Massilia Sound System

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Massilia Sound System
Manivette Records 2014

“What concert?” I finally asked. “Massilia, of course. Do you live in this city, or under a rock?”
   - Jean-Claude Izzo, Total Khéops, 1996

Within the city of Marseilles and the surrounding region, Massilia Sound System has a status somewhere between cult and institution. Novelist Jean-Claude Izzo immortalized them in the Marseilles trilogy, the second of which is called “Chourmo”. --a chourmo being a kind of fan club for this band. As far as “world music” goes, MSS is in an elite group of artists, not only for its cultural connections locally, but in its global reach.

In MSS-speak, yes is “Òai,” and “Aïoli!” is not just a kind of mayonnaise but also a personal greeting. Such is their cultural impact. And for thirty years, after about a dozen existent recordings, Massilia Sound System has been reinventing reggae and rub-a-dub for the Mediterranean instead of the Caribbean.

Part of the Occitan revival movement –Occitan being a language group native to Southern France, Western Piedmont and Northern Catalonia—MSS raps and records bilingually (French and Maritime Provencal). But unlike some Occitanist groups they record in French as well.

Massilia arrives in 2014 as the first studio recording for the group in seven years and as a reunion of sorts. MC/vocalist (MSS founder) Moussu T (Francois Ridel) has been busy with his group Moussu T e lei Jovents, as has guitarist Blu (Stephane Attard); Papet J with his own project; Gari Greu with Oai Star, and Lux B passed away in 2008. Now Massilia are back with three MCs, guitar virtuoso Blu, Janvié on keyboards and DJ Kayalik. Along with reggae, MSS also incorporate elements of rap, rock, the rootedness of folk, and the Occitan cultural traditions of the South. Marseilles itself has a population that is a mix of the many peoples of the Mediterranean and MSS, incorporates many influences. Backing up a bit, MSS are considered pioneers of a sound that radiated from the port of Marseilles in the 1980s. With their longevity, their influence can be seen on many of the referential groups of the Western Med: Assalti Frontali (Rome); Dr. Drer/CRC Posse (Cagliari), Zebda (Toulouse); Negu Gorriak, Esne Beltza (Basque Country); Nux Vomica (Nice); Obrint Pas and Orxata Sound System (Valencia) just to name a few. Within Occitania, Lou Dalfin, La Talvera, Fabulous Trobadours and others have worked with or featured MSS vocals on various tracks.

Marseilles is a working class, immigrant port-oriented city and has been for 2,600 years, since it was founded by the Greek Phocians. Although immigration has always been the foundation of greatness for cities, immigrants themselves sometimes bear the brunt of resentment when times are bad. With the election of rightist National Front candidates across the South recently, the timing is right for musicians who stand against intolerance.

Critics might say they are too predictable, too electronic, too cultish, too message-oriented, too danceable….well, you can't be too danceable.

To that I say: turn it up, open your ears and listen. There is nothing quite like it. On this 14-track disc, MSS retakes its ground: this is who we are; this is what we fight for. We the Marseillais, an Occitan people with diverse roots, have been around longer than France and we shall be here when France is gone. We will never stop singing, stop speaking in our own language, stop fighting for what is right and just. As usual, lyrics are in both French and Occitan.

"Li siam"

"Se Lèva Mai La Cançon"

After a brief intro “Li siam” (Massilia spelled sideways, sort-of) featuring a lovely note by Blu, "Se Lèva Mai La Cançon" provides a majestic opener, Janvié's electronics put to good use with the three MCs taking turns at the mic. It sets out the manifesto of the band: “What we need, is to get down to work, to fight without letting up, to unmask the con men/to free our minds, and make a better life.”

Reggae, Occitan language, the working class, Marseilles and its region, all inform the messages of Massilia. A driving beat, the creative guitar of Blu, the three voices, and the message, are the hallmarks of Massilia. This from a group that once actually moved its base of operations out of Marseilles itself, to La Ciotat, to protest the City's election of a (rightist) National Front mayor.

"Trois MCs sur le Micro"

On 'Trois MCs sur le Micro' they remind us who they are, what they stand for, as if anyone needs reminding: “Baleti tradition, Occitan addiction, aïoli conviction, le Òai sans condition/les fadas en action, refusant la pression, on a la solution.”

"Es Tot Pagat"

On this disc, the message is clear. To those who say the world is too much in debt, and living beyond its means "Es Tot Pagat" is the response. It's paid for. You've already paid for it. You've worked hard: “You can't stand it, every day, they come and lie to us, they tell us we've spent too much/these sharks and vultures; send them packing.”

"Ma ville réveille-toi"

On 'Ma ville réveille-toi' the message in Occitan to those unwelcoming to newcomers is “Wake up!” “O my Provence, nation of conviviality/of love and resistance/the home of liberty/beautiful land/rise the sun presiding and the heat inviting, to a mix of migrants.” If Occitan is the home language of the South, and Marseilles was founded 2600 years ago by Greeks, it follows that the French are immigrants also, and relatively recent ones at that.

"Je marche avec"

Massilia Sound System is back, providing not just good entertainment but food for thought; and it's good to hear. - David Cox

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