Monthly Archives: December 2017

Vive Johnny Hallyday, French Icon

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Source: media.jukebox.fr

For the past week, France has been mourning the death of Johnny Hallyday, its biggest and most beloved rock star. I’d never heard of him until 8 days ago, when I saw a piercing set of blue eyes staring at me from the cover of Nice-Matin. Something about the expression of those eyes was intriguing so I picked up the daily to find out more. “Johnny Hallyday est mort,” announced the headlines. I was surprised to discover half the newspaper was wholly devoted to the deceased. Obviously this Johnny Hallyday was a big deal! With my rudimentary French, I deciphered some tributes splashed generously over the first few pages. Numerous artistes and French nationals professed their undying love for Johnny, with one person claiming she felt like she had lost her father. It rapidly became clear that Mr. Hallyday was an extremely important personality and revered music legend. So why didn’t I know anything about him? Furthermore, I was puzzled by the outpouring of affection and genuine sense of loss expressed by the public and music establishment.

From what I could gather, Johnny was the ultimate rock star and wild man. Those eyes told a thousand tales of a life fully lived. That well-coiffed head of strawberry blonde hair defied his 74 years. “I’ve seen everything and done it all,” was the message I read in his bold expression. Later, I overhead some French discussing someone who had died of cancer and Oh la la! – what a loss. “Are you talking about Johnny Hallyday?”  Yes they were. I asked a Frenchman in his 60’s why Johnny was so important. “I don’t know how to explain,” he replied, measuring his words carefully. “He’s a symbol of France, he was strong and when he performed, the people went crazy. I know Johnny all my life, I grow up with him and…it’s not so easy to explain,” he concluded, visibly touched. “He was like Michael Jackson to us.”

Jean-Philippe Léo Smet aka Johnny Hallyday was born on June 15th 1943 in Paris. He died on December 5th 2017 of lung cancer. His career lasted an astonishing 57 years, with 79 albums and 80 million albums sold worldwide. He had legions of loyal fans, yet he remained virtually unrecognized outside the French speaking world. How was it possible that I knew about Vanessa Paradis but not Johnny Hallyday?

After watching this performance of “Let’s Twist Again” in 1963, I had an epiphany. His obscurity in the English speaking mainstream music industry had less to do with French language. And more to do with the possible threat this handsome, charismatic European performer posed to outshining his hallowed American counterpart, Elvis Presley.

Excellent voice with nuanced English pronunciation. Professional hip swiveling. Fabulous in fitted suits? Two kings were not allowed in America’s rock n roll kingdom. It didn’t matter. Johnny Hallyday was king of rock in France and proud to sing in French! He gave France a larger than life persona, capable of living up to rock n roll’s colourful criteria in every category. This was a man who partied with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger, while avoiding the pitfall of premature death that afflicted so many of his peers. Mr. Hallyday had a powerful voice and towering presence that touched 4 generations. Very few singers have accomplished that.

You don’t have to understand French to see the unifying message Johnny was promoting in this performance of “Qu’est-ce que tu croyais?”(What Did You Think?) at the Eiffel Tower in 2000.

 

I got goosebumps listening to his soaring vocals on “Vivre Pour Le Meilleur” (Live For The Best). Here is an artiste that sings with conviction!

 

 

Over the weekend, I gleaned more insight about what Johnny Hallyday means to millenials. Nass, a 27 year old Frenchman and his best friend Romain spoke earnestly about what the beloved star means to them:

“Johnny Hallyday is like a legend for us. A real legend. Everyone knows him since my parents (generation) and maybe more. And this guy died. I didn’t think it was possible, honestly. That guy was one of the best French singers. I don’t even know how to describe it…I didn’t really like his songs but honestly I gotta say, this guy was unifying all the French people during the concerts; you can feel an emotion, something that you never felt before.”

Romain: “Johnny for us is like a monument.”

Voilà! Johnny Hallyday is like a monument, who will forever live on in millions of  L’Hexagone hearts. It’s a French thing. The rest of the world does not have to understand.

Copyright © 2017 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nebula Starway and the Parang Experiment

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Once upon a time, I was part of a musical experiment known as Nebula Starway in the U.K. In 2010 along with my partner Emil Z. I co-produced this house-inspired cover of parang classic, “Rio Manzanares” originally recorded by Trinidadian group, Paramininos.  This is by no means a pristine production. Nebula Starway had very little money so we recorded this track in a bedroom studio with a homemade soundbooth and software including Sony ACID and Traktor. In hindsight, I would reduce the lengthy intro and add more background vocs, among other things. The meatiest part of the song comes at 4:26 with a jubilant percussion jam arranged primarily by Frankie Diamond. Pandeiro, shekere, cowbell, handclaps, whistles…I cut loose and had a blast!!!! It was my idea to cover “Rio Manzanares” as a tribute to parang and also to experiment combining it with house music. It’s not a perfect endeavour but Nebula Starway learned a lot. Plus it’s fun to sing in Spanish!

