Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

Noir et Blanc

In 1983, one of my favorite records was released: Zazou/Bikaye/CY1’s  Noir et Blanc. I thought I might try to tell you a little about it.

A collaboration between composer and producer Hector Zazou, Kinshasan/Belgian vocalist Bony Bikaye, and electronic musicians Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli (known as the duo CY1); the title might, most obviously, refer to the races of the people involved, or it might mean nothing at all. In those years, I met lots of white Americans who flattered themselves that they were making grey music — but this music is anything but grey.

Zazou would go on to do quite a few more records. (I met him before his death when he was in LA working with Jon Hassell in ’97 or so — he and singer Barbara Gogan came by my house for a few hours.)

The album was reissued a couple years ago — and thank whatever-you-like for that. It’s on Crammed Discs (cram025 or cram105). I’ll make a lame attempt to describe the music — but as we know, one should never, ever try to discuss in words what wouldn’t exist if words would do.

When you hear it, you’ll understand what I mean when I place Noir et Blanc squarely in amongst my favorite albums — like Eno/Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, Peter Gabriel, the third of his self-titled albums — and yet it’s also very different. But it lines up among the “tradition” begun by Holger Czukay’s “Boat Woman Song” from 1969’s Canaxis, which featured Vietnamese singers, heisted from some recording somewhere.

It’s largely a blend of CY1’s analog electronics (synths, for the most part), with digital processing only in the mix, and layers and layers of Bikaye’s voice, sung in some African dialect (it doesn’t sound much like French). The percussion is largely analog-generated electronics, in a fairly light style — more akin to the high-life drumming heard in King Sunny Ade’s music than anything rock. And being generated by analog electronics, the sound is also very light, for the most part. Then there’s the rest of the electronic texture — the pitched stuff; sequences and the like. It’s also similar in quality: light. That doesn’t mean that it’s not intense — it is. But it’s also very different from what we’ve come to expect in the intervening years. There’s also some actual percussion, as well as sporadic guitars, horns and violins all over the place. Zazou himself either directs without playing, or plays some keyboard — I’ve seen both credits. From the Wire: “a strong attractor, the hub of a conferencing system through which musicians of the world meet.”

This all adds up to a remarkable “brew” of some of the most innovative music of the time (again, 1983) — and now, and into the future. What I mean is that, like …Bush of Ghosts, this is largely sui generis — music that is, for the most part, only referencing itself. It needs to be heard to be grokked.

With the reissue came quite a few reviews, all glowing. I won’t repeat any of the praise here — if you’re reading this, you have access to them. But I endorse every single, one of them.