Record of the day: Les Negresses Vertes, "Mlah"

Record of the day: Les Negresses Vertes, “Mlah”

Les Negresses Vertes
Mlah (Cd Delabel 86931-23)

The gentle pace of the initial “La Valse”, with the nostalgic accordion sound that recalls the Parisian boulevards of the 1920s
misleads the listener, because after a few minutes the powerful riff of “Zobi la mouche” arrives and the contagious energy of this multi-ethnic group is able to release itself in all its authentic strength.

A cross between a gypsy caravan and a country dance orchestra, Les Negresses Vertes have conquered audiences of
half the planet with their dazzling debut album from 1988. Their music combines a thousand different influences: folk, pop, rock, funk, the taste of the most traditional French chanson and that of the Maghreb tradition mix with astonishing energy to create a record flowing quickly.

Guitars, Arabic percussion, drums, accordion and a sparkling wind section provide the multicolored carpet above which the voice full of grit and expressiveness of the leader Helno sings with direct language and tragic irony stories of scoundrels and mafia criminals, hunger, family abuse and wandering existences peppered with madness and suicides, all described without any pathetic or sentimental accent, always treated as alternating characters in an imaginary theater populated by a suffering yet laughing and wild humanity, whose adventures are underlined in the songs by choirs that do not it's hard to imagine lubricated by copious doses of alcohol.

The instrumental skill of the Negresses Vertes is indisputable, it allows them to range across the most different musical genres while always maintaining a high expressive temperature through a stylistic mélange that is impossible to listen to while standing still.
Some more reflective moments (“Orane”, “L'homme
des marais”, and the desperate waltz of “Il”) serves to catch your breath, but we immediately start again at full speed with “Les yeux de ton père”, “Marcelle Ratafia”, “Le rablablas les roubliblis”, La danse des Negresses Vertes”, a breathtaking sequence of wild songs to be enjoyed at high volume, perfect for dancing but sufficiently rich in musical substance to withstand even simple listening.

Compared to the vinyl edition, the CD offers two songs, “Hey Maria” and “Le père magloire”, which without adding much to the rest of the album still give us a few minutes of energy and fun.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.