Sep 1, 2010

French Afrobeat: Bibi Tanga & The Selenites - Dunya


Bibi Tanga & The Selenites

The future of funk is being written right now by a pair of Parisian groove theorists named Bibi Tanga and Professeur Inlassable. Singer, bassist and bandleader Bibi Tanga bridges the divide between the arty South Bank of the Seine and the gritty suburbs, where he grew up as an immigrant from the Central African Republic. Bibi's music is marked by slinky, sinuous basslines and a wicked falsetto that conjures up Prince and Curtis Mayfield, while producer Professeur Inlassable ("The Tireless Professor") digs deep beneath the cobblestones of Paris to unearth the sound and spirit of another era. Together with Bibi's band The Selenites, the duo forges a stunningly original new sound and creates a space where Afro-futurism meets steampunk, Fela Kuti jams with Sidney Bechet and Marcel Duchamp gets down to Chic.

Though they've already made a stir in France, the group now teams up with Nat Geo Music (after a fortuitous spin on the Nat Geo Music TV Channel alerted the label to their sublime talent) to bring their fashion-forward funk vision to audiences worldwide. Bibi Tanga & The Selenites' It's The Earth That Moves EP was released in April, 2009, and the group's full-length international debut Dunya is scheduled for release later this fall.

Dunya takes its name from the word for "existence" in Sango, the language of the Central African Republic, and the album is both a vivid snapshot of the present moment in global music and a roadmap to the future. Deftly juggling English, French and Sango lyrics, Bibi embeds hyper-literate, socially conscious messages about immigration, malnutrition, AIDS, slavery and more in some of the most danceable grooves this side of Gnarls Barkley. "Dunya" takes listeners on a wild, eclectic tour through the history and pre-history of funk, layering afrobeat rhythms over electro-tinged soul and cosmopolitan trans-Atlantic grooves.

Born in Paris in 1969, Bienvenu (Bibi) Tanga didn't see his homeland until the age of 2, when his parents brought him home to Bangui, the dusty capital of the Central African Republic. Growing up, Bibi was one of 10 children and spent his earliest years shuttling from Paris to Africa to Moscow to Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, thanks to his father's diplomatic postings. "I remember the first time that I realized I wasn't white," Bibi recalls "I was 4 years old, in Moscow, and the idea of race, of color, just hadn't occurred to me before. I always felt like an outsider until I was 10 years old and my parents returned to Paris."

Thanks to a coup d'état in the Central African Republic, his father turned from diplomat to refugee, and Bibi's family ended up living in the suburbs of Paris. "My mother supported us then, she worked as a nurse. It was hard, but I was happy to be in Paris, because it felt like home to me, I knew I could make real friends here."

It was in Paris that his musical education began in earnest. "My parents used to go to a lot of parties," he recalls, "And my father had a lot of records. I grew up listening to everything. Franco and Tabu Ley from Congo, Fela Kuti from Nigeria, Bembeya Jazz from Guinea? I grew up on all of that. American music, too - James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix? and of course Bob Marley? I love disco, funk, soul, reggae, R&B. It's all like a big library to me. I feel like there's this heritage of black music from around the world, and I'm the heir to it."

But Bibi's musical education didn't stop there. As a teenager growing up in Paris in the '80s, punk rock and new wave were inescapable - from French bands like Telephone to British bands like the English Beat, The Specials and The Cure - and they left an indelible impact on his music. As a teenager, Bibi learned guitar, bass and saxophone - and even took up tap dancing. "The first instrument is your body," he says "it's like having drums on your feet."

All those influences came together in Bibi's debut in 2000. Taking its name from one of his short stories (did we mention he wrote fiction, too?) "Le vent qui soufflé" was a collaboration with legendary French funk collective Malka Family that marked Bibi for bigger things.

Bibi Tanga's first meeting with Professeur Inlassable came in 2003, and the duo found that they shared a passion for much of the same music. Three years later Bibi Tanga recorded his second album, "Yellow Gauze" under the supervision of Le Professeur in his Paris studio. "It was like magic," recalls Bibi. "He knew exactly what we wanted and exactly what he wanted - and knew how to bring it out of us? but also how to get out of the way!"

Professeur Inlassable also brings his superb crate-diving skills to the table. A student of early decades of French popular music, Le Professeur adds a whole new dimension to Bibi Tanga's sound, recreating lost musical soundscapes that invoke echoes of Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. For "Dunya," Le Professeur even pulls samples from National Geographic Emerging Explorer Josh Ponte's "Gabon: The Last Dance" soundtrack album.

