Navega! by Moussu T e lei Jovents

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Moussu T e lei Jovents
Manivette Records / World Village (
Review by Michael Stone

Listen "Liseron" (full song)

Moussu T e lei Jovents (voices, bronzinaire or Provençal kazoo, banjo, acoustic and electric guitars, musical saw, sousaphone, electric bass, double bass, drum kit, percussion) serves up an unsentimental and bittersweet mélange, blues-cabaret-chanson rooted in a fiercely local sense of place, profoundly altered by the history of French colonialism, immigration from the colonies via the Mediterranean port of Marseille dating to the ancient Greeks, Festus Claudius “Claude” McKay's 1929 novel "Banjo" (the Harlem Renaissance classic about Caribbean immigrants set in Marseille), labor organizing, the Socialist International, World War II and the contemporary European conundrum.

Listen "La balada d'Henry Diffonty" (excerpt)

“La balada d'Henry Diffonty” is a guitar boogie tribute to a native son and dockworker of La Ciotat, the band's home port, southeast of Marseille. Diffonty, a partisan with the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans Français (FTPF), the French Communist armed resistance, was captured and executed in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence by a Nazi firing squad in 1944:

Henri Diffonty

Henri Diffonty shut the door / Early in the morning, to the shipyards he went.
Whistling the Internationale / He crossed the sunny port.
Sun, life would be less hard / If work were better paid.
It's not a dream my brother / To achieve this, we must be organized.
My darling has lips as red / As the battle flag.
Henri died in the battle / Up there for freedom.


Listen "Aquò mi fa mau" (excerpt)

The maquis or maquisards—men turned resistance fighters to avoid conscription by Vichy France's Service du Travail Obligatoire (STO), in effect forced Nazi laborers—make another appearance in “Aquò mi fa mau” (it hurts), among other things a lament for the miscarried ideals of the French revolution—liberté, égalité, fraternité:

On the walls of the city / Are written the names
Of those who went off to fight / In the maquis or on the front,
For a quiet life / Unafraid of what tomorrow brings.
But when I see the people around me / I can't stop myself from thinking
that they died for no purpose.
On the walls of schools / Are written three words,
The words of the Republic / And its ideals / For a quiet life
Unafraid of what tomorrow brings.
But when I see the children in the yard
Throwing stones, these words no longer serve any purpose.


Listen "Liseron" (full song)

“Liseron” (morning glory or bindweed, known among other things for its hallucinogenic properties) begins as an allusion to the sort of prison work songs recorded by Alan Lomax, easing into a tender reflection upon innocence lost:

Bindweed from childhood / Bindweed, bindweed,
Bindweed from the past.
Bindweed, bindweed / Touch of violet and white
Little summer flower / That blooms in the morning
And closes at dusk.
Bindweed, bindweed / Hearing secrets,
Bindweed, bindweed, / Seeing stolen kisses.
Bindweed, bindweed, / When, to end innocence,
Behind the old wall / At the back of the garden,
We go and hide.
Bindweed, bindweed / Placed on the scales,
Little summer flower / Weighs more than time,
Than all that wasted time.


Listen "Qu'es bon!" (excerpt)

With “Qu'es bon!” (How good it is), banjo, fuzztone guitar and percussion lay the foundation for an ironic commentary on the putative triumph of late capitalism:

How good it is to hold your head up high!
How good it is to feel alive!
How good it is to join the party!
How good it is, how good it is!
They want us to believe that everything can be bought or sold,
They want us to believe that it's always the guilty who are killed...
They want us to live in a world of envy and prohibition,
They want us to live stuck in sin, in superstition,
They want us to live by the Stock Exchange and its changes,
They want us to live on a sick star, rotten with pollution.


Listen "Vaici Marselha" (excerpt)

“Vaici Marselha” (This Is Marseille) draws on the work of Provençal poet Paul Arène (1843–1896), pondering the human condition:

The glass buildings / Like mirrors,
They reflect, what a pity! The last ships.
The poor poet / Is left standing there,
Not knowing whether / To cry or sing.

These artists prefer to sing, memorializing the unruly human tides washing up across time on France's southern shores, yet rooted firmly in the native locale. Contrary to the blood-letting tribalism peddled by self-styled demagogues worldwide, Moussu T e lei Jovents offer keen commentary on the vexed, now-global human encounter first played out in the port cities of colonialism's Atlantic World, from West Africa to the Americas to the Mediterranean. Bricoleurs of the mongrel musical culture sprung from that historical process, Moussu T crafts a weary, pointed critique as contemporary and compelling as tomorrow morning's headlines. The music has an unremitting beat, you can dance to it, and you don't need to speak Occitan to know which way the wind blows. - Michael Stone

The CD is packaged in an illustrated hardcover booklet with lyrics transcribed in Occitan, French, and English.

Navega! is RootsWorld's Music of the Month recording for October, 2016.
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Navega! is our Music of the Month
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