Delgrès Bring Their Politically-Charged Electric Update on French Caribbean Folk to Joe’s Pub

by delarue

Delgrès are one of the most refreshingly unique and relevant bands around. Their sound is an often surreal, propulsively catchy mashup of amped-up French Caribbean folk, electric blues and New Orleans groove, with occasional detours into garage rock and even loping Saharan psychedelia. The trio play a mix of originals and allusive, sardonic traditional Guadeloupian freedom fighter songs from the 1920s and 30s…with guitar, drums and sousaphone. As hard-hitting as much of this music is, the lyrics can be surprisingly subtle and allusive, no surprise considering that the originators of many of these songs were living under an occupation. The group’s new album Mo Jodi (Die Today) is streaming at Spotify, and they’re playing Joe’s Pub on Sept 25 at 9:30 PM. General admission is $20.

The opening track, Respecte Nou is a romping garage rock tune, closer to the Yardbirds or the early Pretty Things covering Sonny Boy Williamson than, say, the White Stripes. In place of a bass, Rafgee’s  sousaphone is more prominent here than it is on the other tracks. The lyrics address self-respect and the need to stand up to the boss. Here’s a rough translation from the original Kreyol:

We’ve been shifting wine
Moving rum
Handling cotton
Today this all has to stop!

The album’s title track is a defiant revolutionary anthem inspired by the band’s namesake, 18th century Guadeloupian freedom fighter Louis Delgrès. Set to a Mississippi hill country blues stomp, the message is essentially “I’d rather die than slave for you.”

Mr. President opens with a hilarious Lyndon Johnson sample, then drummer Baptiste Brondy hits a hard-hitting sway and guitarist Pascal Danaë blends lingering jangle, keening slide licks and Pink Floyd resonance. The lyric is a plea directed at an unnamed authority figure instead of anyone specific.

Vivre Sur la Route (Life on the Road) is a lilting love song with echoes of Jamaican mento (the shuffling folk style that spawned calypso and then roots reggae). Séré Mwen Pli Fo (Hold Me Tighter) rises unexpectedly toward stadium-rock heft, with a vocal cameo from chanteuse Skye Edwards. Then the band add tinges of circling, hypnotic Malian desert rock over boisterous syncopation in Can’t Let You Go.

Ti Manmzel (slangy translation: My Sweetheart) could be the White Stripes taking a stab at reggae, a come-on from a musician onstage to a cute girl in the audience. Anko, a triumphant protest anthem, is a return to the north Mississippi/Mali blend. Set to the album’s most dynamic, bitingly majestic backdrop, Ramene Mwen (Take Me Back) is a characteristically sardonic example of the corrosively allusive lyrics that pervade much of Guadeloupian freedom-folk: if you don’t like how my rice and peas smell, let me go back to Africa, the narrator tells the slaver.

The album closes with the hypnotic riffs of Chak Jou Bon Di Fe (Every Single Day), a protest song, then the muted, spare Pardone Mwen (Forgive Me), which could be about familial angst or something more metaphorical. And just when you think the album’s over, wait! There’s more! At Lincoln Center back in July, the band put on a show every bit as energetic as this album, which bodes well for the Joe’s Pub gig.

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