ROCK / It's the rapping not the contents: MC Solaar performs in French, but still pulls a crowd in London. Joseph Gallivan undergoes speech therapy
Thursday 21 January 1993
One might think then, that the British need a French language rapper like a poisson needs a velo. But MC Solaar, newly signed to the Talkin' Loud label, has, at 23, already sold 200,000 copies of his album, Qui Seme le Vent Recolte le Tempo, in France. His is the sort of street-level success story - a college educated black from a volatile housing estate in the Paris suburb of Villeneuve-St Georges made good - that is guaranteed to intrigue a choosy UK audience. The curious were out in strength, queueing round the block at the Jazz Cafe in Camden.
At least, half of them were curious. The front half of the venue (including the chic little tables round the edge of the balcony) was populated with French people, who bobbed along throughout and joined in with all the choruses. MC Solaar, or Claude to his maman, was in laid-back mood. Literally. While the other seven performers, the 501 Possee, danced, scratched and hollered their way through the set, Solaar leaned against a pillar on stage, looking cool in a red warehouse coat, cream jumper and navy jeans. Apart from some delicate gestures with his palms and the odd stroll to stretch his legs, this is where he stayed.
His casual approach is a crucial to his avoidance of becoming a bad Gallic copy of so many American acts. 'I saw myself on a video a few years ago, strutting about, shouting 'Yo]',' he explained in the tiny dressing-room before the show. 'Then I realised it was better to speak than to shout.' Solaar's delivery has the smooth, deep tone of Guru from the American act Gang Starr, or LL Cool J, but with French being so musical, even his most incomprehensible sentences have a linguistic allure that is almost lost in English.
Mind you, he does tend to overdo it. The single 'Qui Seme le Vent Recolte le Tempo' is typical of his verbal playfulness - full of alliteration and internal rhymes. A pun on the famous saying, tempo is substituted for tempete, making the title 'Who Sows the Wind Harvests the Rhythm'. It may be clever, but does it signify anything? 'On me traite de traitre quand je traite de la defaite du silence,' he rapped with amazing speed. Meaning? 'People call me a traitor when I talk about the end of silence.' If that sounds like a slice of Samuel Beckett, you wouldn't be far off.
MC Solaar must be the only rapper who takes more inspiration from academic books than from television and the street. 'I'm interested in rhetoric, negres (paid scribes who write letters for the illiterate), books of etymology, how ancient peoples argued . . . I love the books of Queneau and Georges Perec, who can write a whole novel without using the letter 'e', or any literature with inherent difficulties. I love puns and the free play of language.'
By now he had talked so much that he was in danger of not leaving enough time for the show. 'A Temps Partiel' ('Part Time Work / Life') proved a good opener, at 11pm, establishing a slow groove with minimal bass and some jazzy organ hooks, all laid down to showcase the maestro's musings. The pace varied little from the square plodding of basic hip-hop, although his big hit in France, 'Bouge de La' ('Get Outta Here'), made the atmosphere twice as intense. Even the English sensed it.
The show ended with a 'remix' of the same track, and warm applause. Despite the unadventurous accompanying beats and scratching, Solaar managed to move the crowd with his speech, even if the play of language sometimes ran away from us all.
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days
Oscar voter speaks outfilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Madonna claims jokes about her age tantamount to racism: 'No one would dare to say a degrading remark about being black'
Seinfeld is laughing all the way to the bank: TV show generates $3.1bn in repeat fees since final episode
Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl: First look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Blade Runner sequel: Harrison Ford confirmed to return with Denis Villeneuve directing
All fiction follows one of six basic storylines, according to new research
House of Cards season 3 premiere, review: Has Frank Underwood gone soft?
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia