Jaune Toujours are definitely one of the most exciting bands on the New Folk Scene in Europe. For their debut album "Brusk" the band got raving reviews, being voted by FolkWorld’s editors Best CD of 2000, and by FolkWorld’s readers as second best CD of 2000. So what is this band about? FolkWorld had an e-mail chat with Piet Maris, the singer, composer and accordionist of the band.
Piet Maris started playing music at the local music academy, the classical way: a few years of solfège, then attacking the piano. "This however, was a substitute for the instrument I really wanted to play from the beginning: the accordion", says Piet. "Since there was no accordion nor accordion teacher around, I let my parents (backed up by an accordion player with whom they rehearsed in a local folkloric dance group) convince me that the piano would be a good basis for the accordion. Don't you believe it! (Although it did give me something of a basis)."
This folkloric dance group has been also the bit of folk music background that Piet has, his mother having always been teaching Flemish dances in this group. "We, my three older brothers, my little sister and I, had to tag along to the regular dance meetings and festivals my parents attended. As a result I started to hate dancing, but I liked the music, and the instruments (especially the accordion). One of the accordion players allowed me to play a few notes on his accordion and I lost my heart to it forever. Accordion it would be."
He grew up then within the Flemish Folk music and the Folk Revival in the seventies/mid-eighties, but deep in his heart he liked more another, less obvious but yet surviving tradition: the local village brass bands and harmonies. And so did Bart, Piet’s brother who also plays in Jaune Toujours. "After having seen a brass band festival at our village, Bart committed to the trumpet (which we all wanted to do, but he had the first choice). All my other brothers and my sister play or have played instruments: trumpet, clarinet, acoustic and electric guitar, double-bass, piano and some singing. So you could say that we lived in a musical house... It certainly was noisy!"
This beloved brass element is today an important part in Jaune Toujours sound. Being asked to define Jaune Toujours’ music, Piet suggests: "music in which the accordion and brass play a prominent role. If I have to describe it to someone who hasn't got a clue of what we do, I situate Jaune Toujours in between the early Les Négresses Vertes and the brass bands in the films of Kusturica." Meanwhile, press refers at times to the band’s music as high-rise tango and subway fado, or modern circus and fair-music (which is for the folk specialist a bit far away from what Jaune Toujours do...).
Jaune Toujours initially started up in 1991, as a hobby band of fellow students in Germanic languages at the university of Leuven, after a series of pretty wild open stages with a constantly changing crew (except for Piet) and a constantly changing name. In the beginning, Jaune Toujours still sounded quite "electric", with an electrical bass, distortion guitars, drums, and only sporadically an accordion or acoustic guitar. "All in a quite punky attitude: the Ramones and other mentioned punk inspired bands were never far away. Gradually and with the changing of group members, the electrical aspect left and a more acoustical approach settled in: acoustic guitar, accordion, upright bass and drums - and I traded the electric guitar for the accordion."
When Piet moved from Leuven to Brussels in 1996 with the plan to try to make a profession in music, things got more serious. Piet and bass player Bert Bernaerts, being the only Jaune Toujours leftovers from the Leuven period, were joined by Theophane Raballand on drums, Nicolas Hauzeur on violin and by Piet’s brother Bart on trumpet in 1997. In the summer of 1999, the Jaune Toujours formula was changed for a last time, "to more a more "brassed off" version", as Piet says: the violin giving way to the trombone and bass tuba of Christophe Morisset and the reeds of Mattias Laga. This is also the line-up that recorded the first full album BRUSK in 2000 (after a mini CD in 1997). BRUSK received raving reviews not only in FolkWorld, but all over the place.
Jaune Toujours’ wonderful mixture of different styles, such as Folk, Brass, Jazz, Musette, Rock, are based upon the influences based from the instruments and players in the band. "There is the rich accordion heritage, going from different kinds of waltz and tango, over popular folksongs, to more eastern (and Balkan) oriented genres. On the other hand, the brass perspective is very important too, with an input from all kinds of brass band genres, going from our own local and national brass bands, over jazz big bands to the brass bands of the Balkan."
"We mix both influences with our personal musical luggage and taste. Drummer Theophane Raballand supports the music with latin-inspired rhythms. Bass and trumpet player Bert Bernaerts adds some funk and groove, as well as some Balkan brass. Trumpet player Bart Maris provides a lot of jazz and freaky improvisations. Mattias Laga adds a "world" touch on reeds. And Christophe Morisset largens and deepens the acoustic image on trombone and bass tuba. Personally, I often start from the accordion tradition and mix it with influences from my favourite bands Les Négresses Vertes, Mau Mau, Les Têtes Raides and others, with a very important extra: the punk attitude and energy from bands like Mano Negra, the Pogues, the Clash or the one man band Billy Bragg."
All songs and tunes of Jaune Toujours are written by the band themselves. While often refering to the large tradition of accordion and brass, they play only own compositions. Piet writes all of the lyrics (most of them in Flemish language, added by a few French ones), and a major part of the music. Yet, the other band members are often co-writing songs and tunes, or composing tunes themselves.
"There is no standard way for us to come to a song and the arrangement. As a key principle, everyone tries to find their place on their instrument in an arrangement. We often work with roughly structured musical ideas, which we refine on rehearsals, gradually adding lyrics, finishing and fine-tuning on the interaction of music and lyrics. Sometimes, the musical idea can be very defined, so much that it can be too difficult, or inappropriate, for lyrics to be added, which results in instrumentals."
With their remarkable blend of music styles, Jaune Toujours have played in all kinds of places, from small pubs over open-air street parties to big podiums in major concert halls and festivals. Once, they even played "Chagall-style": on the roof of a church (for an Arte-documentary on Brussels community Sint-Gillis, where most of them live).
