Alliance Ethnik

Creation date : 1990
Country : France
Language : French
Category : Composer / DJ / Male Artist / Songwriter
Style of music : Rap
Members : Crazy B, Faster J, Gutsy, K-Mel, Medard

With their funky style based on strong melodies and resolutely upbeat lyrics, Alliance Ethnik have injected the French rap scene with a healthy dose of optimism. While the group’s songs tend to steer away from the social and political issues which haunt the work of their more committed colleagues, Alliance Ethnik have proved extremely popular with the French public, the three singles from their début album "Simple et funky" rocketing to the top of the charts.

With their funky style based on strong melodies and resolutely upbeat lyrics, Alliance Ethnik have injected the French rap scene with a healthy dose of optimism. While the group’s songs tend to steer away from the social and political issues which haunt the work of their more committed colleagues, Alliance Ethnik have proved extremely popular with the French public, the three singles from their début album "Simple et funky" rocketing to the top of the charts.

The members of this five-strong posse were all born in France, but as children of immigrant parents they trace their origins back to a variety of other countries (including Italy, Algeria and the Congo). It was this mix of cultural origins which inspired the group’s name : Alliance Ethnik (the ethnic alliance). The group’s charismatic frontman Kamel Houairi, better known to French rap fans as K-Mel, was born in the Paris suburbs on 22 September 1972. Growing up in a close-knit Kabyle family who had emigrated to France from Algeria, K-Mel would listen to traditional Arab music from his parents’ homeland as well as getting into his brothers’ funk records. It was not long before K-Mel also discovered the thriving rap and rai scene in the suburbs. Inspired by this rich musical mix, the young teenager soon became a passionate music fan and got involved in singing with local rap groups. Before long he established an excellent reputation for himself as a "tchatcheur" (French slang for the MC who improvises a rap over the top of the melody line).  

K-Mel made his first major public appearance in June 1990 at a local venue in his home suburb Creil (north of Paris). The young tchatcheur’s impeccable sense of rhythm and perfect rapping elocution certainly impressed the crowd of rap fans present that night. Encouraged by this first success, K-Mel then teamed up with two close friends, singer Médard and musical programmer Gutsy. The trio were soon joined by a pair of talented young DJs, Crazy B and Faster J (ex-vice champions of the international DJ contest held in 1992 and 1993) and the newly-formed Alliance Ethnik began performing at local venues in the Paris suburbs.

It was not long before Alliance Ethnik booked a session at a local studio and recorded a sharp demo tape which they sent round to various companies. The tape was soon picked up on by IZB, a well-known group of rap concert promoters who booked Alliance Ethnik to support the Marseille rap stars IAM at their Paris concert at the Elysées Montmartre in 1992. This proved to be Alliance Ethnik’s major break, for a number of press reporters and talent scouts were in the audience that night. Alliance Ethnik not only received rave reviews in French music magazines, they were also offered an immediate recording deal with the independent Paris-based label Delabel.  Yet while Alliance Ethnik had managed to launch their career almost overnight, it took a little longer before they were ready to record their début album - three years in fact. Meanwhile the group were kept extremely busy with their live performances and their songwriting sessions. Alliance Ethnik soon began to establish an excellent reputation for themselves on the European rap scene, and in 1993 the Swiss rap group Sens Unik invited them to perform as special guest stars on their album. Alliance Ethnik were also featured on the 1994 rap compilation album "Mondial rap" with their song "Playback".

The debut album

Alliance Ethnik's major breakthrough on the French music scene came in 1995 with the release of their début album "Simple et Funky". This album, recorded and mixed in studios in Paris and New York, was produced by Bob Power (famous for his work with a variety of international stars such as A Tribe Called Quest and Meshell). "Respect", the first single release from the album, proved an instant hit, rocketing to the top of the charts in the summer of 95. This catchy single, which featured backing vocals by the young American singer Vinja Mojica, epitomised Alliance Ethnik’s style - upbeat lyrics, strong melodies and fun-loving funk. This certainly proved a winning formula with French teenagers who flocked to see the group wherever they played.

The name Alliance Ethnik was soon on everyone’s lips and the group appeared to be everywhere that summer. After playing at the Printemps de Bourges festival in April and at the Paris venue Le Bataclan on 13 June, the group gave a memorable performance at the famous Francofolies festival in La Rochelle. They then embarked upon an extensive national tour, playing over 100 dates across France. "Simple et Funky" and "Honesty et Jalousie", the two follow-up singles to "Respect", would also prove to be enormous hits.

By the beginning of 1996 Alliance Ethnik had sold an incredible 700,000 singles and a phenomenal 350,000 albums. Their status as one of France’s leading rap groups was confirmed on 30 January 1996 when they packed out the Paris club Le Zénith, attracting a capacity crowd of 4,000 to their concert. Yet this lightning rise to fame was not without its drawbacks. Several music journalists began to criticise the facile nature of Alliance Ethnik’s lyrics, reproaching the group for concentrating on fun and partying when their rap should be dealing with social and political issues. Other critics bemoaned the non-stop promotional hype which constantly surrounded the group. 

In spite of this growing criticism Alliance Ethnik retained an immensely strong fan base and their popularity continued unchecked. The group went on to triumph at the annual "Victoires de la musique" awards in February 1996, winning the award for Best New Group of the Year.

Following this triumph K-Mel, the group’s charismatic lead singer - who had become one of the most popular idols among French teenage girls - temporarily branched out from the group. He recorded a solo number, "Louled", for the soundtrack of "Les deux papas et la maman", a film made by the famous French comedian Smaïn. ("Les deux papas et la maman" would appear on general release in May 96). 

 Two years later K-Mel returned to the studio to record a duet ("Parisien du nord") with Rai star Cheb Mami. Taking advantage of a break in Alliance Ethnik's hectic schedule, K-Mel went on to produce a number of new French talents such as Gutsy and Faster Jay. Meanwhile, another member of the group, Crazy B. renewed his links with the DJ scene and in 1998 he went on to become the DMC vice world champion for the fourth year running.

Alliance Ethnik rocketed back to the forefront of the French music scene at the start of 99, however, with a new album entitled "Fat Comeback". This new album, which was as heavily dance-oriented as the group's earlier work, had a special American touch courtesy of producer Prince Charles Alexander (who had already made a name for himself on the French music scene working with a host of famous rap stars such as the Marseilles rap posse IAM). "Fat Comeback" also featured a number of special guest stars in the form of Youssou N'dour, who sang guest vocals on "Un Enfant doit vivre", and the American group De La Soul who guested on "Star Track".

Meanwhile, the Alliance Ethnik success story continues to roll on and on. And with their catchy mix of rap, funk and Black American influences, the ‘simple and funky’ posse look set to remain at the top of the French charts for many years to come.

February 99 

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