anti-gravitational rolling waves so much a part of the speedy soukous that set the world dancing in the 1980s. The eternal groove of soukous suggesting something Michel Esteban said about South African sounds being reminiscent of the Velvets’ Live 1969 unbeatable lightness.
The sound of Kanda Bongo Man and Diblo Dibala should be instantly recognisable to anyone who listened to John Peel on the radio in the 1980s. John’s enthusiasm about the new music coming out of Africa was infectious, and the records randomly chosen were such an important part of his shows that it is incredibly infuriating when radio stations and concert promoters dare to invoke the DJ’s name when putting together bills of stodgy white bread groups. People like Charlie Gillett would talk movingly
about the instant emotional impact of John Peel playing all nine minutes of the Zairean pop classic, Eswi Yo Wapi by Mbilia Bel. Now where would you hear new African pop music on mainstream radio? Whatever one thinks of the growth of interest in African music during the 1980s it was certainly an intriguing phenomenon. It seems strange now that the central London record shop Stern’s and publishers Pluto Press (for a long time closely associated with Michael and Nina Kidron, parents of the producer Adam) put together two incredibly detailed guides to contemporary African music, written and edited obsessively by Ronnie Graham. The second volume features a striking quote from Kanda Bongo Man: “Zairean music has to move; the problem is that Senegalese, Malian and Gambian music are seen as roots music and as such they are promoted with that paternalistic bias, whilst popular African music, like ours, is seen as dropping all things African from it. They do not have an idea of what African music is.” The issues of modernity and authenticity were then very much at the heart of debates about African music. One of Robert Christgau’s immaculate miniatures wrestles with the conflicting questions about progress: “Zairean Bony Bikaye's Felaesque chants (sans agitprop, avec Afrobeat girls) provide the identity, but the substructure is all FrenchAlgerian Hector Zazou, whose synth arrangements are praised for their orchestral density and distinguished by their propulsive linearity. Most of the Afrogallic music I've heard makes too much (Toure Kunda) or too little (Manu Dibango) of its Africanness. This strikes me as an original balance: minimalist Eurodisco that trades pseudosophistication for pseudoprimitivism.” This was Christgau’s economically enthusiastic take on Mr Manager, a 1985 mini-LP by Zazou Bikaye which got an American release on Pow Wow, quite probably through Mark Kamins who was involved with the label and whose outlook as a DJ was notoriously open-minded. Fellow DJ Johnny Dynell has described how Mark would “in the early 80s effortlessly throw an African beat under a new dance track while simultaneously blending some ethnic accapella over it.” It was also Mark playing the rai track N’Sel Fik by Cheb Sahraoui and Chaba Fadela in a New York club that caught Mike Pickering’s attention, thus starting the chain of events that ended up with Factory releasing the track on a 12”.
Mr Manager has yet to resurface on CD or in a digital format. A later Zazou Bikaye collaboration, Guilty! from 1989, is more readily available. It’s particularly Princelike, very Paisley Parky, presented in a curiously conventional pop format, relatively speaking, compared to Noir et Blanc. There are some English vocals, a cover of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s Man’s World, and on YouTube there is footage of Bony performing
Guilty, the single, on French TV, giving it his all, with some lovely moves, the inevitable moonwalk, sporting corn rows and expensive designer wear: sapeur rising. On Guilty! Hector Zazou is responsible for the programming of synths and electronic rhythms. There is a big drum sound and heavy rock formation guitar, with screaming solos from Papet (presumably Pierre) Chaze which are ostentatious, grandiose, and difficult to digest for some tastes. Perhaps it proves Zazou’s forte is as alchemist rather than performer. Nevertheless the track Sans Musik is a welcome oddity, with a primitive electronic pre-set Latin/rhumba rhythm, cheap sounding Farfisa style organ and meandering sax, offering some relief. Who knows what would have happened if Hector Zazou had continued to work with the electronic duo CY1 as well as Bony Bikaye. Who were CY1 anyway? The story of Crammed Records refers to the making of Noir et Blanc: “Hector Zazou came to Brussels to record this album at Daylight Studios in June '83. With him were Congolese singer Bony Bikaye, and Guillaume Loizillon & Claude Micheli, two Frenchmen who immediately proceeded to set up their wall-sized analog computers. These beasts dated back to the early '70s, and seemed monstrous and antediluvian even then... Loizillon & Micheli (aka CY1) were strange characters: they looked and talked somewhat like electricians or garage mechanics, they kept plugging and unplugging thick wires, used screwdrivers and pliers, had a very down-to-earth approach, and used their own special vocabulary to describe the incredible sounds they were producing (‘Hey, let's make the Chinese hat more pointed!’). Zazou acted like a director, selecting the textures, building up the dramatic action. Bikaye built his parts into the grooves and added layers and layers of vocals.” Guillaume Loizillon & Claude Micheli, prior to the recording of Noir et Blanc, were part of an artistic collective, Dièse 440, who conducted sound experiments. On Loizillon’s website there are examples of these, and a quote from an October 1981 Village Voice article by Tom Johnson: “The rehearsal space was on the ground floor of a large building, but otherwise it was quite similar to some of the loft spaces musicians use in New York ../.. Later, as the musicians began improvising electronic sounds along with the prerecord ones, everything blended surprisingly well.” Unfortunately this is not included in The Voice of New Music, a collection of Tom Johnson’s articles for the Village Voice covering the rise of minimalist and experimental music in New York City and beyond, in the period 1972-1982 when Johnson diligently documented what was happening. This invaluable resource is now available free for all, digitally.