Jaune Toujours attract in their audiences all kinds of ages, languages, colours and tastes. Maybe the Brussels audience is the most remarkable for Jaune Toujours. As Piet says, people in the capital of Belgium speak French or other languages for +- 80 % (the other 20 % speaks Dutch), and Jaune Toujours lyrics are in Dutch for +- 80 %. Nevertheless the audience of different Brussels cultural and ethnic groups, stick and dance to the music and sing along with the lyrics ("even if a lot may sound like Chinese to some of them").
In the near future, Jaune Toujours embarks on new grounds, working on a theatre venue-oriented project, called "Foire!" (Fair). "We wanted to come up with something special for sitting audiences, after having played in theatre venues a few times and becoming aware of the different needs of such concert places - compared to our energetic live work in regular concert halls, clubs and pubs. That way, we have a formula which is more adapted for more intimate occasions and we can still continue to elaborate the up-tempo work on regular stages."
"Foire!" will open with the short movie "MetaFoor" (literally:"Meta-Fair", but with "metaphoric" connotation) of director Sarah Baur, in which a major part of the story is situated on a fair and its attractions. MetaFoor was produced by Jaune Toujours’ association Choux de Bruxelles (which also represents Jaune Toujours and Mec Yek). Piet designed the musical score and recorded it with Jaune Toujours. During the second part of the show the band elaborates on the theme, atmosphere and scenery of fairs and circuses with the live performance of Jaune Toujours, backed up by projections: moving images by Sarah Baur and slides by Jaune Toujours drummer and photographer Theophane.
Everyone in Jaune Toujours is active in different projects – "which is a necessity if you try to make a living in music here in Belgium, but also if you want to keep a fresh musical nose", as Piet says. Here a short intro to the other projects of Jaune Toujours band members:
Piet Maris plays in Mec Yek, a band working on a repertoire of songs in Romanes (a gypsy language), which Piet picked up during several journeys to a little Gypsy village in Slovakia. There's voice, accordion, violin, upright bass and reeds (Jaune Toujours' Mattias Laga). He sporadically creates soundtracks for example for the credits of local TV Brussels (Con Brio) and national VRT (Studio Ket). Throughout the school year, he teaches accordion once a week at La Tentation's in Brussels.
Bert Bernaerts (upright bass, trumpet and tuba in Jaune Toujours) works in music theatre for children with his own project John Torso Swim Ensemble, and with the puppet theatre Froe Froe. Bert also plays the trumpet in the folk fusion project Olla Vogala.
Christophe Morisset (trombone and bass tuba in Jaune Toujours) works in French speaking music theatre, mostly with his own company La Compagnie du Cuivre. He used to play in famous Brussels brass bands like Jour de Fête and the more Balkan inspired Caroline Coiffure.
The Jaune Toujours drummer, Theophane Raballand, plays percussion at the Brussels contemporary dance school PARTS. Remarkably, Theophane has set his mind on photography, next to drumming. He's already had a few small expositions in Brussels and he did the photography for BRUSK, as well as some of the Jaune Toujours press pictures and a lot of photography on the Jaune Toujours website.
Bart Maris (trumpet, fluegelhorn and tuba in Jaune Toujours) must be the most varied Jaune Toujours member: he wanders from jazz, via free-jazz and avant-garde to folk and fusion projects. If there is a trumpet involved in a Belgian project, chances are Bart is involved in it. He has trumpeted on lots of recordings by all sorts of smaller and major groups (like dEUS and Zita Swoon). On a more structural basis, Bart plays in the big band Flat Earth Society, Think of One and the Whodads.
Mattias Laga (sax soprano, clarinet en bass clarinet in Jaune Toujours) is also into jazz with his own big band JamBangle and into world music with groups like Djamel, Gabor and Moufadhel Adhoum. Like Bert he also plays in Olla Vogala. And Mattias also plays the reeds in Mec Yek.
Alone by the number of bands that Jaune Toujours members are involved in you can tell that Belgium has at the moment quite a vivid music scene. There are concert venues of all kinds, and in summer you have at least 3 festivals per weekend, somewhere in the country. Not all of these events take folk bands, although a lot of
programs have been broadened, opening the scene to folk music. As Piet says, "there certainly has been a boom during the last years, with a lot of "new wave folk" groups, new events, and increasing audience. As a reference: you can now find folk on the major labels in Belgium. Maybe "trendy" is an appropriate term for bands inside the folk circuit itself, but not yet on the entire Belgian music scene, although the folk and world circuit certainly equals the proportions of the rock scene."
As exciting and cult-y Jaune Toujours might be with their innovative mix of different music styles, Piet Maris sees the band having also quite a problem with the fact they are not easy to pigeonhole. Says he, "Jaune Toujours is in a bit of a weird place. We're in between rock, folk, jazz and world, nobody really knows where to catalogue us, which makes it difficult to reach a trendy status. Bands that stick to one musical genre have an easier access to that label. We enjoy a certain cult status though, that reaches from Brussels to Gent and Oostende, where we are 'famous' because of all the gigs we do. And there is a core of Jaune Toujours fans, following our concerts and projects."
Still it is most obvious that inside the folk music scene, Jaune Toujours reaches the status it definitely reserves: A cult band, that is one of the most innovative and extraordinary bands on the folk circuit. As could be proved by the fact that FolkWorld’s readers voted their CD No. 2 of 2000.
Latest published CD: BRUSK, see CD review
in FolkWorld No. 15 and Editors' CD Top
10 2000 and Reader's CD Top 10 2000
Further infos/contact: Look at the homepages of Wildboar Record Company and Choux association or e-mail email@example.com.
Jaune toujours photos: Théophane Raballand; from www.choux.net
Brussels Market Square photo from www.brussels.org
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