Kooky jazz Manouche act talk us through debut LP, Paris-Dubai
Listening to The Gypsy Swing Project is a little like stepping back in time. And place. To be specific, it’s a little like walking into a Parisian bistro 80 years ago, we imagine, such is the Dubai-based quartet’s commitment to reliving and reimagining the ‘jazz Manouche’ stylings of genre-defining Django Reinhardt. A Belgium-Romani Gypsy who famously lost two of his fingers in a caravan fire, Django still managed to play rings round his contemporaries with just his fore and middle fingers, coming to define the upbeat, quirky, acoustic guitar-led style that has come to be known as Gypsy jazz.
The Gypsy Swing Project have been stunning local audiences with their authentic take on the genre for a couple of years, and now take it to the next level with the birth of their debut LP, Paris-Dubai. The concept is to take classic French tunes by the likes of Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg, and reinvent them à la Django. We asked the band to talk us through the history and inspiration behind the tracks they chose to record.
‘La Mer’ (The Sea) ‘This beautiful song was sung by Charles Trenet, famous singer songwriter, contemporary of Edith Piaf. In the studio, we renamed the song to “The Naked Song”. The reason is: while recording this tune, the microphones at Soundtruck studio were that sensible that Kamal Musallam (producer) and Elvis (sound engineer) could hear some noise caused by Alexandre Valls' clothes rubbing on his guitar during the solo/intro guitar part. To avoid hearing this noise, Alexandre had to take off most of his clothes, hence “The Naked Song”.’ ‘Minor Swing’ ‘What is jazz Manouche? It all started with a two-finger gypsy, guitar genius, named Django Reinhardt. Django had the reputation to be late at his gigs and unable to read and write. But what a talented musician! Injured in a fire, he was unable to use two fingers on his left hand. He then developed his own technique and ended up playing using only the index and majeure index of his left hand.
‘He was himself from a gypsy family. Django started in the 30's and he became famous playing in many Paris cabarets. Many French people claim Django was French but he's actually Belgian. As for Alex and Samy, they keep arguing about this last point…’
‘La Vie en Rose’ ‘Our absolute favourite that illustrates the concept of Paris-Dubai: to perform famous French songs in our typical style. That the one song that everyone recognises, “La vie en rose”, is Edith Piaf’s signature song. The song that feels and sounds and looks like love.’
‘Je Me Suis Fait Tout Petit’ ‘A ballad that we usually perform after fast swings …. to catch up our breath!’
‘Les Copains D'abord’ (Friends First) ‘This is a great song about men friendship written by Georges Brassens, who was a very talented, popular and loved singer songwriter in France. We chose this piece because we believe in music and friendship, and friendship in music. We love that one. The brilliant double bass introduction was improvised by none other than Lakshmi Ramirez!’
‘Elisa’ ‘Our personal rendition of a great tune by Serge Gainsbourg, an immense singer songwriter in France. We made this arrangement after our most inspiring meeting with Boulou and Elios Ferre, living legends of jazz Manouche. We had the chance to open their performance twice in 2012 and 2013 at Blue Bar, thanks to the Alliance Francaise Dubai, who brought Boulou and Elios Ferre to the UAE.’
‘L'hymne à l'Amour’ ‘Another master piece made famous by Edith Piaf that we reinterpret in our Manouche style ... and Lakshmi (double bassist) is lyrical using his bow.’
‘L'Orage’ ‘All the energy of the Manouche music and an all guitar intro with the “swing-nouche” of Sami!’
‘Sous le Ciel de Paris’ ‘“Manouche” means Gypsy in French. It designates the Gypsy people as well as the Gypsy swing music. What we like in “le Manouche” (the music) is the energy, the swing, the fact that this style of music appeals to most of people, kids included. It is a bit like a jazz for everyone. In Martin Scorcese's film Hugo, the music is a feast of gypsy jazz; it fits perfectly the adventure of the hero, Hugo, a young boy.’
‘Supplique Pour être enterré à la Plage de Sète’ ‘A song by Georges Brassens. Sète was the city where he was born; in the south east by the sea on a hill. In this song, he asks to be buried on a cemetery in his native loved city.’
‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ ‘We couldn’t have recorded our first album without playing our anthem – I believe this is a song that we have played in many different tempos, many different styles… When we start it, nobody knows how we will play it. Which is something usual in our lives.’
‘Cesar Swing’ ‘AKA Swing for Lakshmi's dad. This is Samy's special introduction.’
‘Swing Gitan’ ‘You can hear all the pieces that makes the gypsy swing at the start of the track: 1/ the "pompe Manouche" (rhythm guitar), 2/ the double bass, 3/ and the swing drums.;
‘Minor Swing’ ‘THE Manouche song – most famous, most played, most loved – composed by the great Django Reinhardt more than 50 years ago. Our second anthem. The kind of song we can play two or three times in a concert.’ Paris-Dubai will be launched with a concert at Alliance Française, Oud Metha, on Tuesday April 15. Free (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org).
The album is available to buy from all Virgin Megastores.