MC Solaar, Jazz Café, London
Rose Elinor Dougall, Madame JoJo's, London
MC Solaar makes a rare visit to London, where even non-French speakers are bewitched by his raps
Sunday 17 January 2010
One day last summer, wandering around the North Laine area of Brighton, I was accosted by a man with a camera. Nothing unusual in that: I've become something of a walking tourist attraction over the past couple of years.
This gentleman, however, introduced me to a handsome young chap in a tracksuit. Something in his manner gave the impression he was used to being recognised. His name was Fabri Fibra, camera man described him as "the Italian Eminem", and they wanted my wife and me to appear in their video. (It's called "Speak English", and our moment of glory is between 2.00 and 2.10 minutes.)
If he really is the Italian Eminem, then why, in this age of global communication, haven't I heard of him? The answer goes beyond the mere problem of comprehension, and the impracticality of adding subtitles to audio. Some languages are simply better suited to the flow of rap than others, and for all Signor Fibra's doubtless skilful efforts, a tongue as staccato as Italian isn't one of them.
French, however, certainly is. It lends itself to poetry better than English, as anyone who's read Verlaine and Baudelaire in the original will know. The music in its vowels is perfectly suited to, well, music. And no one has harnessed that flow better, in the past 20 years, than MC Solaar.
Claude M'Barali, born in Senegal but raised in the banlieues of Paris, is the only French rapper whose skills have been recognised in America (he appeared on Guru's Jazzmatazz project and one mix of Missy's "All N My Grill"), and has released a succession of French-language rap albums which can "speak" even to non-francophones, notably 1994's Prose Combat and 2001's Cinquième As.
After all, you don't need to understand a language in order to recognise wordplay. Just as a Gainsbourg fan can enjoy the repeated "ui" sounds of "Sensuelle et sans suite", or the assonant sibilants of "Est-ce est-ce si bon?", so one can marvel at the percussive "tic-tac" sounds tonight in Solaar's "Victime de la mode".
His first British concert in over a decade is attended almost exclusively by French expats, who know all the call-and-response parts as he rolls out rhymes with a DJ rather than a band behind him (unusually, for this venue) and exudes the kind of charisma you could cut with a knife and share to everyone in the room.
Which is a pity. If you do parlez français, Solaar's material is rich with resonance. (He's a philosophy graduate.) But even if you don't, the man's a star. Don't be afraid to take the jump.
The Pipettes were one of the great shoulda-beens of Noughties pop. The Sixties-style girl group from Brighton ended up replacing their entire original line-up before fading from view, but not without releasing one smart, sassy debut album. The first founder member to jump ship was Julia Clark-Lowes, who formed The Indelicates in 2005. Now it's Rose Elinor Dougall's turn to put the polka-dots in mothballs and step out solo.
Dougall – the granddaughter, incidentally, of legendary BBC newsreader Robert Dougall (the man whose voice announced the declaration of war on Germany in 1939) – has the looks of a nouvelle vague film starlet and, it transpires, a great mournful pop voice.
Her two singles to date, the tellingly titled "Another Version of Pop Song" and the sweepingly romantic "Start/ Stop/Synchro", have surprised even Pipettes lovers with their subtlety and class. There are still handclaps, but they don't come with smiles. There are still hands on hips, but they express frustration, not flirtatiousness. And there's a new vulnerability which comes with not being flanked by two other girls pulling shapes. (Most of the time, she's too busy playing two keyboards for any hand-jive frivolity.)
Dougall's songs have an attractively autumnal melancholy, infused with regrets about "nights we'll never have again", but also the insouciant swing of Plastic Letters Blondie, the yearning quality of Dusty Springfield circa "Stay Awhile", and the maximalism of Stereolab if they were driven by l'amour fou rather than Marxist theory.
Her timing might just be perfect. The pop world's surely done with twee electro-girlies now, and ready for a more complex flavour. Second time around, if there's any justice, Rose will be a shoulda-been no more.
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