Friday, November 10, 2006

Misanthropic Quasimodo

I know, I've been a less than active blogger these last few weeks: the days getting shorter, and I was feeling more and more like a cross between senator Thomas Buddenbrooks at the end of Thomas Mann's novel and a misantropic Quasimodo.

Today was a day off and I've spent most of it sleeping, only becoming active after noon. Now, I'm on the sofa, listening to consolingly melancholic French music from the 1960's: Brigitte Fontaine's "Comme à la radio" and "Une soirée avec Barbara" by Barbara - of course.

Brigitte Fontaines record, released in 1969, was the result of the collaboration by the chanteuse with the Art Ensemble of Chigaco and Fontaine's husband Areski Belkacem, a Frenchman of Algerian descent: a caleidoscope of French poetry, American "Black Power" free jazz and North African music. It was one of the first instances of World Music, but it is thankfully completely free from that genre's usual bland UNESCO-style universalist optimism: the chanteuse is too impassioned, too eccentric and too darkly cynical for that. Her lyrics are beautiful, surreal, sombre: "Il fait froid dans le monde / Ca commence à se savoir / Et il y a des incendies qui s'allument dans certains endroits / Parce qu'il fait trop froid " (Freely translated: "The world gets cold / That's becoming clear / And fires are blazing in certain places because it's getting too cold"). Amazingly, Fontaine is still active, collaborating with a variety of artists: Sonic Youth, Gotan Project and Archie Shepp, to name a few.

Barbara's record is a live recording of a february 1969 concert in Paris' famous Olympia venue on the Boulevard des Capucins. It is one of my mother's favorite records: she still has the double lp box set issued by Philips, she played so often when I was an infant. I loved it then, I still love it now. The music may be somewhat more conventional than that of Brigitte Fontaine, but it is deeply beautiful and the songs covers much a broader emotional spectrum: from the humorous ("Elle vendaits des petits gateaux") via the amourous ("La dame brune") to the sombre ("Le soleil noir" - "The Black Sun", a haunting, almost hallucinatory evocation of luxurious depression). It is a powerful, truly moving album. She died on november 25th 1997, and was buried two days later in the Jewish area of Bagneux Cemetery.

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