I’ve got that kind of face. No matter where I am in the world, people will come up to me and start addressing me in their native tongue. Notwithstanding most of east Asia and sub saharan Africa for obvious reason, it seems that wherever lives some version of an off white, dark haired male, be it Morocco, Lebanon, the Czech Republic, Ecuador or Brazil, I can pass for a local, at least till I open my mouth. So when people find out I’m from France, their follow up question usually is “Oh! Are you 100% French?”
It’s a fair question.
Asked to assess the “purity” of my ethnic lineage, I usually answer, for the sake of full honesty, that between foreign invasions, loose immigration policies, and our shady history of colonialism, I very much doubt that the word “pure” could qualify any French national at this point. And to make my point amply clear I usually point out that we, the French, are the true bastards of Europe.
The word “Bastard” is one that I embrace and own with pride as I consider that the right melange of races and cultures is the only sensible key to the future survival of the species, and while I have no scientific evidence for this theory, I just know in my heart that it’s true.
Mutt Slang came out of that idea, that so much of our music is the product of a unique mix of seemingly unconnected influences, when in reality they all span from that untethered spiritual expanse that we tap into, and within that universe exists an alternate consciousness which seems to supersede all other moral, racial, religious and political prejudices.
Consider this situation: A Korean, a Panamanian, a Lebanese and a French meet for the first time in a Japanese club, get up on stage and start jamming on a tune written by a Russian Jewish immigrant, made famous by an American woman whose direct ancestors were African slaves and who was raised by her mother and a Portuguese step dad...
I find that idea incredibly powerful because it challenges the very concept of cultural purity, which is a myth. Progress in DNA research proves that point everyday, but we as a species, did not wait on science to understand that we need to nurture the many ways in which we are all connected.
Music is but one of those ways. To be a musician means to unravel the mystery of a language spoken by a only a handful, but seemingly understood by everyone.
At the core of Mutt Slang there’s a desire to rise above individual agendas, in order to let the common psyche prevail. It’s a poly-cultural transcendence of sorts.
This is by no means a deep concept manufactured in some musical think tank, nor is it particularly new either. In this case, it stemmed from my interaction with young(er) musicians who were eager and ready to use their skills, roots and branches, outside of a traditional or predictable setting; so I tried to set a stage wherein each could thrive and be challenged at the same time. There’s a total of fourteen players on the record, from all over the world. Some come from traditional roots, some from a quasi classical world, others from pop and jazz music, and a whole lot of cross-over. The common thread of course is the improvisational approach that is a part of each musician’s idiom. Each one of them has a unique story to tell, only in this case it takes a backseat to the common tale.
The music takes many turns, from thru-composed to fully improvised, minimalist to epic, it owes as much to Miles Davis’ 1958 sessions as it does to Jacques Brel, the Globe Unity Orchestra, Peter Gabriel, Elis Regina, Keith Jarrett’s American quartet from the seventies, Stevie Wonder, Erroll Garner, Rachmaninov’s third concerto, and Oumou Sangare or Steven Reich... and that’s just my bit. As for the other musicians’ inspiration, you’d have to ask them. I can only attest to their impact on me, the project as a whole and the music in particular.
In my thirty year career, I played on hundreds of recordings, yet this is my first solo project so you might say it took a while. I made a living as a sideman for most of my career. I cut a couple albums early on and never released them because ultimately, they didn’t feel true enough.
There was an artistic quandary as well. I grew up loving very diverse musical styles. As a kid I vividly remember "pretend jamming" to Deep Purple’s “machine head”, Duke and Ella on the riviera, and Jorge Ben all in one strangely typical afternoon. I would have been hard pressed to describe the distinction between those musics because to my ears, it was just sound that lifted my spirit, and still does... ok, Deep Purple a lot less than back then though I still dig John Lord’s organ work it should be said.
The thing is, I’m not alone in having that kind of background, and for a lot of musicians, making sense of this rococo of stylistic inspirations takes time, a lot of time. I wish I'd grown up in a deeply rooted tradition, the Black American church, Gnawa Moroccan music, Cuban Changui... but France is all over the map and consequently I’m all over the map. I'm not suggesting that too many roots is akin to no roots, but when you listen to Supertramp, Keith Jarrett, Sergio Mendes and Earth Wind & Fire in equal amounts, it’s just a bit harder to understand what they share in common. It’s hard to tell the essence from the form. It takes time.
Mutt Slang is very much the result of this convergence of all the musics I love, of digging to get to their shared soul and rebuild something fresh, in order to discover where I belong and give others a chance to do the same. Why do I suddenly feel that this is the right time for this, both in my life and in the universe…? I'm not certain, but there also, I just know in my heart that it’s true.