French DJ unlocks the future sound of Africa
Frederic Galliano is loathe to call what he does club music, and with good reason. The French producer is arguably one of the most innovative forces in electronic music right now, having helped launch beat culture well beyond the ones and twos, but you’re more likely to hear his sleek beats and funky breaks in an art gallery than a throbbing club. Still, not getting spun on the dance floor hasn’t kept Galliano from being remarkably focused and explicit about what he wants to accomplish with his cuts.
The 30-year-old former sculptor has been DJing for only eight years and producing for just four. In that time, though, he’s been responsible for three of the most organic electronic records of the last decade, fusing jazz, funk, house, soul and West African music from a refreshingly unique perspective.
Of course, the idea of creating anything “new” these days is a tough proposition, but Galliano has just enough confidence in his vision — some might call it arrogance — to pull it off.
“I wanted to create a new proposition for jazz and electronic music,” Galliano boldly declares from his studio in the south of France. He performs live at Reverb tonight (Thursday, July 13). “Whether it is played in the club or at home is not my concern.
“There are enough musicians out there doing the same thing. To contribute further to that is mad, so either do something special or don’t do at all.
“Of course, I’m a DJ, so it’s great to have my music played out, but that is not my primary motivation.
“I have always focused on just three things: jazz, ethnic music from Africa and electronic music. Jazz and African music are my only reference points, and electronic music is my medium.”
The conflation of live jazz and electronic beats is not in itself new. In fact, recent releases by groups like Cinematic Orchestra and Faze Action have effectively obliterated the line between what’s live and what’s lifted.
Galliano’s work fits nicely within that mix, but there’s something even more fluid about his recordings. His 1997 disc Espaces Baroques is perhaps more a jazz record than an electronic one.
Live sax, flute and brass blend effortlessly with Galliano’s samples and subtle production, and when the big beats do come in, the transition’s so smooth you barely notice them.
“I tried on Espaces Baroques to create a unique sound. The most important inspirations for me aren’t really styles or records. I prefer to have a reference with attitude.
“I like the attitude of Jacky Terrason and Don Cherry and Jon Hassell. None of them do electronic music, but they all have the correct attitude. They are so open-minded. Their music isn’t the most interesting thing about them, it’s the attitude they make the music with.”
That heady aesthetic was refined even further with Galliano’s 1998 Live Infinis disc. Recorded live at a handful of European jazz festivals, it expanded Espaces Baroques’s chamber electronica game plan to include a full live band stirring up jazz and electronic beats with a sublime African influence.
The disc was an underground success. More importantly, though, it became the prototype for Galliano’s current obsession with African music and his groundbreaking Frikyiwa label.
Frikyiwa is as much a philosophy of music and fusion as a record label.
The imprint launched with a series of singles, now assembled on the Frikyiwa Collection 1 disc, for which Galliano took traditional Malian songs by artists like Nahawa Doumbia, Neba Solo and Lobi Traore from the catalogue of Cobalt records and turned them over to underground producers including IG Culture and Aqua Bassino to be reworked.
Recut subtly into club cuts that, again, are likely only to be played at parties like Movement, the new tracks are more collaborations than remixes, with beats and bass more prominent but the core of the original compositions never obscured.
“Frikyiwa is simply the motivation to create new directions for African music,” Galliano explains. “We make African music with electronics and African music without electronics. There are many possibilities. The only requirement is to have a pertinent point of view on African music in the 21st century.
“When most people do an African record, they simply look to Nigeria and sample the afrobeat style. My program is not to work with old things. Afrobeat is afrobeat, and Fela is Fela. He’s the best, but that fusion has already been done.
“I chose Mali because it is a country with a strong musical tradition, but it’s also interesting to listen to the musicians from both the north and the south. In the same country, they have wildly different styles of music and composition and voice, and it’s exciting to work with that.”
It’s a risky proposition, but don’t come with your heavy-handed questions about cultural authenticity and hipster exoticism. Galliano’s already way ahead of you.
“Yes, this is risky, but isn’t that why it’s interesting?” Galliano retorts. “I like risks, and I prefer to try what I don’t know.
“Anyone can put out a compilation of funky old African tracks. This is a creation, something new.
“What we are doing now with the African Diva tour has never been done before,” he laughs excitedly. “There is a singer, a dancer, kora and balophone players and me on production. Next year there will also be a Frikyiwa acoustic album. Risky, yes, but this is real life.”
FREDERIC GALLIANO AND THE AFRICAN DIVA, with DEE JAY NAV and JASON PALMA, at Reverb (651 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, July 13). $15. 504-0744.