After Noir et Blanc it doesn’t appear CY1 recorded with Zazou Bikaye again, though a Claude Micheli composition, Soki Akei, does appear on Mr Manager. Before Noir et Blanc the duo provided the electronic backing for Pretty Day, a single by Mary Moor
(a.k.a. Marie Möör : muse, model, artist, actress, singer, writer), which is a mock macabre delight of the sort so loved by connoisseurs of ‘cold wave’ European synth pop. What is unusual about Pretty Day in the post-punk context is the fact that it was written, arranged and released by the jazz saxophonist Barney Wilen, who went on to make a series of recordings with Marie. In January 1983 Barney also performed live in Paris with Dièse 440, as a trio of Claude Micheli, Guillaume Loizillon, with Michel Bertier (on prepared mellotron). The results of this collaboration have recently appeared on record, and show Barney blowing away beguilingly while the electronics burble and percolate precariously. In terms of pitching one musical form against another it is a surprising success, and perhaps most strikingly stays away from conventional ideas about jazz fusion with electronic colouration resists the sort of squealing and squawking expected within the avantgarde cottage industry. This really does simply sound like experimental electronic soundscapes decorated with engagingly lyrical saxophone reflections.
If the name of Barney Wilen sounds familiar that is because it is. Anyone with access to The Wire’s archives can access a great 1987 article by Mike Zwerin about Barney, which is subtitled “Punks, Pygmies and Privilege: a tenorman remembers”. And if the name of Mike Zwerin seems familiar that could be because curiously Peter Shapiro chooses to start Turn The Beat Around with a reference to Zwerin’s book, La Tristesse de Saint Louis – Swing Under The Nazis, which came out in 1985. Flailing around for somewhere to start the story of disco, Shapiro latches onto Zwerin and the Zazous, the name adopted by kids into swing music in Nazi-occupied Paris. As Zwerin explains: “The Zazous took nothing seriously. They opposed the regime by ignoring it, which was a political act whether they knew it or not. Wearing long jackets with wide collars and plenty of pleats is a political provocation during a highly publicised campaign for sartorial austerity.”
What Shapiro doesn’t reveal is just how mad Zwerin’s book is. He is ostensibly tracking down the story of jazz fans and musicians in Germany, France, Poland, concentration camps during WW2, chasing the ghost of Django the gypsy and all the contradictions of jazz under the Nazis. But he puts himself at the heart of the expedition, Sebald-style long before W.G. went for a wander and ponder, and Mike shoots off in a number of different directions, embracing what were then modern times to take in the lot of jazz fans in Communist Czechoslovakia and the “fascist Sad Afrika” which he saw at first hand when touring there in 1984 torn apart by the moral dilemmas of playing in S.A. while apartheid ruled. As for Barney Wilen, maybe he will be forever associated with the Parisian demimonde, the modern jazz era, the late 1950s, when he appeared on the scene, photographed with Juliette Greco’s ear to his horn, playing with Miles in Louis Malle’s Ascenseur pour l’échafaud, playing with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers on the soundtrack of another film with Jeanne Moreau in, Roger Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Barney came from a privileged background, maybe being a free spirit was in the blood, but he was a very acceptable saxophonist nevertheless.
For a few years, from 1962-ish, he seems to have disappeared, then re-emerging, reinventing himself, aware of what was happening in the world, taking sides, and adopting more of a free sound on the 1966 title Zodiac, in cahoots with the drummer Jacques Thollot who had been a child prodigy playing in the jazz clubs of Paris with Barney in the late ‘50s. Thollot is a fascinating character in his own right, as a performer and composer. He played with Don Cherry on Krzysztof Komeda’s soundtrack for Le Départ, the 1967 Jerzy Skolimowski film, which has Christiane Legrand singing the gorgeous theme song. He played with Don Cherry again on the November 1968 Berlin Jazz Festival live dates which were recorded for the Eternal Rhythm LP, pitching in on drums, gamelan, gong , bells and singing. And Thollot plays drums on Sonny Sharrock’s extraordinary 1970 Actuel title, Monkey-Pockie-Boo. Thollot’s own debut set came out in 1971, Quand Le Son Devient Aigu, Jeter La Giraffe A La Mer, and captures the adventurous ‘anything goes’ spirit of the time, with a mad mix of attractive piano-led melodies and electronic manipulation and effects, which are sometimes tender and occasionally violently dissonant. Most of the tracks are exquisite miniatures, including one Don Cherry composition, De D.C. Par J.T. Jacques returned the favour in 1996, with the fantastic track To Neneh By Don From Jacques, on the LP Tenga Nina. Jacques’ partner is Caroline de Bendern, who back in May 1968 became the involuntary poster girl of that month’s incendiary events. Back in ’68 somehow Catherine met Barney Wilen and found love in the days of rage. She was the disinherited aristocratic
young revolutionary, a model and actress who had appeared in the Serge Bard film Détruisez-vous which prefigures what happened in May ’68 like La Chinoise. Barney and Caroline got the idea to set out on an African adventure, on the road to Zanzibar, having been inspired by hearing a record of pygmy chants and what Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders were doing on Impulse! It seemed like a good idea, and they decided to give it a go. By then Barney had the full Richard Brautigan rig.
