Rabia e poesia
(Brennus Music-Adreit, 2014)

From Beziers, France, Goulamas'K is a rock and ska band from Occitania, a language region that reaches across Southern France, from the Pyrenees to the Alps, including small areas of Spain and Italy as well.

Most of the musicians expressing their identity in Occitan do so in the folk idiom, but these are folk-rockers, with an emphasis on rock. What makes them fun to listen to, despite the raggedness of this live record, is that the folk and jazz instruments drive the music forward.

This is the first live album from the band, after 15 years on the road and several studio records, with live material from a number of 2013 concerts from around the region on the disc's 19 tracks. It is a high-energy recording that contains much of the excess of rock but also elements of ska, punk and folk, and features regional instruments and a horn section.

With lyrics sung in both French and Occitan, the band espouses an Occitanist or regionalist, anti-capitalist ethic, highlighting the struggles of workers. In the most accomplished track, "Miseria," led by two dulcainas -- Spanish double-reed instruments in the oboe family -- the band asks, "Do you want this miserable pay, or the road to our freedom?" Although six minutes long, it never lets up.

Another favourite is "Bella Ciao," the marching song of the Italian partisan, sung here in Occitan with a rock swagger, the guitar solo morphing into a ska beat. Folk-rocker "Mon Pais" speaks of Occitania, "my land is the Earth, my Occitan village." On the Occitan anthem "Se Canta" about a bird, "when it sings, it sings again, it does not sing for me, it sings for my love who is far away."

"Promesses" is about the broken promises of politicians while "Atilla Dream," a superb song about homelessness, starts softly but builds to a rock crescendo. "Sitting on a bench, watching the passers by, come and go without leaving the slightest trace." Serious topics, for sure, but they are a lot of fun to listen to, if you are in the right mood.

The title track, a swaggering ska rocker, vows to protect the beautiful Occitan language against French colonialism and English imperialism. "Doblida Me" turns on a slower axis and relies on a ska riff and a brilliant horn section.

The lead vocalist known simply as Fred (first names only in this band) is probably not the most melodic of singers but is not lacking in passion. Drummer Angel and guitarist Florian bring all of their rock ethos while the horn section, the dulcainas, lend distinctiveness. Yadou on the trombone, dulcaina and flute lends energy, while Sly lays down a rumbling bass. White-haired Jean-Luc plays trumpet, bouzouki, hurdy-gurdy and more.

Goulamas'K incorporates regional folk instruments, ska and rock rhythms and anti-centrist politics in a manner reminiscent of Valencia's Obrint Pas, and La Gossa Sorda, although more extroverted. Clearly influenced by musical directions in the Basque and Catalan areas, Goulamas'K also can be reminiscent of Negu Gorriak or Kortatu, Fermin Muguruza's legendary Basque groups, but more reliance on horns and traditional instruments than those groups.

Occitania does not yet have the presence as a stateless nation such as Basque Country or Catalonia, but nonetheless it has many musicians willing to take up its cause. Proud Occitans -- bombastic, yes, at times, but also irrepressible -- Goulamas'K has emerged as a force to be reckoned with and one of Occitania's top bands.

[ visit the artist's website ]

music review by
David Cox

7 May 2016

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