The plight of refugees and migrants lost at sea while trying to escape war, poverty, and political oppression has inspired not a few musicians and bands. Artists as diverse as M.I.A. (“Paper Planes”, “Borders”), Rage Against the Machine (“Without a Face”), Benjamin Clementine (“God Save the Jungle”), and Sara Bareilles (“A Safe Place to Land”), to name just a few, have highlighted the suffering of those forced to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere.
Now come Delgres, the Paris-based blues-rock trio, with a new single, “Assez Assez” (Enough), that decries the deaths of émigrés seeking refuge during a global pandemic. “It’s a crisis we’re all living that’s filling the air with tons of images and sounds. So much so that we no longer hear the cries of those with nothing, still risking their lives to come to our countries, begging for dignity and justice,” says Pascal Danaë, Delgres’ leader, guitarist, and vocalist.
Danaë is the son of immigrants who moved to Paris from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, a former French colony. He named his trio―the other members are drummer Baptiste Brondy and sousaphonist Rafgee―for Louis Delgrès, a Creole officer in the French Army, who died in Guadeloupe in 1802 while resisting Napoleon Bonaparte’s reimposition of slavery in the French Caribbean. “Respecté Nou” (Respect Us), from Mo Jodi, Delgres’ 2018 debut album, was inspired by Danaë’s being shown the letter of manumission given to his great-great-grandmother, who had been enslaved.
While growing up in Paris, Danaë heard a wide range of music―British rock, classical, Caribbean pop, American folk. He began his career playing jazz and fusion in Paris clubs. He later became a session musician, playing guitar on recordings by Peter Gabriel, Gilberto Gil, Youssou N’Dour, and Harry Belafonte.
With Delgres, Danaë has developed a signature style that merges blues, jazz, rock, and Caribbean influences. He’s a compelling, soulful vocalist and masterful guitarist steeped in the blues. His bandmates are well-chosen. Brondy’s drumming drives this power trio without becoming showy or overbearing. Meanwhile, Rafgee’s sousaphone―a nod to New Orleans brass bands―provides bass lines that rumble and strut. Danaë’s lyrics, mainly in Guadeloupe Creole (and sometimes French and English), reflect his concern for social justice and a consciousness grounded in colonial and postcolonial history.
“Assez Assez” is the first single from Delgres’ forthcoming album 4:00 AM, to be released on 9 April. The video for the song was filmed at Magic Mirrors, a club in the French port city of Le Havre, where Danaë’s parents landed when they immigrated in the 1960s. “Assez Assez” has a denser, more layered sound than that of Mo Jodi. Danaë’s guitar is more an element of the mix than the dominant one. But the new single has all the qualities that make the trio a pleasure to hear: a powerful groove, an emotive vocal by Danaë, and an earworm of a chorus. Not to mention a message that couldn’t be timelier: “You gentlemen who govern / Listen to those people screaming / Who is knocking on the door? / It’s the world.”