Orange Blossom: The return of flower power

French band Orange Blossom have a Mexican-born percussionist and a vocalist who sings in Arabic. Phil Meadley meets them
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

If you want to catapult multiculturalism to its furthest parameters, look no further than Orange Blossom. This Franco-Arabic collective is led by percussionist/drummer Carlos Robles Arenas, a native of Mexico City, and is named after a 1920s train immortalised by Ervin Rouse and Chubby Wise's fiddle tune "Orange Blossom Special".

Thethin, dread-headed Robles Arenas has a thick Latino accent that isn't easy to understand, but his enthusiasm is palpable when he discusses the band's recent tour with Robert Plant. Robles Arenas is acting as spokesman to promote the band's refreshing debut album Everything Must Change, and to promote their support slot for Plant at Somerset House on 10 July. The group were invited to tour with the ex-Led Zeppelin singer after he was given their album by a friend. "I admire their compulsive rhythms and soulful vocals," says Plant. "It's a serene hypnosis..."

Of the band's eclecticism, Robles Arenas says: "At [a music] school in Havana I met people from all over the world, and we discovered a lot about each other's musical cultures. It made me decide that when I moved back to France I would use all these different styles of music. It is the future."

Orange Blossom's mesmerising 25-year-old singer Leila Bounous is of Algerian descent, and the album was partly recorded in Cairo. Robles Arenas feels drawn to Arabic culture. "We wanted to find an Arabic singer because we'd been [working] in Cairo and needed someone to reflect that inspiration," he says. "For me ,Arabic music is very beautiful and musical."

Robles Arenas met fellow band members P J Chabot and Mathias Vaguenez in France. "At first we started to play in an acoustic style," he says. "There was violin, guitar, accordion and Hammond. Then we started to mix it with machines and used samples from all over the world. For two years we worked every day to find a style that we really felt." A perfect outcome of this is the track "Bendimina (My Heart Is Aching)", which blends Indian rhythms, percussion from the Ivory Coast, Bulgarian voices, African rhythms and Tchaikovsky.

Although Everything Must Change was finished by March 2005, it took eight months to see the light of day. "We were told that no one wanted to hear Arabic music because of the problems with the war. Even though a lot of people speak Arabic [in France] it seems like it's a taboo."

The band's recent tour of the Middle East has reinforced his feelings of music as being the only true language. "In the last 15 days we've been in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Palestine. When you watch the television it doesn't represent real life. It's political. For example, if you say to Israeli officials that you want to play in Palestine, they will say you can't. So you have to say that you don't want to play there, only Jerusalem. We still went and performed a small concert, and people were dancing, loving what we were doing."

Carlos explains that the title of the album came to him at the end of recording. "You have to find a way to live your life, and you have to find a way to understand other people's cultures. We don't want any more taboos about things like sex, politics, or religion. We want to be free, so everything must change."

'Everything Must Change' is out now on Wrasse Records. Orange Blossom support Robert Plant on 10 July at Somerset House, London

Comments