Together with Bibi's band The Selenites - Arthur Simonini on violin and keyboards, Rico Kerridge on guitar and Arnaud Biscay on drums - Bibi and Le Professeur craft an otherworldly sound. "We call the band The Selenites because that's the name of the people who lived on the dark side of the moon." Bibi explains. "It's from a story by H.G. Wells. People think our music comes from outer space, like cosmic rays. So the moon is a big inspiration for me, I'm definitely a romantic that way - but my music is also rooted firmly on the ground."



Dunya, the new album from Bibi Tanga and The Selenites out June 1, 2010 on National Geographic Records, is a multifaceted collection of songs that touch on a variety of influences and worlds. Jazz, funk, broken beat, and African musics all appear throughout the album filtered through an intellectual Parisian sensibility. Singing in French, English and Sango (his mother tongue) Bibi Tanga puts his stamp on the future of funk and its global presence.

Born in Paris in 1969, bassist and vocalist Bibi Tanga traveled extensively throughout his childhood due to his father's career as a diplomat. After a coup d'etat in his parents homeland, Central African Republic, ended his father's international career, he settled in the suburbs of Paris at the age of ten. It was there that his musical education took shape.

"My father had a lot of records. I grew up listening to everything. Franco and Tabu Ley from Congo, Fela Kuti from Nigeria, Bembeya Jazz from Guinea, I grew up on all of that," Bibi describes the music to which he was exposed during his youth, "American music, too - James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix and of course Bob Marley. I love disco, funk, soul, reggae, R&B. It's all like a big library to me. I feel like there's this heritage of black music from around the world, and I'm the heir to it."

Listening to Dunya, one can hear all of that and more. I feel a strong Prince presence throughout, both in Bibi's voice, as well as in the general attitude and vibe. Certain tracks are more funk and less African, like Swing Swing, while some are a page ripped right out of Fela Kuti's song book, like Shine.

My personal favorite track off the album is Be Africa, the album's signature track in my opinion. It's distinctly African while at the same time maintaining a signature Parisian attitude. The lyrics are in Sango with a hard driving bass line laid down over an electronic drum beat. Similar to the way Tony Allen incorporates electronic drums into his music, Be Africa forges a uniquely contemporary African identity.

Source: The Afrobeat Blog!!! Thanx!!!

The album kicks off with a track called ‘The Moon’ that’s like a choral update of Roy Ayers (without the vibes) that’s truly stunning. What a start! And if you’re new to Bibi’s work you should know that this is his third album release, the second with turntablist/producer le Professeur Inlassable and he’s worked with the mighty Byard Lancaster (he of Funny Funky Rib Crib).

Bibi provides the vocals and the funky bass and the rest of the band is Arthur Simonini (keyboards and violin), Rico Kerridge (guiatars) and Arnaud Biscay (drums). You could call their style “Franco-Afro World” and/or hip-hop inspired funk, but these guys have recaptured the groove that makes you move; get your Clinton-P.Funk-Family Stone funky swing to ‘Swing Swing’.

Not so keen on ‘Red Wine’ and find it an odd (OK predictable choice for a single) but the rest of the album is so much better than that track. And to prove the point (at least for fans of FLY), where’s the Afro I hear you say? You’ll find that’s in the title track ‘Dunya’, ‘Bê Africa’ and ‘Pasi’ that are full of the Fela spirit even if Bibi was born in Bangui (that’s in The Central African Republic) and raised on a diet of Curtis Mayfield, James Brown and Kinshasa Afro-jazz (so we’re told).

Just getting back to ‘Pasi’ the Simonini’s strings are sublime and incredibly don’t sound out of place at all. ‘Let Them Run’ has a blues-pop influence that I could imagine Jools Holland being keen on but as I’ve gone off him (did you see his end of 2009 show?), I’d like to think he’d get excited about the space-pysch-funk of ‘Gospel Singers’; it’s a bloody huge tune this [like a funk remix from last years’ Album Of The Year, Space].

At its best, this album is the world-funk equivalent of Anthony Joseph & The Spasm Band (they of Bird Head Son) or Build An Ark (particularly ‘Gospel Singers’) but it’s littered with top tunes. And after my last two gigs at Jazz Chronicles, expect to hear repeated plays from Dunya and if I get the nod for February; thinking ‘Bê Africa’ and the super Amp[ed] Fiddler funkers ‘Shine’ or ‘Goodbye’; I’ll save the bonus Parisien-jazz beats of ‘Bonjour Mon Ami Jean’ for my Freesoul debut; a track that originally appeared on the compilation album Sampling The World Through Musical (what a clearer title).

