It’s ironic that a band who draw the bulk of their inspiration from abroad should produce a sound that says so much about where they’re from. As the barriers around ‘fortress Europe’ get ever higher, Lo’Jo’s open-minded and outward-looking approach to music seems to make them more and more identifiably French. Their magpie mix of chanson with funk, dub/reggae, North and West African sounds and touches of Gypsy music constitutes a candid sonic portrait of a truly polyglot nation, where the majority of the population (56%) claim to have a foreign background.
Incredibly, it’s nearly a quarter of a century since poet Denis Péan founded the first incarnation of Lo’Jo as a trio in Angers, the provincial capital of the Loire region. For the rest of the ’80s, the line-up fluctuated and interacted with local bohemians of all descriptions (acrobats, street theatre performers, film makers etc) becoming known locally as ‘Lo’Jo Triban’. It was 1989 before they released their first album Depuis Très Longtemps, but not until the Justin Adams-produced Mojo Radio (1998) did Lo’Jo really begin making waves outside France, joining the WOMAD global circuit, and soon gaining a wide following for their impressive live shows.
By that time their basic line-up had solidified around the strident sibling harmonies of Berber-descended sisters Nadia and Yamina Nid el mourid and Péan’s mumbled poetry and keyboards. The group’s core still live and work collectively in a farmhouse given them by the mayor of Angers in return for providing local children with musical education. Another municipally inspired boost for the unlikely idealists came with twinning of their hometown with the Malian capital of Bamako. This has led to collaborations with the likes of Benin’s Gangbe Brass Band and desert blues group Tinariwen, who appeared on the albums Boheme de Cristal (2001) and Au Cabaret Sauvage (2002) respectively, as well as collaborating with Lo’Jo to establish the Festival in the Desert. Bazar Savant (2005) finds them in a slightly leaner, more groove-orientated mode, with another generous spread of guests, including Argentinean tango veteran César Stroscio, Israeli oud player Yair Dalal and Jamaican singer Bunny Dudley. Business as usual, in other words.
Lo'jo's official website (in French)
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