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Francis Bebey

African Electronic Music 1976-1982

A retrospective of truly incredible, clued up and innovative electronic songs music from Francis Bebey.

Cameroonian musician Francis Bebey is truly one of a kind. He entered the music scene with his African compositions for classical guitar. He gave recitals while pursuing a career in journalism and then as an international civil servant. The same creative impulse also led him to write pop songs, and some of which (based on novels he had written) became big hits in Africa and in the French-speaking world. But few people know that in the 1970s, Francis Bebey delved into electronic music. The first electronic keyboards, organs and drum machines offered him new possibilities of totally controlling his compositions. he embraced the technique of 'sound on sound' recording (recording several tracks, sequentially juxtaposed on the same tape). This new stage in his musical career included the production of several records ('Savannah Georgia,' 'New Track', 'Haiti'), rarities both for their creative explorations as well as their manifestations on vinyl. This was a particularly rich period for him, as he tested the limitless possibilities of the medium, and made use of surprising and novel instruments.

Born Bad Records present 'Psychedelic Sanza 1982-1984', a thrilling collection of material from Cameroonian artist Francis Bebey. A follow-up to 'African Electronic Music 1975 - 1982', this release focuses on music built around the sansa, a traditional African 'thump piano'. Combining his own global interests and electronic pursuits with the traditional sound of the sansa, he fashions an irresistible body of work for full immersion. 'Sanza Tristesse', with its lilting tempo and creaking vocals, could fit in any 80s disco set, while 'Forest Nativity' is an earthy nature walk. This collection is not to be missed.

"The first time I saw a sanza (a type of African thumb piano), it was just sitting there on a piece of furniture in my family's living room - a space that our father also transformed into a recording studio every day. It seemed more like a box than a musical instrument: a mysterious instrument, which arrived at our house, like many things, in a somewhat miraculous way. We knew our father loved to collect anything that could produce a sound. I don't know where he got this sansa. It was rather crude, clearly handmade, with only a few "keys" or "tines". I don't think he really played this one. The sounds it produced seemed particularly bizarre; to my young musician's ears, trained in Western classical music, it sounded out of tune. That's because, like my brothers and sisters, I had been trained on the piano. I had trouble understanding how anyone could endure these tones and, honestly, our father's passion for "unusual sounds" did not interest me. I was in secondary school at the time (the very late 1970s) and was not at all oriented toward musical projects. I planned to graduate, and then become a chef. In the early 1980s, my interest in music picked up. I was still undecided about my career. I was content to pursue my "serious" English studies while hanging out at jazz clubs at les Halles in Paris, where I sometimes joined jam sessions. Next, I put together my first band with professional musicians; I had hidden my age and lack of experience from them. France was just beginning to accept "world music." Musicians of every nationality were performing in Paris. It was a wonderful period. My father asked my brother Toups and me to accompany him for a few concerts. In particular, we toured Tunisia together at the time of the 1983 Carthage International Festival. Back then, my father was renowned across the French-speaking world. Everyone looked forward to hearing his humorous songs, like "Agatha" and "La condition masculine." But, behind the scenes, he continued his research concerning electronic music, the sansa, pygmy polyphony, etc. One day he put a sansa in my hands, without saying a word. He was sending me a message: "Let's see what you can do with it!" That's when I really discovered something. Exploring the instrument and playing, I transcended the "imperfect" aspect of its sound and began to discover its fascinating potential. Playing the sansa, you enter a world that enraptures you in a very serene and mesmerizing way. I think its sounds evoke a rainbow, with rain falling while the sun shines. A very peaceful feeling. It allows you to make music that truly sounds like life. The sansa is also the instrument that my father and I shared the most because I am a pianist and he was a guitarist. I also share this eminently African instrument with my musician brother, Toups. Our father loved to tell us one of the legends of the sansa: how it even managed to dispel the boredom felt by... the Creator himself! This instrument gives life to the world, to beings and things. I did not participate in the production of the various records that my father devoted to the sansa. He did it himself, you might say, in his "laboratory." Yet today, I cannot imagine playing a concert without using a sansa. The piano remains present so that listeners don't become disoriented and wonder about the weird sounds invading their ears! However, I find the eccentric and disturbing side of sansa interesting. And the sansa always affects the audience: in reality, it excites them. The secrets of this instrument are surely its beneficial powers and... its magic!" - Patrick Bebey


Brutal and complex, furious and spirit-evoking, making spikes then descending, the new album strikes the nail of black-garage-gospel with the hammer of Viking gods, right in the middle of a storm of decibels that lance the climate, electrically charged by each of J.C. Satan's coming shows.

