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Essence Ordinaire

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Album Review

The opening "Y Pas de Arrangement" works a bit of James Brown funk into Zebda's rock/rai/raggamuffin mix, and that's a tell-tale signal that Essence Ordinaire is a mellower, more melodic disc. Only "Je Suis" really favors a heavier, rock guitar attack over the funkier, R&B rhythm guitar groove that dominates here; the arrangements are sparer all around, but that doesn't stop the Toulouse, France, septet from delivering another solid effort. Lyricist Magyd Cherfi seems to have been in a reflective mood — "Quinze Ans" is an affecting, but not particularly nostalgic look back at being 15 and hanging with friends. Both the horn-flavored, sunny yet chunky ska-reggae of "Tomber la Chemise" and "On Est Chez Nous" celebrate the concert tribe and the sense of feeling free in that setting. "Je Crois Que Ca Va Pas Etre Posible" (I Don't Believe That's Going to Be Possible) recounts examples of everyday dreams — looking for an apartment, going clubbing without being hassled — running up against the discriminatory reality of being judged by one's appearance. The spiraling instrumental melodies of "Tout Semble Si" also spotlight the mournful Arabic side of Zebda's mix, but strings are featured more heavily and "Tombes des Nues" goes the acoustic-guitar-with-accordion route. So does "Qualalardime," reviving the French-Arab café flavor in the verses before breaking out in an exuberant string-driven chorus powered by Vincent Sauvage's drums. "Le Manouche" is pretty much in the same vein and Essence Ordinaire boasts fewer potent dance tracks, more singing than rapping, and a stronger French flavor — a quieter record that shows a different side to Zebda.


Formed: 1985 in Toulouse, France

Genre: French Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

"We who live by rock and rai and accordion/On the periphery of commercial hits" is a line from Zebda's hometown portrait Toulouse and that's a pretty accurate capsule description of where the French band fronted by three second-generation North African immigrants fits among the Euro-mix crew. Rough-and-ready ragamuffin reggae and rapid-fire rapped vocals, Arabic flourishes, touches of French café accordion, a savvy command of dynamics, and well-constructed arrangements smoothly blending those elements...
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Essence Ordinaire, Zebda
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