The South shall rise . . .

France's Occitan New Wave
By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  October 1, 2008

Lo Còr de la Plana

Drawing on everything from mediæval pilgrimage chants and troubadour poetry to contemporary rap and ragga, the singing groups of the South of France have been beating the drum (that is, the bendir and the tamburello) for their Occitan (a/k/a Provençal) language since at least the ’80s, when hip-hop band Massilia Sound System emerged in Marseille. They come from Toulouse (Fabulous Trobadors), Aude (La Mal Coiffée), La Ciotat (the MSS spinoff Moussu T e lei Jovents), and Nice (Nux Vomica) as well as Marseille (Lo Còr de la Plana). And this Friday, October 3, Lo Còr de la Plana are coming to the Somerville Theatre. Give a listen and you too could be “fada” (mad) for “lo bèu païs, tot li dansa e tot li ris” (“the beautiful country, everyone dances and everyone laughs”). 

Lo Còr de la Plana, “Jorns De Mai”
They’re a male sextet, their name means “The Heart of La Plaine” (the bohemian quarter in Marseille), and their close harmony is fabulous. “Jorns de mai,” which they performed at the Les Suds festival in Arles this past July, is a troubadour-like song from their most recent album, Tant deman, about the “days of May” and gathering rosebuds while you can.

Massilia Sound System, “Òai E Libertat”
The best-established of the Occitan New Wave bands, this trobamuffin septet draw their name from the old Roman name for Marseille. The title song of their most recent (2007) album is a call to the people: “òai” is that Provençal enthusiasm that overflows into disorderly festivity, “libertat” is “freedom,” and as the lyrics tell us, “everyone is capable of it.”

Fabulous Trobadors, “L’accent”
Born in Toulouse in 1987, Fabulous Trobadors combine the writing and rapping of Claude Sicre with the human-beat-boxing of Ange B (Jean-Marc Enjalbert). In “L’accent,” from the 1998 album On the Linha Imaginot (referring to the imaginary line that connects like-minded cultures), Sicre stresses the importance of maintaining your own “accent” (more than just the way you talk): “If you lose it, you’re shit.”

La Mal Coiffée, “Racatau”
A female sextet from Aude (southeast of Toulouse), La Mal Coiffée (loosely translatable as “Bad Hair Day”) can be as sharp-tongued as Finland’s Värttinä or as sweet-voiced as the nightingale that turns up on this track from their Polyphonies occitanes album that they performed in Montpellier for France 2 last October. Show host Michel Drucker is all at sea (he doesn’t identify the song, and he doesn’t seem to realize they’re not singing in French), but you won’t be.

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