The expedition was made possible through the patronage of Sylvina Boissonnas who funded the activities of what became known as the Zanzibar group of film makers: the name itself came from the road trip Barney and Caroline were making. Sally Shafto has written brilliantly about the Zanzibar group in Artforum: “The filmmakers themselves were less a cohesive unit than a loose constellation, orbiting around the French heiress Sylvina Boissonnas. Between 1968 and 1970, Boissonnas financed about a dozen films that were retrospectively gathered under the rubric Zanzibar (a name inspired by a 1969 voyage to that then-Maoist country, undertaken by some of the group’s members).”
The idea of the African adventure was to make a film, record some music, and generally learn about the region. It seems to have taken up most of 1969 and 1970, one way and another. They started out in Algeria, getting to Algiers in time to record their friend Archie Shepp performing live at the Pan-African Cultural Festival, with Tuareg musicians. They went on to spend time in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), Senegal, but they didn’t get to Zanzibar. Along the way though they made lots of field recordings, recorded jam sessions with local musicians, headed home, and used these to make a record for Saravah under the umbrella title of Moshi, a magic ritual appropriately enough. Making the record for Saravah, Pierre Barouh’s label, made sense. Around the same time he was putting out titles by Naná Vasconcelos (with Nelson Angelo and Novelli),
Pierre Akendengue, Brigitte Fontaine & Areski, the Cohelmec Ensemble, Jacques Higelin, and Steve Lacy. What Barney Wilen and Caroline de Bendern had in mind fitted right in. The plan was to use the tapes of field recordings and jams recorded en route as a collage to mix in with intimations of psychedelic blues and free jazz using young Paris-based musicians like Pierre Chaze on guitar, Micheline Pelzer on drums, and Michel Graillier on keyboards. The Moshi record could quite easily have been a disaster, but it remains a fascinating and enchanting record. It might have been incredibly worthy but as dull as ditchwater, but there are impressive passages of music, particularly featuring Barney’s serpentine sax and Pierre Chaze’s wheedling guitar. The sequence of Bamako Koulikaro/Afrika Freak Out is wonderful with loving references to The Creator Has A Masterplan. But the really delightful part of the record is where on three occasions incredibly infectious pop songs emerge. These are compositions by Barney and Caroline, which have a child-like/nursery rhyme simplicity, with the female vocals sounding sort of like The Dixie Cups doing Iko Iko via North West Africa, or in a later context Pulsallama/Bananarama doing that tribal/playground chant sing-song thing. One of these three irresistible pop songs is the seemingly autobiographical Zombizar: “we never got to Zanzibar”. Among the featured vocalists, apart from Caroline, is the actress Babette Lamy, who went along on the road trip, and Marva Broome. This has to be the Marva that recorded Mystifying Mama, a single with the Art Ensemble of Chicago in the Saravah studio which is ferociously funky fire music with Marva belting out the soulful vocals, and the whole thing (which is far, far too brief) is as exhilarating and electrifying as Fontella Bass and the Art Ensemble doing Thème De Yoyo.
After the LP was made and a few live shows played, in 1971 Caroline and Barney returned to Tafadek, in Niger, which Caroline has described as “a paradise like place, where nomads from all around and even further, come to take the healing waters. Hot sulphur water springs out into a covered bath, in which one can dip and then go out and plunge into a cold pond outside. We had brought some of our friends from Agadez, ‘les grands bandits’ and some pretty girls: Beautiful Budje, gorgeous Giana and others, the Bororo, among whom: knockout Orti and the sublime Giulde.” Caroline took the opportunity to make a film, A L'intention de Mademoiselle Issoufou a Bilma, with a soundtrack put together by Barney, features a snippet of James Brown’s It’s a Man’s, Man’s World. Barney died in 1996. In recent years there has been a flurry of archival activity: the Sonorama label has released Moshi Too, which is culled from unreleased tapes made by Barney during the African adventure. Previously unreleased 1980s recordings of Marie
Möör and Barney Wilen have been released digitally, and these are enchanting in that very French performance art disco or minimal synth pop/cabaret/chanson way, with a singer that is cute, coquettish, cynical, kittenish, while simultaneously exuding world weary wordiness. There is also a great Stéphane Sinde documentary film, Barney Wilen: The Rest Of Your Life, made in 2006, and as is the way today various snippets of film shared by family members, old colleagues and lovers are scattered around. There is something about the trip taken by Barney and Caroline that echoes the one taken over a decade later by Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Michel Esteban when they set out on an African adventure in 1983 with the improbable support of CBS. Their route took them down the east coast through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and on into S. Africa. Unlike Caroline and Barney they did make it to their destination, Soweto, and successfully achieved their goal of recording with singers and players in the black township, with Adam Kidron at the controls. The record was finished off back in London at Berry Street studio, the hole in the ground, where Adam had worked often as the in-house producer for Rough Trade.
