Bibi Tanga & the Selenites,African heat wave
New album, 40° of Sunshine
Bibi Tanga and his Selenites are back on track with 40° of Sunshine, a torrid album cooked up during a tour of Africa. Conjuring up memories of dance-filled bars fermented in palm toddy, the dozen tracks mark out the tempo with a flourish.
"This is our third album," Bibi Tanga told us on a sunny Parisian café terrace. The singer and bass player best known for accompanying the TV show Salut les Terriens with the group Gréements de Fortune, allowed himself the indulgence of dipping into his memories, back to the continent that spawned this album. “After our previous album, Dunya, was released, we had the chance of doing a two-month tour of Africa and that obviously comes across,” he explained. “The groove is more accentuated, with a more direct, dancefloor sound.” Almost brutal, you could say, as if the African voyage tipped the balance over to the dark side, altering gravity under the band’s feet, like on the album cover.
Elders’ prophetic vision
"When I play afro, the audience laps it up. Although in Africa, people have been listening to a lot of music for a long time, and not just traditional music,” he added, throwing in genres: “rock, funk, reggae…” For Bibi Tanga, this openness is the shape of the future. “It’s the prophetic vision of the Elders,” he said smilingly before telling us how the tracks came about: “Professeur and I have been working together for 9 years now. It all starts with jams. We spend a week, in his studio, which is permanently wired up, getting out as much as we can. Then we listen to it and organize it all. The chorus comes and I write the lyrics in English, French or Sango (Ed’s note: language from Central Africa, Bibi Tanga’s homeland). Then come the arrangements. We try to be as free as we can. The only rule, if there is one, is to try and keep the jam spirit.”
It’s a spirit that includes taking on lyrics written by others. Poet of The Soul, for example, and My Heart is jumping include verses by Walt Whitman, the iconic 19th century American poet. Another track rich in slap bass groove bears the poetry of the pre-romantic British poet, William Blake. "Laughing Song is about joy," commented the singer before going on to present Happy Dustman,” with French and English lyrics written by his friend, Philippe Troyon. “It’s a first-person account of a young dustman’s working day.”
The record crisis takes us back to live
"We listen to all kinds of things," declared Bibi, reminding us that his accomplice, Professeur Inlassable, has a rock background. "He started out playing drums in a band from Bordeaux and even wrote a song that got into the top 50 before moving into mixing." Unsurprisingly, it’s on stage that the band and its singer-bass player have chosen to expose their new opus to the heat and light. "The record crisis has taken us back to the essence of live music,” proclaimed Bibi Tanga.
To match their evolving sound, Bibi and his gang have reworked their classic references. “For a long time, if we were asked to do a cover, we’d reel off Move on Up by Curtis Mayfield. Nowadays we play Naive Melody by Taking Heads". Their forthcoming concerts are almost certain to bear the mark of this more rock sound that sits between funk and P-funk, along with some classy arrangements and superb string work. A clutch of dates in France, one of them in the Belleville neighbourhood of Paris on 13 June, will precede a genuine “coast to coast” tour of the USA in July. "We’ll be playing in New York, Washington, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco..." he reeled off and then went on to mention those who won’t be taking part in the trip. “In October, we’ll be back on tour in France.” The dates are set for an African heat wave.
Bibi Tanga & The Selenites 40° of Sunshine. (Nat Geo Music) 2012
Translation: AM Harper