Les Négresses Vertes


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Americans who are finally getting used to the idea of their own country as multicultural are often surprised to find that France is undergoing the same stresses and gaining the same musical benefits. Les Negresses Vertes is a magnificent example of the latter. This group's cultural roots are partly in Paris, partly in Algeria and Spain, with healthy amounts of influence from Nashville and urban America. To all these should be added the theatricality of circus music -- three of the original members had worked in the Zingaro Horse Circus in Southern France, while a fourth was a professional clown. The combination of all these influences is jazzy, street-smart, and very danceable. While some members of the band were less than virtuosos on their instruments, they made up for this deficiency by laying down a boisterous party groove backed by a propulsive brass section. The alternation between Noel Rota's fast and furious solo vocals and the ragged choruses provided by the rest of the band adds to the complex dynamic of the group. Add to this the fact that Rota had a real gift as a songwriter and arranger, and you have a hit machine in the making. Mlah got an excellent reception from critics in Britain and the U.S., and several tracks even managed to get airplay despite the American tendency to ignore anything not sung in English. It was a great start for the band, though it is arguable that they never again approached this level of entertainment.

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