Moussu T e lei Jovents,
(Manivette, 2012)

There's a small city near Marseilles called La Ciotat (simply "The City") in this more industrialized, less touristed, part of France's famous Mediterranean coast. From that town and region comes a band with a distinct local sound and some very attractive rhythms.

Moussu T is a spinoff from Marseilles' most famous reggae band, Massilia Sound System. But this music is quite different from the reggae of Massilia. It's more of a blues-based sound, but one rooted in the history of the region of Provence.

"Moussu T" is Provencal for "Mr. T." (singer Tatou), real name Francois Ridel. Lei Jovents means the youths, meant ironically for this veteran band that also features MSS guitarist Blu as well as Deli K (percussion, vocals), Denis (percussion, vocals) and Brazilian percussionist Jamilson. This is their seventh disc since 2005.

Moussu T performs in both French and Provencal (Occitan), evoking the region in a similar way to that evoked by the late Jean-Claude Izzo in his noir novels -- Izzo borrowed the title of his novel Chourmo from an MSS disc. Moussu T likewise evokes an urban landscape, slightly mysterious, populated by true characters, a multiplicity of nationalities, lots of good food and drink.

The songs are a musical mix reflecting the region: Provencal, Italian, Arab, Brazilian, Spanish, Gypsy, West Indian and African. The sea plays a prominent role, as do emotions of leaving and regret, common to a seaside region. Their music hearkens back to the 1920s and '30s when Provencal ports were among the maritime capitals of the world and attracted the world's people. The music ranges from the blues of "Mistral" to the samba of "Le Bateau."

In one of the best songs, "Embarcatz," the band invites the listener to sail off on a voyage of discovery. "In the great song of the planet / we want to bring our passion / like a sea swell that never stops / we will visit all the ports." In "Monte va Canconeta," that theme continues: "My song like a boat / in the flaming sunset / go -- sail without a map -- to the horizon."

Embracing a diverse region proud of its working class traditions, rather than the Provence of the wealthy, they reference anarchism as a way to freedom: "Pass me my red flag, I'll hang it from the shutters / while you're at it / pass me the black flag as well." As well, they embrace a diverse France where regional languages are equal to the dominant one; and where newcomers are welcomed. A true liberte-egalite-fraternite.

But beyond all that, Moussu T simply finds a groove, sticks in it, and makes impressively chilled-out music. Not for nothing there are at least three percussionists -- one of them Brazilian! If you are into this music, you can never get enough of it.

music review by
David Cox

31 August 2013

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