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L'Arène Des Rumeurs

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Album Review

Zebda's debut album is a strong outing in the ska/hip-hop/ragga/rock vein characteristic of the Euro-mix by bands around the Mediterranean rim. Flavored by James Brown-style scratch rhythm guitar, lots of organ, and solid backbeat man Vincent Sauvage, the music provides a danceable backdrop for the vocal triumvirate of lyricist Magyd Cherfi, Moustaphe Amokrane, and Hakim Amokrane. "Arabadub" sports a very savvy arrangement with a funk-inflected bassline and the vocal focus ping-ponging between the declamatory Cherfi, who doesn't have much range but much to say, complemented by the higher-pitched backing vocals of the Amokrane brothers. "Mala Diural" is a traditional Algerian song, arranged by Zebda as basic blasting punk guitar riff and surging drums, with great chorus vocals and a little country bass slipped in. It's the only time the group sings in Arabic and it sounds like they had a lot of fun doing it, fall-apart ending and all — so much so they do it again ska-style as "Mala Diural (À la Skabyle)." "Minot des Minorités" is more spacious with good organ, and the bouncy "Singing" is relatively complex but well-put together around nice organ and guitar melodies with stop times to set up the vocal tradeoffs. "Le Bague á Daniele" sneaks a little '50s R&B flavor in among the upbeat skank and "La Masque au Rade" features a hard-to-figure chorus reference to George Bush, but the reggae track drags a little. The song peps up noticeably at the end, but Zebda also has a little trouble locking down the similarly down-tempo "Le Miroir" convincingly. "Baïonnettes" heavies things up with menacing vocals, bassline, and drums before the scratch guitar turns to thunderous riffing, while "D'Eve à Lise" is a moody, nine-minute extended dub workout that doesn't wear out its welcome. A good record by an excellent band, although the best introduction to Zebda is the Esan Ozenki compilation Le Bruit et L'Odeur, which features highlights from both L'Arêne des Rumeurs and the original Barclay France version of Le Bruit et L'Odeur.


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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L'Arène Des Rumeurs, Zebda
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