Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lo Còr de la Plana ~ Eclectic, Raucous and Wildly Entertaining ~ Singing in Occitan!

Lo Còr de la Plana - France - At Batha Museum, Fez

From the Plaine quartier of Marseille, Lo Còr de la Plana reinvents the songs of the south, combining the ancient sounds of a Mediterranean both violent and sacred. Natasha Christov reports for The View from Fez

Imagine a fusion of five one-man bands with the energy of a children’s party hopped-up on red cordial, the vocal training of a Vatican choir and you’re half way there.

Lo Còr de la Plana are a wild, fun and very talented group of Frenchmen that hail from the Mediterranean port town of Marseille in Provence. They sing in Occitan, a Romance language that descended from the remnants of the Roman Empire. The language, also called Languedoc, or Provençal, is spoken by about 1,500,000 people in southern France. All Occitan speakers use French as their official and cultural language, but Occitan dialects are used for everyday purposes and show no signs of extinction.

Combining percussive instruments including the bendir (African frame drum) and tamburello (frame drum with cymbals), along with echo sound effects, foot-amplifiers, hand clapping and knee slapping, Lo Còr de la Plana proved a huge hit with the crowd that filled Batha Museum on the last afternoon of the Festival.

Described as a group who ‘reinterpret and reinvent the musical traditions of their home town and the world around it’ that connection to their port town was immediately evident in the first sea shanty-style song they performed.

The audience were transported to a raucous dockside tavern while Lo Còr de la Plana animatedly sung in a style that evoked tales of the sea, dangerous Mediterranean voyages and hair-raising nautical adventures. Their pieces were significant in length, and at times they would begin in one style, only to pause and drop the tempo down to a melancholic chant, seemingly to lament souls lost at sea.

Singing both secular and religious pieces, Lo Còr de la Plana are committed to reviving the Occitan heritage for a new generation. The energetic rapping and humour of lead vocalist Manu Theron took their cause a long way, with the audience at once in stitches and in complete awe, with the jovial rapport between the entire group reminiscent of a casual Sunday jam session with good friends.

Lively yelps, wolf howls and knee slaps would slow to choral chanting and five-part harmonies. At times their arrangements were eclectic bordering on erratic, and their rejection of being labelled “fusion artists” was apparent. Few pieces ‘fused’ together smoothly and occasionally their style appeared one that was trapped between a desire to continue the crowd-pleasing chunky break beats with lively percussion and dancing, and a (perhaps) obligation to showcase a more sombre, classical vocal style.

Fortunately, the humour, charisma and energy of Lo Còr de la Plana captured the crowd from the start and rapturous applause and a standing – dancing – ovation led to a tribal-like encore performance of drums and wild theatrics. Lo Còr de la Plana were a definite highlight of the 2013 Fes Festival of World Sacred Music programme.

Text: Natasha Christov
Photographs: Suzanna Clarke

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