After two releases and extensive worldwide tours, the French troubadour ‘triban’ Lo’Jo is garnering the attention of international audiences. Led by a man compared to a barefoot and be-hatted Serge Gainsbourg, and with a history colored by circus artists, actors, pyrotechnicians, street performers, painters, acrobats, festivals, and cabarets, the band has built an inimitable charisma. On September 10, Lo’Jo will continue to mesmerize with its third album, Au Cabaret Sauvage, on World Village, Harmonia Mundi’s world music imprint.
When Lo’Jo first formed there were only three members: Denis Pean, Richard Zenou, and Richard Bourreau. Since 1982, more than 300 musicians and dancers have contributed to Lo’Jo’s sound. As a fledgling band, Lo’Jo joined the Jo Bithume Company, a street theatre ensemble. They absorbed multiple influences while touring Europe for four years. Pean claims, “As musicians, we needed to open our ears to the music of the world. That was the idea when I began Lo’Jo.”
Although the band started with traditional Western instruments (piano, bassoon, double bass, and violin), West African instruments were introduced in the mid-90s. The stew of international styles simmering in Au Cabaret Sauvage represents a musical junction, where instruments such as the balafon (West African ancestor of the xylophone), imzad (a one-stringed fiddle from the Sahara), kété (a Jamaican drum), and orgue à soufflet (an Indian harmonium) stand like signposts, pointing toward Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, North African, West African, English, Gypsy, Caribbean, and French influences.
The band’s members have performed live to Murnau’s silent film Nosferatu, published books, produced documentaries, performed twice at the Lincoln Center with 20 performers, and spent countless nights chatting around campfires, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. Each year they produce Le Festival au Désert with English guitarist Justin Adams and the Tuareg rebel guitar band Tinariwen, struggling against heat, political tensions, and sand-covered roads in search of new experiences and adventures. The 2003 Festival will take place outside of Timbuktu in January. Tinariwen’s debut CD, The Radio Tisdas Session, will be released in the US on November 12, 2002.
Combined with performances in politically charged landscapes and collaborations with Tinariwen (track 10, Le Japonnais’ Poem, features members of both groups), Lo’Jo’s lyrics continue the universal poetic traditions of the French chanson. Writer Andy Morgan believes the lyrics dive into “who we are, how we came to be and what we lost and found along the way. The big issues, ancestry, identity, brotherhood, nature and creation are just like birdsong on [Péan’s] lips, full of colour and enchantment.”