Lizzy’s Soweto record, which is now known as Zulu Rock, is such a wonderful joyous mess of sounds which could only have been made using Lizzy’s unique logic. And it was hardly a volte-face, as Lizzy’s mad musical appetites (c.f. Mambo Nassau) and peculiar poetry were what made her special. The trouble is that we are left with too little Lizzy to delight devotees. So, naturally, one seizes on any extra-curricular activity that has been captured, such as her duet with (fellow Ze-lighter) Caroline Loeb on V.V.V., as featured on the Brion Gysin tribute LP, Self-Portrait Jumping, lovingly put together by Ramuntcho Matta over the course of a decade-or-so and released as part of Crammed’s Made To Measure series in 1993. A good half of the record dates, at least musically, from the early 1980s, and has that era’s lopsided funk sound reminiscent of the Raincoats, perhaps. Indeed, with Brion’s vocal contributions, there is a real sense of Rough Trade-era Pere Ubu and Mayo Thompson so it would really be no surprise if Adam Kidron’s name appeared among the credits. It must have been fun for Brion to participate in making this mad pop music. Ramuntcho had known him since he was in his early teens, as Brion was a friend of the Matta family, part of the circle his artist father Roberto moved in. At the start of the ‘80s Ramuntcho played guitar while Brion performed live on stage. As such they appeared as part of the legendary Final Academy shows featuring William Burroughs, Psychic TV, and guests including 23 Skidoo. Also appearing onstage with Brion and Ramuntcho were Tessa from the Slits and members of Rip Rig & Panic and the Penguin Café Orchestra. In the March 1982 issue of The Face Peter Christopherson
is quoted as saying about Brion Gysin and William Burroughs that: “We see part of our function as archivists ... librarians almost. We need to make available to people all the experiments and ideas about ... language, in particular, that those two dreamed up and yet didn’t have the money, or the time, or the technology, or the opportunity, to put into practice.”
Among those taking part in the recording of the earlier tracks on Self-Portrait Jumping were Don Cherry; Elli Medeiros, who had been in Stinky Toys and Elli & Jacno; and Yahn Leker is there on guitar having also played on Mambo Nassau, the still astonishing Lizzy Mercier Descloux LP, as part of a small group that also featured Wally Badarou on keyboards, Bill Perry on drums, and on bass Philippe Lemongne who had played on the only official recording by French progressives Mosaïc who often seem to be mentioned in relation to the Canterbury scene and Henry Cow axis. Prior to the release of Self-Portrait Jumping some of the earlier tracks were kicking around in various forms, as singles and LP tracks. In particular, the track Kick appeared as a single, on a Ramuntcho Matta LP split between songs of Brion Gysin and Polo Lombardo, and on editions of a Don Cherry LP. That particular LP, Home Boy, was produced by Ramuntcho Matta, and first released in the mid-1980s. It is controversial in the sense that it is pitched as Don’s hip pop record, not for purists perhaps, but it is inordinately charming and great fun. Tellingly Don is pictured in the CD booklet, looking very dapper, proudly wearing a Blockhead badge in his lapel. And, musically, the Blockheads’ take on funk would be a useful reference point when considering Home Boy. For some Don’s contribution to Ian Dury’s Laughter LP would be their introduction to his trumpet playing, and old live footage of the Blockheads with Ian, Don and Wilko Johnson sharing a stage seems incredibly moving. Talking Heads, too, would be a good comparison, and they even get a mention in among Don’s storytelling, crooning, chatting, scatting, rapping, and yakking. One of the highlights of Home Boy is Don taking the listener through his recipe for sweet potato salad to a very danceable backing track. It’s not all frenetic funk on Home Boy, though. On Butterfly Friend Don is incredibly tender, joining the dots between the spirituality of The Band and Bob Marley, while Bamako Love is a gorgeous work, incredibly beautiful, closer perhaps to what Don had been doing on ECM exploring the possibilities of sounds from around the world as part of the trio Codona, with Collin Walcott and Naná Vasconcelos. In some ways the track Clicky Clacky from the third and final Codona record, with Don singing the blues about his connection with the railroad earth could be seen as a warm-up for Home Boy.
Among the musicians Ramuntcho used on Home Boy were bass player Jannick Top, who had been an early member of French progressives Magma, and the Uruguayan percussionist Jorge Trasante. Before leaving for France, in 1976 Trasante had recorded an LP with the enigmatic singer/songwriter Eduardo Mateo which is considered to be the greatest or most unique record in the history of Uruguayan popular music. It is essentially voices, acoustic guitars and percussion but there is so much going on. Melodically and rhythmically there are all sorts of influences from around the world at work. Eduardo was apparently particularly interested in Arab sounds at the time. There are moments when the LP sounds like Caetano Veloso getting together with Count Ossie’s drummers. On arrival in Paris Jorge would play on some wonderful records by fellow exiles, the Uruguayan Jaime Roos and the Brazilian Manuka. Matta’s close compadre Elli Medeiros (who was also born in Uruguay) is very much involved with Home Boy, writing, providing backing vocals, doing the design work and photography. Her wordless vocal duet with Don on Bamako Love is particularly touching. Elli would go on to make a couple of classic solo LPs with Ramuntcho at the controls acting as lightning conductor. The first of these, Bom Bom ... from 1987, featured the big hit single Toi Mon Toit which spectacularly and shockingly seems like a vocal reinvention of Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag, a delayed new pop piece of perfection.