So definely one for fans of the “l’afrobeat psychédélique” of Fela Kuti, the style of Ross Allen’s Abstract Funk Theory and the world of Heavenly Sweetness - what could be better?


The third album by Central African Republic/Parisian polymath Bibi Tanga is a remarkable bouillabaisse of musical and other artistic styles: an abstract, slow burning, film score funker with a hip, esoteric edge. But be warned: it takes a while to decamp to the dancefloor from the chill-out lounge.

Like the eclectic Malian chanteuse Rokia Traoré, Tanga is the child of a diplomat, and a youth spent shuttling back and forth from Paris to Bangui and a host of other countries appears to have left him with a ‘musique sans frontiers’ ultra-global perspective. He and his band the Selenites (named after the lunar race from HG Wells’s The First Men in the Moon) effortlessly assimilate soul, funk, jazz, hip hop and afrobeat, to name five palpable reference points.

On first listen Dunya (meaning “existence” in Sango) sounds sparse and minimal. But, in fact, there’s quite a lot going on, as dissonant samples and loping beats (from longtime collaborator and producer Le Professeur Inlassable) interact with tense vibrato strings and doodling keyboards (courtesy of violinist and co-arranger Arthur Simonini). The songs are sung, rapped and drawled in English and Sango, and the whole project has an arch, fashion-house obliqueness straight from the artier parts of the City Of Lights.

Some aspects to these soundscapes are an acquired taste. A few of the languid, near horizontal grooves and off-the-cuff lyrics walk the line between studied nonchalance and paucity of substance. The crawling Gospel Singers seems almost deliberately ironic in being such a detached, stylised tribute to such a stirring musical form.

Even so, the slower first half of the disc passes pleasantly whereas the more galvanic second half consolidates its appeal. Here Tanga unleashes his Larry Graham-style slap-pop-bass during the spirited Be Africa and previously released bonus track It’s the Earth That Moves, giving his lush creations legs.

So while a shuffle of the tracks might have generated more peaks and troughs, this album’s gradual metamorphosis makes its own kind of sense. Blasé yet painstakingly assembled, Dunya embraces the diversity – but not the immediacy – of the download age.


Bibi Tanga and his sampling sidekick Professeur Impassable (The Tireless Professor) originally wowed Afro-funk connoisseurs back in 2007 with a promising debut album entitled Yellow Gauze. The album, with its mix of hypnotic Afro beats and Bibi's stream-of-consciousness lyrics, arrived on the French 'rare groove' scene like a musical UFO from outer space cementing the partnership of what at first appeared to be the most unlikely duo. Bibi, a lanky African singer and guitarist whose basslines are every bit as sinuous as his frame, looked to be a rather odd partner for Le Professeur Inlassable, a Parisian aesthete renowned for his studio experimentation and abstract soundscapes.

However, the pair's continuing collaboration on Bibi's second album proves that this odd couple work amazingly well together. Le Professeur Inlassable's driving Afro-beat rhythms and electro-tinged soul make the perfect backdrop to Bibi's falsetto vocals on Dunya as the latter deftly juggles lyrics in English, French and Sango (the language of the Central African Republic.)

This time round, Bibi and the Professor did not go into the studio with guest musicians, preferring to work with The Selenites, a trio who evolved into Bibi's backing band live on stage. Bibi and his band like to compose in purely improvised jam sessions in the studio with the Professor stepping in every now and then to pepper their Afro-pop offerings with abstract samples and cosmic sound effects.

Stand-out moments on the album include the special effect-heavy Red Wine, an ultra-funky Swing Swing and the ever-swirling rhythms of the title track Dunya. If this is the future of Afro-groove, we simply can't get enough of it!



01. The Moon (5:25)
02. Red Wine (3:59)
03. Swing Swing (4:43)
04. Dunya (5:29)
05. Pasi (4:18)
06. Let Them Run (2:48)
07. Gospel Singers (5:54)
08. Bê Africa (4:12)
09. Shine (3:59)
10. Bonjour Mon Ami Jean (3:07)
11. Goodbye (4:49)
12. It’s The Earth That Moves (Bonus Track) (3:27)

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