I am really enjoying the two CDs I picked up in France yesterday.
The first one was the self-titled CD from Yannick Noah. I had seen him on TV a couple of times. I think he was in Live 8 and was definitely on that summer solstice concert at Versailles that was on TV5. I remembered him playing some sort of reggae and thought I would check out an album.
It turned out to not be entirely reggae. Some of it veers into the sort of over-produced, middle-of-the-road pop which the French specialise in, but most of it is a mixture of African, French and reggae with lots of drums – which always hits the spot for me: I like drums.
If the name sounds familiar it might be because Yannick Noah was a professional tennis player who won the French Open, captained the French Davis Cup team and was, at one point, ranked third in the world. Ironically for a future reggae singer none of his 16 singles titles was won on grass The track record for professional sportsmen turning to music is not very good (Diamond Lights anyone?) but Noah has broken the mould by turning out to be very listenable. I think he would be good to see live, but the chances of him playing over here are pretty slim.
The other CD was a bit of a shot in the dark. It is called Mon Afrique by Mokobe. I had never heard of him before, but there was an impressive list of guests on the album including Salif Keita, Manu Chao, Amadou & Mariam, Seun Kuti and Youssou N’Dour so I figured it couldn’t be too bad.
When I got home I looked him up and found that Mokobe is part of French rap group 113 and Mon Afrique is his first solo album. He is of Malian descent, which explains the bias towards Malians in the guest list.
Its a cracking album for a debut. Musically it is a mixture of West African styles and hip hop which works really well. The rap style is totally unlike all the US rappers I am familiar with (admittedly not many) although it does sound a bit like MC Solaar. The whole thing is only really spoiled by having half a dozen of those annoying skits on it – or ‘interludes’ as the French seem to call them but otherwise its a very lush and relaxing CD. Definitely not at the gangsta end of the spectrum.
Track 7 is interesting. It is called Politique and is basically the same song as Politik Kills from Manu Chao’s latest album but longer and in a different style and featuring a whole raft of guests. Track 10 features not only Seun Kuti but also his band Egypt 80, and its all about Seun’s father, the bandleader Fela Kuti. This track is more like a straightforward Nigerian track but with Mokobe rapping over some of the drum breaks. “Catchy” doesn’t even go halfway towards describing it.
French music can be a minefield. For every Les Negresses Vertes there are a dozen Michel Sardous, but I think I got lucky this time round. Regardless of the music though, French acts really do have decent websites. Both Yannick Noah’s and Mokobe’s have a strong design and loads of samples of music to listen to, videos to watch and other stuff for us Brits to fail to translate.