There is a lot about Bom Bom ... and its 1989 follow-up (Elli) which seems to suggest Elli and Ramuntcho had seized on that early ‘80s free-for-all approach to the crosscurrents of the world’s rhythms and the possibilities of pop. Calypso, salsa, samba, tango, afrobeat, funk, jazz, whatever: get up and use it. There is a lot about these LPs too to appeal to those Lizzie MD lovers who hanker after more of the musical instability and daring that marked her records. And with Elli there is the distinct advantage of being able to watch a number of fantastic TV and video appearances
made during her pop heyday. Don Cherry contributes some fantastic work on a few tracks on the second Elli LP too, which is if anything a looser Ramuntcho Matta is one of those contrary, chameleon-like characters like Hector Zazou who seem to relish darting off in distinctly different directions. There is, however, certainly some continuity in terms of personnel used on the Don Cherry Home Boy LP, the Elli Medeiros records, and his own projects from the mid-1980s. Another title in the Crammed Made To Measure series is Domino One which collects selections from Ramuntcho’s mid-1980s work for a few projects: a video work of his father’s, a ballet by Régine Chopinot, and a performance by Joan Baixas and the Barcelona-based El Teatro De La Claca. Among the singers and players on these wildly inventive but often playful pieces are the Brazilian saxophonist Cacau, the Cuban trumpet player Guillermo Fellove, the tabla player Hameed Kawa, as well as Jorge Trasante and Jannick Top, and Elli on occasional vocals – and indeed the very simple but striking combination of Elli’s wordless vocals and the ‘water claps’ of Ramuntcho and Jorge Trasante is mesmerising on O Clapo.
Ramuntcho’s own proper pop LP, 2 L’Amour from 1993, released by Crammed is a winning work of modern chanson, eccentric romantic ballads like Bertrand Burgalat too soon, with elements of jazz, afrobeat, reggae, hip-hop, house, blues and roots. The excellent Adékoi suggests what Tricky and Martina would do, with Samia Ezzatour taking the female role. Samia also appeared on the delicate Jonathan Richman-like All Those Years on the Brion Gysin tribute (in photos from The Final Academy shows Ramuntcho even looks like a young JoJo). Ramuntcho has helpfully pointed out that “Samia Ezzatour is part of the new generation of North African/French rappers (under the name of Siria Khan)”. The one Siria Khan track that seems to be extant is the phenomenal La Main de Fatma from 1992 (with one suspects some Matta involvement). Siria features in a French TV hip-hop documentary from 1993 and from this it can be seen she is in fact Samia Farah, which fits perfectly as Samia is a YHO favourite who has recorded (sadly, seemingly, just the two) Adrian Sherwood-related LPs. The latter of these, the jazzy, dubby, smoky, sultry The Many Moods Of ... from 2008, is an absolute classic, featuring an Edu Lobo cover, with a strong showing of On-U Sound personnel providing support: Crocodile, Bubblers, Style Scott, George Oban, Dave ‘Flash’ Wright, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith, and even Dennis Bovell. Also featured among the singers on 2 L’Amour were Marie Daulne and Sylvie Nawasadio of the girl group Zap Mama who in 1991 had recorded their revolutionary debut LP for Crammed with an irresistible blend of the ancient and modern, and a lovely mess of material which mixed Zairean, Syrian, Spanish, Rwandan, Tanzanian, and Cuban songs with pygmy chants, doo-wop and hip-hop. Take the boldness of The Chiffons, The
Dixie Cups, Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, Meredith Monk, Furious Pig, Missa Luba as performed by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, add in a girl gang lust for life, and that’s this LP. The incredible thing about the Zap Mama debut is that there is nothing else there other than the voices and a little bit of percussion. Given the era in which it was recorded this is a miracle. As the producer of that first LP, which was later picked up enthusiastically by David Byrne for Luaka Bop, Vincent Kenis has said: “In the beginning Zap Mama was more like a collective of girls with no other goal than to entertain and surprise each other.”
