Bratsch, the French group focusing on gypsy and Balkan music, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. While many more groups which now consist of musicians considered grandpas and grandmas by many celebrate their pearl wedding status, Bratsch's anniversary is true reason for applause. Not only did this formation last for 30 years as a band by this name, their lineup remained solid as well. Bruno Girard and Dan Gharibian formed their duo in 1975 that expanded to the Bratsch as we know it in 1986 when François Castiello, Nano Peylet, Pierre Jacquet, Gilles Arrachart and Jean-Maurice Dutriaux joined the two founding fathers. And yes, that includes the sound and lighting engineers. Bratsch is one of the very few -- or perhaps last -- "organized" anarchistic band left in the world, still true to their 70's philosophy.
As popular as Bratsch is around the world, it's the connection to their roots which enables them to play for tens of thousands or for free in a street during yet another of France's infamous strikes. But besides being politically conscious, from the 60s and still quite radical, Bratsch also produces the most wonderful of music. Live on stage, they are in their true element as they can improvise lyrics and music on the spot, at times at breakneck Balkan speeds. Last year they released a live recording which offers an impression of what's going on at a live Bratsch party. Smmmmoking!
In their anniversary year, the band issued a very special CD. Instead of some sort of Greatest Hits concoction, they invited their musical fans to join them in the studio. Under the title Plein du Monde --translating not only to the whole world but also to all people -- they recorded an album full of "duets" with a wide array of musicians. Most songs are Bratsch originals or arranged traditionals.
Khaled opens the guest list and CD. Formerly known as Cheb Khaled, he scratched the 'young' prefix as he grew older. The King of Rai blends in wonderfully with the French gypsies and their very catchy Bratsch standard "Bilovengo". Next up is Olivia Ruiz, France's most up-and-coming chanson singer. Her own style is a mix of tango, violins, accordions, not that far removed from the song she recorded here with Bratsch in the Hot Club de France style. More gypsy guitar arrives via collaboration with Sanseverino, resulting in one of the most beautiful tracks of the CD.
Two bands together are always fun so Bratsch is joined next by Debout Sur Le Zinc who bring out a more Klezmer-based electric sound with plenty of brass. The unique vocal sound of French/Canadian/Mexican Lhasa then segues into a slow Russian gypsy ballad with sparse accompaniment. Then the now immensely popular French singer Tete with his warm voice leads the way with his African stylings followed by La Rue Ketanou who perform in a typical street theater style spiced up here with a Balkan gypsy dressing. The collaboration with Nery as well remains in Eastern Europe stays although there is an association with Dalida's "Gigi L'amoroso".
The Hebrew arch of gypsydom is represented by Nourith whose frail vocals are gently assisted by accordion and plucked bass, giving it a typical French chanson feel with a Hassidic touch. The real chanson voice is that of Juliette's, complete with Piaf-style rolling r's. A truly unique duet is the one with the real grandfather of French music, Charles Aznavour, unique because the song is sung half in French, half in Aznavour's native Armenian tongue though Charles himself sticks to the French. Singer Balbino does as well who represents the somewhat darker though lively side of life . Bratsch bids us adieu finally with the appropriate "Nous Chantons", sporting a group chorus of some of the participants. And we do hope they will continue that singing for a very long time indeed.
This recording applies a shameful amount of compression. An average dynamic range of only 7dB renders it clinically dead, quite a disgraceful waste of beautiful music and talent.