12 Jul 2016

Live: St Germain at WOMAD 2016

From the collecton Womad
St Germain (Ludovic Navarre)

St Germain (Ludovic Navarre) Photo: Michael Flynn

Based around French musician and producer Ludovic Navarre, St Germain brought with him an outstanding multi-cultural seven piece band to play at WOMAD 2016.

A capacity crowd filled the slope overlooking the picturesque bowl stage on the opening Friday night and the weather was perfect for one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend.

A respected figure in the world of electronic music Ludovic Navarre has released three albums under the name St Germain. Boulevard released in 1995 was a million seller. His second album Tourist released in 2000 sold over four million world wide, while his new eponymous third album was released in time for his first WOMAD performance.

This new album finds Ludovic working with two musicians from Mali on traditional instruments: the 21 stringed Kora played by Mamadou Cherif Soumano, and the N’Goni, an ancient West African stringed instrument believed to be the precursor to the American banjo, played by Malian guitarist Guimba Kouyate.

Other band members include Brazilian percussionist Jorge Bezerra and keyboardist and longtime St Germain collaborator Didier Davidas, from Martinique.  

It all made for a very slick band which Ludovic conducts and mixes from behind an impressive sized mixing desk situated on a riser at the back of the stage.

Asking how Ludovic went about translating the new album to the stage, he responded that he adds the electronic components like the loops and samples which allows the other musicians to improvise their contributions over, resulting in a unique balance of electronic and acoustic composition.

Given that it had been over a decade since St Germain released the multi million selling album Tourist, Ludovic explained that he has remained busy during that time playing gigs, producing remixes for artists like Grammy Award winning jazzman Gregory Porter and DJing.

However he also wanted to take his time researching for a new musical direction that would eventually become St Germain’s new album.

Like any creative endeavor, it involved experimenting and exploring directions that he would later abandon. Orginally Ludovic had started delving into African music from Nigeria and Afro beat as the new direction the album would take, but eventually he scrapped that experiment. Even though abandoning material that he has invested time and energy into can be draining, it still can be treated as resource for other projects.

More than anything it narrowed down the direction that he envisaged the new album taking.

The Malian connection came about as a result of meeting two Malian musicians based in Paris who provided the impetus for the West African direction the new album would take, which Ludovic was able to augment with elements and samples of American blues.

The result speaks for itself - the first single off the album, ‘Real Blues’ features a voice sample taken from the late bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins’ single "You Caused My Heart to Weep"; obtained legally and cheaply from the estate of Hopkins it is immediately addictive.

The tempo and loops were provided by Ludovic while the Malian instruments were improvised live during the recording and edited during post production for the final result. When I suggested to Ludovic that the live improvisation must have been something akin to a jazz approach to recording, he responds cautiously “perhaps”.

The album and live performance is a wonderful fusion of tradition and technology, exploring multi-cultural ideas and a joining of the dots from African blues to Delta blues.  

On the night it all made for a flawless and colorful musical spectacle that delighted the WOMAD audience and had them up and dancing.

Recorded live for RNZ Music. Engineered and produced by Darryl Stack.

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