Vincent Kenis would later be behind the very successful Congotronics series, through Crammed, so it is appropriate that he was among the players on the Zazou/Bikaye/CY1 LP Noir et Blanc. In an interview with Afropop’s Kenneth Routon he has said: “I’m not sure Zazou had foreseen to which point that encounter would be fruitful, the fact is that only a musician as gifted as Bony Bikaye, who was at the same time a product of the exceptionally fertile modern music of his home town Kinshasa and an recipient of the rich polyrythmic and polyphonic tradition from Central African music, could have not only found his way into the dauntingly irregular rhythmic structures created by CY1 from scratch in the studio (the sequencers were totally unreliable and unpredictable then), but even use these structures as a basis to improvise songs on the spot… it worked beyond anybody’s expectations. Zazou also wrote the horn arrangements on the spot. I improvized some bass and guitar parts, and added dub effects and scratches.” Vincent Kenis has been with Crammed since the start, when in 1980 Marc Hollander (who, incidentally, plays clarinets on Noir et Blanc) started the label. It is one of the most enlightened, enduring and intriguing imprints, with a very mixed output: from 4hero to Mahmoud Ahmed to Colin Newman to John Lurie to Bebel Gilberto to Carl Craig. Crammed has curiously seemed to be at its most successful commercially when being bold. The first release on the label was by the group Aksak Maboul, who had Marc Hollander and Vincent Kenis as its core members. With Aksak Maboul one enters the Nurse With Wound list territory of European progressives, the avant-garde/experimental activity that pre-dated and then ran parallel with punk and beyond. As is often the case with artists on that NWW list, there is a lot about Aksak Maboul that’s fun and inventive. The first LP, from 1977, Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine, is an absurdly playful and intricate. It at times conjures up ideas of a merger between the Penguin Café Orchestra and the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. Perhaps most disconcertingly, on that record, the jazzy, jaunty organ and endearingly primitive programmed drums on (Mit I) Saure Gurke (Aus I Urwald Gelockt) seem
exactly like a mass-produced rave (signal) keyboard vamp. Appropriately Hollander and Kenis later cashed in on acid house by recording as Mr Big Mouse. Their ‘hit’ Drop That Ghetto Blaster featured vocals from New York performance artist Karen Finley. Karen’s Tales of Taboo, proto-house or harsh electro recorded with Mark Kamins for Pow Wow in 1986 really predicts what Peaches or Chicks On Speed would do much later. Hollander and Kenis did their share of remixing and producing others too, including Zazou Bikaye’s Na Kenda, on the Guilty! 12” which came in Afro Acid and Techno Dub mixes. Aksak Mabou’s Onze Danses Pour Combattre La Migraine covers a lot of ground: there are suggestions of flamenco, Django, tango, cabaret, chamber music, folk songs, ethnic rhythms, nursery rhymes, piano sketches. As such it is disorientating, like playing stylistic hopscotch, but enchanting nevertheless. One title sort of gives the game away: Three Epileptic Folk Dances. Another shows the humour at work, and awareness of what else was going on: Vapona, Not Glue. The track Chanter est Sain is disquieting too as the “dud-dud-du-dah” vocal riff suggests the start of Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner. Among those involved in the making of Onze Danses were percussionist Chris Joris, who played with Zazou Bikaye, and Marc Moulin too from Telex. Un Peu De L'Âme Des Bandits, a second Aksak Maboul LP appeared in 1980, the first to be released on Crammed, and it was equally as exotic and bewilderingly mixed-up. It opened with what sounds like Kleenex covering Bo Diddley, with cut-up collages of other tracks on the LP to flavour proceedings. Elsewhere there seem to be traces of free jazz, stately tango, Turkish folk song, Henry Cow-like progressive rock, punk thrash offset by Lora Logic-style squawking, and a very ambitious, elaborately put together Varèse-inspired suite that stretches to over 20-minutes and is quite remarkable. The talking-in-tongues and gibberish jabber of vocal gymnast/performance artist Catherine Jauniaux features on both Aksak Maboul LPs, providing early examples of the extreme contortionist singing she would perfect later as part of the New York experimental scene. Another Crammed recording Catherine contributed to was an excellent post-punk 12” EP by Des Airs, entitled Lunga Notte. She shared vocals in Des Airs with Fanchon Nuyens, who later would be involved with Zap Mama when they were starting out.
The Crammed CD edition of Un Peu De L'Âme Des Bandits features a bonus track, Bosses De Crosses (Horreurs), which dates from 1981 by which time Aksak Maboul had joined forces with the equally eccentric Brussels group The Honeymoon Killers, in the tradition of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy merging. This bonus track is jerky, twitchy
messy, similar to some of the adventurous post-punk UK outfits of the same era, like prag Vec and Family Fodder. The combination of The Honeymoon Killers and Aksak Maboul resulted in one great LP, Les Tueurs de la Lune de Miel, released in 1982. For a brief moment Brussels was fashionable, with the spotlight falling on Allez Allez, Crépescule, Crammed and The Honeymoon Killers, with Ian Penman writing a NME cover feature and the Killers’ singer Véronique Vincent looking very sultry on the title page. The Honeymoon Killers’ LP is an absolute must, if only for the surprisingly seductive pop of Histoire à Suivre and Décollage. The group also appeared on the superb cassette compilation Mighty Reel which was put together by and available through the NME, with the track Petit Matin which showed the harsher, more antagonistic side of the group. So many of the best pop groups seem to have that balance between discord and allure, which can be as exasperating as it is enticing: as Lawrence sang: “There's a place for abstract and there's a place for noise and there's a place for every kind of sound”. The reference to Henry Cow and Slapp Happy was not a random one. There is a remarkable tangle of connections between Aksak Maboul, Crammed, Henry Cow, Recommended, Cold Storage studios, and so on. It is a positively frightening labyrinth of activity in which it would be all too easy and great fun to get lost. On a practical note Aksak Maboul were embraced as part of Henry Cow’s Rock In Opposition (RIO) movement or ‘socio-cultural tendency’. There is a wonderful irony to the adoption of RIO as a name in the late 1970s when elsewhere the idea of ‘rock’ itself was becoming something to be rejected and loathed, but then again the ‘rock’ music the RIO grandees were promoting was a long, long way from, say, the sounds that filled Wembley Stadium and the lighter-waving tendency.
