Massilia Sound System

‘Occitanista’ CD (Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi) 3/5

‘3968 CD13’ (Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi) 4/5

‘Massilia fait tourner’ CD + DVD (Chant du Monde/Harmonia Mundi) 5/5

Historically up until 1789, France was effectively divided up linguistically into two halves, with the northern part known as the language of ‘oïl’ (latter day French) while in the southern half the language of Occitan prevailed. This was spoken regularly in rural parts until French came to predominate during the first half of the twentieth century and while there was an attempt by intellectuals and ecologists to revive Occitan during the 1960s and especially the 1970s, it was only from the 1990s onwards that the language started to be spoken more widely in the major cities and this new cultural renaissance was spearheaded by music aimed at a younger and wider audience. Marseilles-based group Massilia Sound System fit directly into this mould and have been very keen to promote their modern day vision of ‘occitanist’ culture which takes on board urban music styles such as rap and hip-hop, reggae and a myriad of alternative music styles that also includes Tom Waits, Afro Beat and even elements of punk in terms of independent-minded attitude. If this does not conform to the ‘Year in Provence’ stereotype of the south east of France, so much the better for this is music that is aimed fairly and squarely at young people and not tourists in search of any past nirvana. A number of Massilia Sound System CDs have recently been re-issued and ‘Occitanista’ dates originally from 2002. The very title implies a militant support of the Occitan cause and a desire to mark a very large wedge between the south of France and the centralising forces of the capital, Paris. Among the better known numbers are ‘Toute petite danse’ and ‘Les Papets, les Minots’. The group have a tendency to mix French and Occitan lyrics within one song so that one line might be in the former directly followed by the next line in the latter. Possibly their strongest album to date is their last effort, ‘3968 CR13’ which is a fictitious car registration number plate that ends with the clear designation of a Marseilles-based owner. Once again the songs tell of everyday street life with a homage to the world of reggae, ‘Sur un air de reggae’ which is one of the more melodic compositions while ‘Jovent’ deals with lyrics primarily in Occitan. There is some use of wordplay over a repetitive riff on ‘Lâche prise’ and a call and response hip-hop style duet on ‘MCs’. If there is anywhere for the neophyte to start, then it is definitely with the wonderfully presented CD and DVD live recording ‘Massilia fait tourner’. This offers an impressive one hundred and sixty minutes of numerous concerts, short documentaries and video clips of the band as well as a separate live CD, is truly an examplary way to showcase the group and in a most creatively French manner too. Surely the best way to experience the band sound is in a live context and the beautifully illustrated cartoon inner sleeve of the band members on tour gives the listener/reader a real insight into the eclectic and ultimately indie attitude of Massilia Sound System.

Tim Stenhouse