Music

Multicultural Sounds Power 'Chebran Volume 2: French Boogie 1982-1989'

Chebran Volume 2 continues Born Bad Records' exploration of French boogie from '70s and '80s, with Volume 2 focusing on the years 1982-89.

Chebran Volume 2: French Boogie 1982-1989
Various Artists

Born Bad

15 June 2018

If "boogie" sounds stylistically obscure to today's listeners, it's because it represents phenomenalism in its purest form: a meshing of styles, proto-styles, and sub-genres into a musical category defined by the pure physicality of its groove. The roots of so many styles can be found here, from New Wave and post-punk to funk carioca, synthpop, hip-hop, and modern R&B. The overarching quality of the sound lies in its unselfconscious embrace of diversity.

There's a sense of play in the electronic side of these tracks; a childish delight in the ability to mesh instruments together and produce beats and groove. There is a free-form nonchalance to early hip-hop, refreshing when juxtaposed against the tortured over-production that layers today's singles.

Importantly, this was music designed for radio. You can feel it: this is music for driving, for feeling the breeze in your hair through open car tops. The beats sync naturally with the rhythms of the road; the street; the sand and waves and anywhere else a ghettoblaster could bring it. This is music to dance to; to feel; in which to immerse oneself in pure sensory euphoria.

French boogie of the period was indelibly shaped by the world music influences drawn toward the country's urban centers as a consequence of its 19th- and 20th-century colonialism. North African beats are ubiquitous, lending a Middle Eastern sound at times to the various tracks. Convergence went both ways: French-born rockers found themselves drawn toward reggae and African funk, while music producers and even educators encouraged the country's African diaspora to pick up instruments and become rock stars, in the name of either profit or community building (or both).

Radio was another important element of this explosive moment of musical innovation; the liberalizing of French airwaves and licensing of unprecedented numbers of independent radio stations further spurred on experimentation with new sounds and new artists, as everyone strove to find a niche and stand out as unique. It was a perfect storm for musical innovation, and French boogie was the serendipitous beneficiary.

The album's liner notes tell a stirring story in photos alone. The deeply rooted diversity, the sense of promise and the equally uncertain future of this musical moment are all expressed in irrepressibly optimistic picture format: the awkwardly donned college jackets of musicians who feel they should look like rockers despite the fact their music was nothing like rock 'n' roll. The gleeful poses in sweats and athletic outfits perched triumphantly over a ghettoblaster – mobile assault unit of the new music movement – a band member doing the splits because why not. The sultry gaze and carefully coiffed New Wave hairdo of a musician whose funk is not remotely New Wave but doesn't know how else to convey his avant-garde'ness. This is a movement which unselfconsciously embraced all these identities because it fit at once everywhere and nowhere.

The convergence of styles is reflected in the compilation's musical selections above all. It's there in the apt title of Phil Barney's "Funk Rap"; in the hint of post-punk guitar riffs on Shams Dinn's "Hedi Bled Noum"; in both the evocatively middle-eastern title and vocal sampling of Philippe Chany's "Cairo Connection." Creole Star's "Break Magic Da" is pure early hip-hop, reduced to its basics of beat and rhyme. Ethnie's "De Chagrin En Chagrin" opens with Middle Eastern flute but quickly descends into funky bass beats spun around a vocalist who sounds like he belongs in a New Wave band.

There's the gentle groove of JM Black's "Lipstick"; a funk chorus interspersed with proto-rap. Nordine Staïfi's "Dansez le Raksi" combines gentle grooves with sultry French male vocals, while Brigit et Michot's "Ta Face Preface" turns up the funk in a minimalist upbeat manner.

There's a hint, too, of the harder edge to come, expressed above all in Ettika's eponymous track, which evokes the dark-edged freestyle sampling of baile funk. Hamidou's "Jawla Feli" is truly unique: rough-edged, slightly distorted electronic beats and sampling whose poor production quality conveys a deliberately dark sound; this is coupled with rapping evocative of a Gallic Falco in all its aggressive enunciation. Ganawa's "Yamna" combines urgent, angry beats with a faintly Middle-Eastern rhythm, sped up and irresistibly danceable.

Most tracks are irrepressibly dancy: stand-outs include Sammy Massamba's "Propriete Privee," with its African funk-rock beats, while Alfio Scandurra's "Qu'est-ce Qui Ne Va Pas?" is proto-techno in its beat and sampling structure. Marie Jose Fa's "C'est Tabou" returns to the funk groove but blends it with exquisitely timed female rapping. Manu's "La Rage du Funky", meanwhile, is almost pure Kraftwerk; a gorgeous wave of layered synthesizers and robotic vocalizations that sweep over the listener as only early '80s synthwave can. But this is boogie first and foremost, and Joel Ferrati's "Pourquoi Tante De Haine" closes out the album with upbeat keyboard rhythms and aggressive hip-hop vocals.

Chebran Volume 2 offers French boogie of a particular historical moment, but its greatest contribution lies in the timelessness of its message: it doesn't matter where music comes from, what matters is how it makes you feel. Remarkably inventive; gloriously appropriative; the raw creative power of early French boogie deserves a timeless audience.

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