With Henry Cow and RIO it may have been a generational thing: “Who needs Henry Cow when we’ve got The Pop Group?” But when young punks were applauding Subway Sect for saying “we oppose all rock ‘n’ roll” the chances are they were oblivious to the aims of those associated with the RIO network who were engrossed playing with ideas of using anything that was not immediately in keeping with accepted views of what US/UK rock music should sound like. Chris Cutler, Henry Cow’s drummer and someone whom those of a certain age may have first encountered through his associations with Pere Ubu/David Thomas, covers a lot of this in his book File Under Popular, which is itself a great read for the chapters on Phil Ochs, Sun Ra and The Residents. On a practical level Fred Frith and Chris Cutler from Henry Cow were invited to participate in the putting together of the Aksak Maboul LP, Un Peu De L'Âme Des Bandits. In return, Marc Hollander had an invitation to play in the Art Bears, with
Frith, Cutler, and the remarkable Dagmar Krause on vocals. And, again, it is ironic that in the very early 1980s young contrarians who were into the subversive, inventiveMOR pop of, say, Weekend or the Jazzateers might have dismissed old heads’ suggestions that they should listen to Slapp Happy until much later and hearing the Casablanca Moon LP, where Dagmar veers brilliantly between cabaret stridency and the sinister, sweet, seductive strangeness of Lynsey De Paul and Noosha Fox. Catherine Jauniaux, too, gravitated towards Cold Storage circles. Between 1982 and 1984 she participated in a number of projects, mostly recorded in those legendary Brixton studios, featuring a fluid collective of singers and players, often with connections to Henry Cow, This Heat, Furious Pig and Family Fodder (Crammed put out a Family Fodder compilation early on). She sang on Slow Crimes, an LP by The Work, a confrontational ensemble who featured Tim Hodgkinson (of Henry Cow) and Bill Gilonis. She sang on one track on the LP by Het, which was a terrifyingly compelling percussive cacophony put together by Cass Davies and Dominic Weeks who had been in Furious Pig. Catherine also sang on the 1984 LP Ossification by Officer!, a freewheeling fiesta featuring a few Family Fodder-ites, some former Henry Cow types, and so on, on a fascinatingly bizarre and often charming collection of agit-prop pop, which occasionally sounds like the missing link between This Heat, Incredible String Band, 49 Americans and Sudden Sway.
Perhaps most compelling of all was the Fluvial LP, Catherine made in 1983 with Tim Hodgkinson and a strong supporting cast, including Lindsay Cooper and Georgie Born, once of Henry Cow, as well as Bill Gilonis, Dominic Weeks, and This Heat’s Charles Bullen. It is a ridiculously adventurous work that typically shoots off in all sorts of different directions. Catherine’s vocal contortions are as compelling and challenging as any by the very great Julie Tippetts and Maggie Nic(h)ols, and as dramatic as Dagmar Krause or Brigitte Fontaine at their best. The two settings of poems by William Blake are particularly striking and arresting. Elsewhere there are hints of Brechtian cabaret tradition, the art of tango, ancient folk songs, pygmy and playground chants. Ironically by this stage in pop music’s development some such as Scritti Green who once sought the approval of his teenage idols Henry Cow were now lost to new pop and the lap of luxury while a recalcitrant underground network of mischief makers who were not about to give up ‘non-commercial’ experimentation hunkered down for a long drawn-out campaign. There were links too between Hector Zazou and the RIO community. Fred Frith played violin on Noir et Blanc, and played guitar on the very funky track Keba. There were connections too between RIO and the duo ZNR which was a partnership between Hector Zazou and Joseph Racaille. In File Under Popular Chris Cutler referred to the
first ZNR LP, Barricades 3, from 1976, having a “simple, strong Satie influence, stripped to minimum essentials, everything counts. Rare atmosphere & genuinely bizarre”. Cutler would later reissue Barricades 3 through his Recommended label, with the added attraction of a Captain Beefheart print as part of the artwork. It’s tempting to put two and two together, and play games. So, presumably, ZNR is Z’n’R as in Zazou and Racaille. Great names, too: racaille being the word that many years later would get Sarkozy in a lot of trouble when describing rioters. And Barricades 3 is likely to be a reference to the French underground collective Barricade who emerged from the tumult of 1968 and revelled in creating a racket and mischief. In 1972 the group split into two: Barricade I - Crève Vite Charogne (CVC) and Barricade II - Roquet et ses Lévriers Basanés. This Roquet was Roquet Belles Oreilles, later better known as Hector Zazou. Joseph Racaille was a member too. And by all accounts the group was very heavily Beefheart-influenced, with added free jazz and Canterbury influences, but they resisted releasing records as an act of ideological perversity despite a lot of interest from Virgin. When Barricade II split Zazou and Racaille worked as ZNR, and the Barricades 3 LP (which