Trying to pinpoint what makes Lo’Jo’s music both so distinctive and attractive is like defining the world-of-its own atmosphere of gypsy performance by tracing the shadows cast by the blazing campfire. But their music will make you want to start juggling firesticks and dancing with bears.
Since 1982, when Lo’Jo began composing music to accompany their own avant-garde theater presentations, the troupe has developed an amazing musical mixture—a pot-au-feu of French chanson textured with carnival music, gypsy swing, rock, dub, and jazz. The Romany intonations of lyrics in French, Arabic, Spanish, and English ride over a combination of African and Western percussion which simultaneously give the songs a folksy and urban air. The sounds of the accompanying violins, accordian, piano, saxophones, clarinets, whistles, and other specialty instruments are mixed over and through the French Afro-Arab vocals and drumbeats. It all combines into a spontaneous-sounding living theater presentation, as if all this music has been created for the very first time at the very instant you happen to hear it.
Lo’Jo is like the living soundtrack to an ultra-contemporary version of Marcel Carné‘s Les Infants du Paradis (aka, Children of Paradise). Which may account for their recent growing success at world music festivals around the globe. Lo’Jo has graced Womad stages both in the U.S. and Europe from 1998 on and have been asked back three times for Seattle’s Bumbershoot Festival. Lo’Jo’s entire summer 2001 tour of the U.S. was sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and that tour culminated at Festival’s Pannon Praktikum World Music Big Stage in Hungary. The band is accustomed to performing with acrobats on the street, in North African deserts by camel-skin tents, and at music festivals that arose in Timbuktu from the ashes of 3,000 rifles and handguns that were burned in a symbolic ‘Flame of Peace’.
The gravelly-voiced lead singer Denis Péan has the smoky, fractured tone of a cabaret singer. Nonetheless, he provides a well-traveled delivery to the drama of chanson for the rock-dub “Rwandamnation”. Péan lends his zeitgeist and empassioned broken English to the charming “Dans la Poussière du Temps” by wondering (in but one of his many poetic questions), “Is there a place for the poor fellow justice man?” Sisters Nadia and Yamina Nid el Mourid provide shimmering, confident North African backup vocals. The sisters perform a hypnotic rondele with “Magdalena”, their voices vibrating brightly as the lyrics unfold and phrases repeat, the words coursing back in on themselves. Dierdre Dubois (of Evoka) and Mahaboub Khan (of Musafir) also join in on “Si Jamais Si” for vocals and dholak, a two-headed barrel drum. Throughout the recording, the 13 songs are perfectly paced between fast and slow, and the result is beyond charming, it’s just nearly magic.
Imagine a lucidity that enabled you to fully understand your world even when you had questions about it, and the ability to express how you felt about it all. Originally recorded in 1997 and produced by Justin Adams, whom The Guardian called “Britain’s answer to Ry Cooder”, Mojo Radio has been rescued from cult status and re-issued by World Village Music. Taken together with their current release Bohême de Cristal, this music shows Lo’Jo to be possibly one of the most unusual bands ever to emerge from France, and a group simply not to be missed either on record or stage.
// Notes from the Road
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