Cançons del Cap del Pont by La Talvera

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La Talvera
Cançons del Cap del Pont
Cordae/La Talvera ( )

The group La Talvera, from Albi, France, has for some time been among the primary musical ambassadors for Occitania, a language region that reaches across Southern France, from the Pyrenees to the Alps, including small areas of Spain and Italy as well.

In this review I will refer to Occitan, which is either one language or as many as 23, depending on which linguist you speak to. It is either dead or very much alive, depending on the context. Estimates range wildly from 500,000 to 7 million speakers. And nobody, least of all the French government, is counting. The variant used in the Albi region (Albigeois), a form of Languedocien, is not hard for an outsider with knowledge of a related language to follow. (The closest relative to Occitan is not French, as previously thought, but Catalan.)

The culture of Occitania is hidden from view to the casual visitor, in the area an English speaker calls The South of France and the French speaker calls the Midi. A lot of its existence is at the anecdotal level: I thought I heard that old farmer speaking his dialect. Some children do study Occitan at the Calandreta schools in the early grades. There are few street signs in the language, little in the way of books for sale, little or no media but what there is in large measure is good music.

Names that come to mind include Gai Saber, Lou Dalfin and Lou Seiriol from the Italian Alps, Gigi de Nissa and Nux Vomica from Nice, Massilia Sound System and Moussu T e lei Jovents from the Marseilles area, Xarnege and Familha Artús from Béarn, and La Mal Coiffée from near Carcassonne. La Talvera is among the most established and accomplished of these groups. They and many of the above artists are part of a decentralist movement, known as the Imaginot Line, dedicated to promoting what they consider to be the authentic culture of this region. They hold that French culture was imposed through mass education, enlistment and more recently, the media, in an area to which Occitan, not French, is native.

La Talvera's lyrics are primarily sung in the Occitan of the Albi region. Previous discs, of which there are at least a dozen, include their best-known, Poble mon Poble, featuring "Ciutadans de la Terra Entieira" -- a kind of epic of the Occitan nation. A more recent offering was ForrOccitania, that blended the music of Northeastern Brazil with Occitan themes.

This work is different again. Working from texts of children's songs collected by Gabriel Soulages, a 19th century folklorist and mayor of Albi, the group fashioned an album of true folk songs in a contemporary folk-roots setting and with lively arrangement for today's listener. In this, the project resembles such similar recordings as Plethyn's Caneuon Gwerin Y Plant (Wales) or Oskorri's Dr. Do Re Mi eta Benedizebra (Basque Country). Cançons del Cap del Pont presents 22 tunes, each usually 2-3 minutes in length, that are nicely crafted and performed by La Talvera.

The opening piece, "Lo nostre ase" is a pretty tune about a donkey's eating habits (and much more) with lively percussion that opens the set, followed by "Lanela d'or" (The gold ring) with its stately violin and vocal. That's pretty typical of the lyrics, since these are mainly songs about people getting married, and unusual farm animals.

"Lo nostre ase"
"Lanela d'or"

"Racontrère ma mia" is another example, a walking or enumerative song about what happens on different days of the week when two sweethearts meet. The good thing is these tunes are easy to learn and easy to sing along to. Yet saying that, some have a serious subject matter, including "La Femna Batuda" about a man who beat his wife so hard he broke the stick. This is simply a song fragment and there are other fragments to the song, but they don't seem connected. Another song, "Fotètz-me lo camp, canalha," basically means "you get out of here, idiot!" Only two of the songs are in French, the rest in Occitan.

"Racontrère ma mia"
"La Femna Batuda"
"Fotètz-me lo camp, canalha"

Their multi-instrumentalist and leader Daniel Loddo seems to be able to do it all, majoring in diatonic accordion, pipes, oboe, harmonica....etc, while primary singer Céline Ricard, whose playful voice has been almost too highly pitched in the past, has brought a perfect delivery to these songs. Along with them we have Fabrice Rougier (clarinet and sax), a versatile Serge Cabau (various percussions), Sergio Saraniche (guitar and bass), and lastly but most sublimely, violinist Tony Canton. Canton provides numerous moments of delight on this instrument, for those who pay close attention.

Four other musicians contributed. The disc is full of interesting percussion by Ricardo Fraga and Thierry Rougier. Claude Ribouillault plays, among other things, a triangle, and Aelis Loddo contributes a backing vocal. One of the instruments Loddo plays is identified as 'craba' which translates elsewhere as goat. Without a proper Occitan dictionary, one can only wonder. "La craba blanca" is the song of the white goat, with lots of percussion, laughter, and unidentifiable background chirps and buzzes. But I don't hear any goat.

"La craba blanca"
While the Albigeois tongue is not too puzzling, it is helpful to have the lyrics provided in both the original and a French translation in the booklet. By nature repetitive, these songs are easy to learn for those interested in picking up repertoire in an unusual language. This disc, professionally presented by accomplished players, is lively, authentic and enjoyable. A nice combination. - David Cox

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