Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Beats: MC Solaar

MC Solaar is not merely a rapper; he describes himself as a 'French hip-hop rhymesayer.'

Like many others on this side of the pond, my first introduction to MC Solaar was on Guru's Vol. 1-Jazzmatazz . Hard to believe that was 11 years ago. Jazzmatazz was a landmark album in hip hop history; a fabulous collaborative effort that effortlessly blended jazz, hip hop and funk. The collaboration showcased the best of the old-school and the new, such as Roy Ayers, Ronny Jordan, Carleen Anderson and my favorite, the luscious vocals of Miss N'Dea Davenport. He also debuted a new role: a sort of international hip-hop ambassador with his Le Bien, Le Mal with French rapper MC Solaar.

Solaar is now France's leading rapper. Born Claude M'Barali in Senegal, he later moved to Paris. Solaar released his first single, Bouge de La, in 1990. Two sucessive tracks became certified French hits, and he took off. His first album was Qui Seme le Vent Recolte le Tempo in 1991.

After '93s Le Bien, Le Mal, Solaar's second album was released stateside; that was Prose Combat (above) in 1994. Paradisiaque followed in 1997.

But by far, his best work to date appared in 1999. La Tour de la Question is a live album, and manages to avoid the pitfalls of many other similar efforts: he doesn't skimp. It's a fabulous two-disc release, and he sings in both French and English, mostly the former. Solaar's English has never been great, but it's improved over the years. His lyrics are tight, and style is very fluid, so he more than makes up for the language barrier.

There are 10 tracks per disc, so La Tour has 20 songs. Of note, on the first disc, Zoom is uptempo and danceable. On the second disc, Gangster Moderne is smooth and catchy. Not quite pop, but with great hooks.

There have been several releases since then, but none quite captured the energy and prose of his earlier efforts. Several years ago I was lucky enough to capture Solaar at a live show in NYC; it was an impressive performance, and hopefully the experience can be repeated. Too bad this isn't London; Solaar just performed at the Hayward Gallery for Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent. It's described as a South Bank Centre-wide season of cultural events, featuring artists, musicians and performers, and adynamic celebration of contemporary African creativity.

MC Solaar Official Site
Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent thru 17 April 2005.