Imagine Queens Of The Stone Age backing Serge Gainsbourg during Mexico's Day Of The Dead!!! 

1968. France, Incorporated. The entire building was being consumed by flames and was slowly collapsing. Nothing would survive. Out of the rubble of the old world jumped the children of Marx and Coca-Cola, ripping the white and blue stripes off the French flag. Yet, the socialist revolution was more mythic than real and music did nothing to mitigate people’s behavior. It was time for innovation. While singles from the Stones, Who, Kinks and MC5 provided an incendiary soundtrack for the revolution, it was black Americans who truly blew the world from its foundations in the 60s. Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy, Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp left behind the jazz of their fathers’ generation, liberating the notes, trashing the structures, diving headfirst into furious improvisations, inventing a new land without boundaries - neither spiritual nor political. Free jazz endowed the saxophone with the power to destroy the established order.

In 1969, the Art Ensemble of Chicago arrived at the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier in Paris and a new fuse was lit. Their multi-instrumentalism made use of a varied multiplicity of “little instruments” (including bicycle bells, wind chimes, steel drums, vibraphone and djembe: they left no stone unturned), which they employed according to their inspirations. The group’s stage appearance shocked as well. They wore boubous (traditional African robes) and war paint to venerate the power of their free, hypnotic music, directly linked to their African roots. They were predestined to meet up with the Saravah record label (founded in 1965 by Pierre Barouh), already at the vanguard of as-yet unnamed world music.

Brigitte Fontaine’s album 'Comme à La Radio', recorded in 1970 after a series of concerts at the Théâtre du Vieux Colombier, substantiated the union of this heiress to the poetic and politically committed chanson française (Magny, Ferré, Barbara) with the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s voodoo jazz and the Arab tradition perpetuated by her companion Areski Belkacem. A UFO had landed on the turntables of French teens, who were discovering underground culture via publications like Actuel, Libération, Charlie Hebdo, rock and folk and a vigorous free press. It was a generation ready for any and all combats: alongside farmers on the Larzac plateau and the Lip factory workers; fighting the Creys-Malville nuclear plant, the Vietnam War, the death penalty, discrimination against women, gays and immigrants. For 20 year olds in the early 1970s, making music was a political act; they grabbed a microphone to advance a cause, not to become rock stars. While the price of oil skyrocketed and Pompidou went overboard building horrible concrete apartment buildings for public housing and “adapting the city for the automobile,” some took refuge in the countryside. Alternative communities formed all across France, giving rise to groups (or rather, collectives) with open-minded structures, cheerfully mixing music, theatrical happenings and agitprop, along with a good dose of acid. Projects bordering on the ridiculous were often tolerated (progressive rock was one of the primary banalities the era produced), while those who followed the route paved by spiritual jazz often ended up elsewhere. The vehemence (if not grandiloquence) of their declarations was carried and transcended by the finesse and brilliance of their musicianship. For the “straight” France of Claude François, it was something from another world.

Simultaneously spatial, pastoral and tribal, the tracks in this collection represent an ideal intersection between a sort of psychedelic legacy, the space jazz of Sun Ra and afro-beat (then being created by Fela in Lagos): they are as much incantations (often driven by the spoken word), war cries or poems as they are polemics. 1978. Giscard was at the helm. Punk and disco were busily decapitating the last remaining hippies. Peoples’ blood was still boiling, but it was already too late. The war was over, lost without anyone noticing.

Cha Cha Guitri

French Synth Wave (St Etienne 1981)

Emblematic of that French touch which tinged new-wave with a bit of sunshine, their electro, retro-futuristic songs have that slight sweet and sour flavour between casualness and sophistication. The birth of Cha Cha Guitry in 1981 was a landmark for its members, Serge, Dominique, Charly and Marie. Once their hippie phase was over, the guitar, sax and flute were abandoned in the closet while machines took over: an EMS AKS synth, a Roland SH101, a Roland TR808 rhythm-box. The two couples met in the congenial atmosphere of their “home studio” to record their songs. The boys composed and sang, the girls sang and designed minimal costumes, the elegance of which was enhanced by some DIY touches: no need for fabric, paper will perfectly do. As deceivingly offhanded stylists, the Cha Cha crew carefully crafted a music that was both studied and charmingly quirky, making collages of pop raw materials and avant-garde stuff. Scissors in hand, they took what they wanted from the Bauhaus, Moholy Nagy, or Sonia Delaunay’s dresses, taping these iconic bits onto the sounds of Kraftwerk and what remained of pop culture (comics, movies, songs of the 30s or easy listening). Cha Cha Guitry, wisely ingenious, modelled tropical landscapes out of cellophane, thus elaborating its own synthetic surrealism.


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