Here we have a Venezuelan duo playing bandola, a close relative of the cuatro which is a four-stringed guitar utilized in parang. This video demonstrates the Latin-American roots of this folkloric artform that is now popular in Trinidad and Tobago. The close proximity of Venezuela to these twin Caribbean islands birthed a cultural crossover, despite the fact that TnT is an English speaking nation. Moral of the story is great music transcends language barriers. And of course, Trinbagonians took it and ran with it all the way to…

THE CURRYSHOP!

Indian singing sensation Sharlene Boodram mashed up the airwaves with salacious hit, “Mamacita” (1991). A classic example of chutney parang, this song blends South Asian themes with soca-infused parang. Santa gets a Curry Christmas, courtesy of Mamacita who gets caught cooking paratha (Indian flatbread) for her celebrity midnight guest. Say wha!!! This tune boils over with culinary references to spicy South Asian staples like roti and dhal, all set against cheeky humour. Which leaves one with the impression that there’s something hotter than curry cooking between Santa and Mamacita! Delicious, delightful and daring, “Mamacita” is an appetizing number that still sizzles 26 years after release.

Copyright © 2017 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.

Parang: A Christmas Tradition

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A charismatic form of Christmas folk music from Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, Parang was invented some centuries ago. The word parang is a derivative of the Spanish word “parranda” which refers to merrymaking. Parang are songs in Spanish, usually about Mary (Maria) and the Natividad (birth of Jesus), though there are various types covering different contexts. Instruments consist mainly of violin, cuatro, maracas, mandolin, bandolin, clave, box bass and flute. In more recent times, the electric bass and steelpan have been sometimes incorporated. Parang is traditionally performed by parranderos, a group of musicians who go from house to house, singing and playing in exchange for food and drink. Some pastel, sweetbread, ponche a crème or a shot of rum is greatly appreciated. Laughter and conversation with the occupants of the home ensue before the parranderos move onto the next home and repeat the process. So you can imagine how these musicians must feel after 4 hours of serenading. Pretty merry and belly full to buss!

Parang is a beautiful tradition, rooted in the spirit of altruism and kinship. Parranderos are often very poor, yet refuse to accept money for their serenades. Parang comes from the heart, for love of music, having a good time and religious deference for the spiritual tradition of Christmas. Fortunately, this folk music has grown in popularity, especially in the latter portion of the 20th century, fuelled by the advent of independent record labels plus performances broadcast by the now defunct TTT; Trinidad and Tobago Television. Spicy subgenres that have sprung up include soca parang and chutney parang, often about humorous topics in typical Trinidadian vernacular.

Due to the increasing crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago, I’ve heard that parranderos have drastically decreased their serenading. In the rural villages of Lopinot, Paramin and Arima, parang serenading is still practiced in the relative safety of tightknit communities. For parang lovers at large, there are local Parang festivals, competitions and concerts that are well-attended by the general public. Even expats living abroad in North America can enjoy the occasional concert by touring parranderos during the holiday season.

Parang has a complex history, fusing elements of West African and Latin American musicality to create an enduring artform  that has widespread, multigenerational appeal. Frankenrӓver presents a small selection of recorded classics for your enjoyment. Take time off from your hectic holiday schedule to appreciate parang while remembering to enjoy the simple pleasures  – good times, love, laughter, – embodied by this dynamic artform.

Beloved classic “Alegría Alegría” by Trinidad’s Queen of Parang, Daisy Voisin holds a place of affection in many people’s hearts. One of the most recognizable voices in parang, Daisy Voisin was known for her sweet intonation, inspired whoops “Aiee aiee!”and her bouquet, which she held in one hand as she sang, danced and twirled her extravagant skirts. A staunch traditionalist who focused on the religious aspect of parang, Daisy Voisin performed parang entirely in Spanish backed by her band, La Divina Pastora Serenaders. I was fortunate to have seen her in concert and was touched by her humility, passion and devotion to her craft, though her financial difficulties were evident. Daisy Voisin has one of the most moving voices I have ever heard and is a stellar example of a beautiful human being. She paved the way for other musicians to have successful careers recording parang in subsequent generations and deserves far more recognition for her cultural and social contributions.

Recorded by calypsonian Crazy (Edwin Ayoung) and released in 1980, “Muchacha” was an instant hit, gaining heavy rotation on local airwaves. This upbeat number fuses soca with salsa, parang, and some pop elements via synths. The result is a bright, sparkly song filled with the trademark humour Crazy is known for. “Muchacha” is a prime example of contemporary parang featuring English lyrics. Crazy holds the distinction for pioneering new forms of soca, including soca parang and Trini-style reggae. He was a very energetic performer whose distinctively long, voluminous hair  and colourful stage presence mesmerized audiences back in the day and he’s still active now in his 70’s.

“Latin Parang” by Colleen Grant is a most unusual composition. It’s what I’d call disco parang. The looped, salsa-style arrangement of congas, claps, synths and vocals against a mid-tempo backdrop make Latin Parang a very progressive song, coming as it did on the tail-end of the disco era (1980). Essentially, it is dance music with an ambitious arrangement, performed by an obscure singer from Trinidad. Colleen Grant’s quirky Spanish pronunciation of ¡Que me gusta cantar! in the chorus is delightfully haunting, ensuring this hidden musical gem continues to fascinate rare groove aficionados decades on.

Copyright © 2017 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.