was originally self-released, and then taken up by the Isadora label, before being reissued by Recommended in 1981) is such a fascinating, enchanting record: Racaille on piano, Zazou on synth or bass, with occasional augmentation by Patrick Portella on clarinet, André Jaume on sax, some strings and striking (Deebank-ish or Clark Hutchinson-esque) guitar playing from Harvey Néneux (another former Barricadeist) on the third movement of La Pointe De Tes Seins Est Comme Un Pétale De Pavot. Generally Barricades 3 is playful, made up of attractive if irregular miniatures or minimalist works that could in completely different environments easily be incidental film music or Roger Roger-style production/library pieces. When fully-fledged songs do break out the effect is beguiling, as on the gorgeous Solo Un Dia which with lovely languid vocals from Racaille sounds similar to the best of Kevin Ayers’ ballads. There is a second ZNR set, Traité De Mécanique Populaire, which is stripped of synths, and is really quite exquisite and addictive. The compositions, mostly by Zazou or Racaille, are arranged for small groups featuring permutations of piano, violins, saxophone, clarinet, flute and acoustic guitar. There is very occasional choral colouration, which maybe is more suggested than anything. Snatches of melody seem familiar, like elusive daydreams, as if for a split second the pianist may lapse into a chorus of Only Love Can Break Your Heart: Virginia Astley’s From Gardens Where We Feel Secure has a similar power of ‘recall’. Overall, though, the effect is very European, deliberately French seemingly, with intimations of chamber works, jazz and the chanson tradition. What specifically does it sound like? Maybe some of the later Robert Wyatt work after he was born again at Rough Trade and nothing could stop him, maybe Satie, Roussel, Ravel, Debussy. But there is still a sense of mischief and the absurd at work, as if to keep such ravishing beauty away from the constraints of the serious ‘bourgeois’ classical environment. With 19 tracks in just over 30 minutes on Traité De Mécanique Populaire it is perfectly appropriate that both Zazou and Racaille took part (separately) in Morgan Fisher’s Miniatures project in 1980, which featured a sequence of 51 tiny masterpieces in 51 minutes. When considering the work of ZNR for clues about Zazou would do it is very easy to be sidetracked by the enigmatic Joseph Racaille’s trail. Morgan Fisher seems to have felt the same way: “I met him only once in a classic all-stone, plaster, wood
and wrought iron 5th-floor walk-up Paris apartment in 1980, and after a brief bonjour, enchanté he seemed dreamily incommunicable, and we spoke no more. I passed the rest of my visit with the more outgoing, debonair, cosmopolitan half of his two-man band, ZNR. Yet it was Joseph’s hazy, abstract air that first attracted me to ZNR’s album Traité de Mécanique Populaire which he recorded with his more articulate friend Hector Zazou.” Where does the Racaille trail lead? Continuing the connection with Chris Cutler and Recommended Joseph with Patrick Portella released an LP, Les Flots Bleus, which was released in 1983, featuring 30 tracks which played at 45rpm. It has never been reissued, nor has a 33rpm clear vinyl 7” by Racaille, 6 Petites Chansons, which was released by Recommended and available to the more dedicated. Chris Cutler’s view seems to be that these are recordings that were made for a specific format, and belong to a certain time, and so are not suitable for compact discs or digital formats. If, however, someone is inquisitive enough they will be able to hear 6 Petites Chansons. The songs are perfectly realised, with lovely ornate settings, very French, very Kevin Ayers meets the Penguin Café Orchestra. The suite of songs (all 16 minutes worth) have a certain elegance (él-egance), the sort of thing one imagines Louis Philippe would love to come up with, the type of sound Jonathan Coe might once have invented for one of his mid-period novels. Among those contributing (on a more baroque reprise of Solo Un Dia) is the wonderfully named guitarist Fred de Fred, who also played on Hector Zazou’s Reivax au Bongo. Racaille seems to have adopted a pretty low profile after the release of 6 Petites Chansons, being by his own admission not exactly a megalomaniac. There have been diversions into Cuban and Hawaiian music, and in the 1990s he began to be in demand as a producer and arranger. One partnership he struck up was with Kate St. John, on her LPs Indescribable Night and Second Sight. Kate told the Italian magazine Lucio that Joseph’s “style seemed to perfectly complement mine especially as we share an interest in the arrangements of French chanson of the 40s, 50s and 60s. On some songs I reached a point where I could go no further so we would discuss the approach and he would then develop the arrangements with his own special magic.” Someone else Racaille has worked with is Elli Medeiros, on a song specially recorded for the soundtrack of Brian de Palma’s Femme Fatale. That song of his, Solo Un Dia, it really could break your heart in two, it’s true. It’s the sort of song it’s easy to become obsessed with, one that won’t let go ...