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Brigitte Fontaine & Areski 

L'Incendie (Get Back)

Wednesday, Feb 27 2002
In the last 10 years or so, folk music, in all its glorious manifestations, has been steadily reinfecting underground music. What better time, then, for the Italian label Get Back to reissue Brigitte Fontaine & Areski's avant-folk masterpiece from 1974, L'Incendie?

Fontaine got her start as a chanteuse in the early-'60s Paris cabaret scene. After making one great string-laden pop album, 1970's Brigitte Fontaine Est ..., she sought out more challenging projects. An introduction to hippie-weirdo multi-instrumentalist Areski Belkacem led to a fruitful series of collaborations combining elements of traditional folk, Middle Eastern modes, psychedelic pop, country, free jazz, and experimental theater.

The couple's je ne sais quoi stemmed from their unique call-and-response style of singing, born of their participation in numerous theatrical happenings. Each vocalist added strange sounds and dramatic interjections to their melodies, with Fontaine flying somewhere between Judy Collins' bird songs and Björk's eccentric vocalizations, while Areski anchored the proceedings with his earthy baritone. Non-French-speakers will have to take it on faith that something poetic is going on in the lyrics, but that hardly matters. The impenetrable language simply adds an extra layer of mystery to the experience.

Fontaine and Areski's third collaboration, L'Incendie, is arguably the apex of the pair's musical panorama, a record rife with unpredictable arrangements and transcendent vocal harmonics. While the album starts off fairly tame -- the opening waltz, "Le 6 Septembre," could've drifted up from the Seine -- the songs quickly head for more exotic vistas. On "Regalia" Areski showcases his Algerian heritage with driving Pan-African woodwinds and Middle Eastern percussion, while on "Les Murailles" he layers multitracked African thumb pianos. Elsewhere, "L'Abeille" recalls British folk with its pastoral penny-whistle solos, and "Déclaration de Sinistre" pillages American jazz (a sound the twosome explored more extensively on a previous collaboration with the Art Ensemble of Chicago).

Throughout their sporadic 30-year partnership, Areski and Fontaine created a mysterious travelogue, filtering the sounds of the world through their unique voices. While the duo recently reconvened to record with Sonic Youth, such contemporary cachet is superfluous. Even today, L'Incendie sounds more imaginative than its peers.

About The Author

Silas Paine


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