A true testament to how good a band or album can be is when music can transcend the language barrier. Often, over-thinking lyrics and searching for a deeper meaning within a song’s verbal context can take the place of simply kicking back and enjoying an album for what it is.
Popping in Moussu T e Lei Jovents’ latest offering, Forever Polida, I had no idea what I was in for. Initially, I figured this latest musical adventure in compact disc format would leave me thrown into the deep end without much of a musical reference point to draw from. Little did I know how much of the familiar I would find among something that, on the surface, seemed rather foreign. At first, I thought the album would be presented completely in French. Instead, Moussu T e Lei Jovents blends French with the more obscure Occitan language, generally spoken in various regions in the south of France, Italy, and Spain. While my French is sorely limited to such phrases as “oui”, “escargot”, and ““voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir”, my Occitan is even more lacking.
Contemplate the amalgam of regions covered by the dialect used on Forever Polida and you have just a small portion of elements comprising the group’s sound. The album itself is a tribute to both the city and the music of Marseille. Both, the group’s singularly-named lead singer, Tatou and guitarist, Blu, seem to have a particular fondness for the locale, having performed for over ten years with reggae/folk/rock outfit, the Massilia Sound System; (Massilia being the ancient Roman name for the equally ancient city of Marseille, dating back all the way to 600 B.C.)
To further understand the tradition that Moussu T e Le Jovients’ music is steeped in is to gain a greater understanding of Marseille itself. A port city that shares much in common with post-Purchase and pre-Katrina New Orleans, Marseille—even at the earliest point in its history—was a melting pot and convergence point of many races, ethnicities, and cultures. True to the musical history of Marseille, the group’s music reflects facets of the troubadour storytelling tradition with elements of reggae, folk, blues, and Brazilian music.
Upon first impressions, lead singer Tatou’s voice sounds as if it could be the bastard offspring of Leon Redbone and Maurice Chevalier, combining the best of both a deep, blues-drenched delivery, combined with a light, conversational, and distinctly French tone. Tatou’s overall effect is very versatile, lending itself well to many of the album’s tracks, and is a key ingredient in tying together the array of musical styles pieced together to form a cohesive whole on Forever Polida.
Perhaps the feature most responsible for setting the Marseillian mood of the album is the bluesy, jangling playing technique of guitarist Blu. With a style surprisingly similar to Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, Blu showcases his simple, yet impressive range on Forever Polida, alternating between slow picking and flamenco-style guitar, with a twanging slide rounding out the sound on many of the tracks. On the beautiful down-tempo ballad, “Sus l’Autura”, his guitar work really shines, lending an air of mournful yearning for the sea. Conversely, on the upbeat “Sur La Rive”, Blu mixes Spanish rhythms with bluegrass finger-picking, mandolin and a touch of Caribbean calypso.
With each passing track, the musical depth and variety of Moussu T e Lei Jovents shows itself. “Mon Escarrida” flows towards Spanish music that could convincingly fool the listener were it not for its heavily French accented vocals. “La Madòna Dau T.E.R.” borders on slow rock that leans on reggae and carries over to “Quand Tu N’As Que des Bons Amis”. Building upon a solid blues-rock base, the track is permeated by a vibe that bears a certain similarity to ‘70s Aerosmith jamming, only more Bastille than Boston.
Without having to know a lick of either French or Occitan, listeners are whisked away by Forever Polida on an atmospheric tour of the port of Marseille, focusing on the everyday, mundane beauty of Provençal life, as opposed to the jet-setting glamour usually associated with the south of France. The title track mixes both French and Occitan and translates to “Forever Beautiful”, a literal love letter to Marseille with Moussu T e Lei Jovents downplaying its exotic connotations, and instead focusing on the area’s pure and simple pastimes as the reason for the troubadours’ adoration.
The band graces the album with sound musicianship that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience, which proves that there are no national or linguistic boundaries when it comes to creativity. Regardless of dialect, Moussu T e Lei Jovents send a musical postcard worldwide carrying an open invitation to Marseille without the listener ever having to hop a plane.
// Notes from the Road
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