Saber Système Nuevo Mundo
Associazione Culturale Gai Saber (www.gaisaber.it)
Review by Lee Blackstone
As folk revivals are begun, maintained, and develop, their musical practitioners become mentors and inspiration for a new generation. The new project of Saber Système carries the torch for Occitan music, and the band is a fascinating outgrowth of the investment that members of the stunning Occitanian group Gai Saber (who have given us albums like Esprit de Frontera, Electro Ch'oc, and Angels, Pastres, Miracles) have made in their communities. Gai Saber have formed the Associazione Culturale Gai Saber, which has made cultural outreach efforts in the Piedmont territory of Italy. The Piedmont is close to France, and it also borders Switzerland; the ancient Oc language is spoken in the valleys. The language was used by the medieval troubadours, and today the Associazione is part of the effort to keep the language current in poetry, music, and literature.
One program run by the Associazione Culturale Gai Saber took place in the school system, where one class connected the medieval troubadours to modern poetry. When the course was offered in the northern Piedmont town of Cuneo, a group of young students (around 16 years old) began to work on musical compositions under the tutelage of Gai Saber. These experiments led to a group, Saber Système ('Knowledge System'), which – while recalling the electronic treatments of medieval music of Gai Saber – has its own distinct identity.
"Il Canto Dei Venti"
The excitement of Saber Système is apparent in the voices and musicianship of the students (now between 18 – 20 years old) involved in this recording, whom have all grown up together: the music has a familial feeling and purpose. The group is made up almost entirely of young women: Maddalena Giuso (flute, voice), Fatima Camara (voice), Beatrice Conta (keyboards, sound system), Linda Oggero (drums), Maria Vittoria Giraudo (guitar), and Anna Cavallera (voice, flute). Antonio Rapa serves as the male vocalist, and accordion player. There is plenty of singing in unison, and call-and-response, which enhances the communal vibe. For instance, take one of the slower tracks on Nuevo Mundo, “Il Canto Dei Venti”: the song is punctuated by a deep chant from the singers, which branches out into a flute lead that laces itself through the song. Not only is the track gorgeous, but “Il Canto” also sounds remarkably like the Gai Saber band itself!
What really stands out, however, is the group's commitment to not only Occitan culture, but also to extending Saber Système's purpose to include multiple languages and political causes. In addition to Occitan, the band utilizes French, Spanish, and Fatima Camara's 'dioulà' dialect from the African coast – sometimes, all within the same song. As a result, the Saber Système repertoire speaks both locally, and globally. This is a delicate balance for any musical group that mines its indigenous traditions, but also has an eye on the global pop marketplace: Saber Système addresses this issue linguistically and in its musical language.
To bring the project to fruition, full marks must be given to Alessandro E Antonio Rapa, who has made his recording skills clear through the traditional/contemporary soundscapes of Gai Saber; he is no stranger to electronica, drum and bass, and dub. Alex Rapa has clearly worked very closely with the youthful tastes of the Saber Système, and Nuevo Mundo stakes out dancefloor territory in surprising ways. One can hear Latin and African (as on 'La Revanche' and 'Saber Decalè') influences layered into Saber Système's sound. Techno and modern electronica abounds, with trap music (EDM music with a darker tinge, high hats and bass kicks, and symphonic flourishes) combined with the acoustic instrumentation. For example, on “L'Amitié,” we are treated to a Latin beat which then builds into a techno crescendo and beat drop that one would find manipulated on the dancefloor by such DJ producers and performers like Scrillex or Diplo. Such building and tearing down of the beat is a stylistic marker of techno-electronic culture; but here, thanks to Saber Système's flute and accordion attack calling up Occitanian folk, the effect is given new life.
Thematically, Nuevo Mundo stresses a vision of inclusivity and political tolerance in its grandest themes, but the album also records the struggles of teenagers in everyday life as well. 'Mary' is an anti-homophobia song, and describes a love between two young women. 'Nuevo Mundo' is about striving for equality, while 'Sans Peur' concerns differences in language. 'La Libertat,' which won 'Honorable Mention' in the 2014 International Songwriting Competition, is similarly political in intent and hugely danceable. Other songs address immigrant life ('Saber Decalè' and 'La Revanche'), while 'Parla Pas,' 'Ikayè,' and 'Vira La Roa' provide hopeful themes for young adults.
On the whole, Nuevo Mundo is an upbeat triumph. Saber Système's strong first album lays a great foundation for further journeys in Occitan music: this collection of songs is unremittingly joyous, and a masterclass in production techniques. When listening to Saber Système's ability to be rooted in place while preaching global tolerance, one can only think: the kids are alright. – Lee Blackstone