Monster grooves for lovers of synth-driven funk.
From Jacques Morali and Henri Belolo to Daft Punk and Justice, there is a long and illustrious history of Francophone dance music well-known to American listeners. Decidedly less well-known, however, is the strain of synth-heavy electro-boogie that flourished all too briefly in France between the disco of the mid-to-late ‘70s and the house music of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. French label Born Bad has drawn from this transitional phase, first for the 2015 compilation Chébran: French Boogie 1980-1984, and now for a sequel covering the latter half of the decade.
For fans of boogie in its Stateside form—think Kashif, Mtume, and the sprawling SOLAR Records oeuvre of producer Leon Sylvers III–Chébran Volume 2 offers both the comfort of the familiar and the thrill of the exotic. The brassy synthesizer tone on songs like “Heidi Bled Noum,” originally released by Shams Dinn in 1987, could just as easily have come out of Minneapolis circa 1983; and the Francophone flows on rap tracks like Phil Barney’s “Funk Rap,” JM Black’s “Lipstick,” and Alfio Scandurra’s “Qu’est Ce Qui Ne Va Pas?” demonstrate that even if the South Bronx was far away, the fruits of its culture had reached as far as Paris and Marseilles.
But the songs collected here are more than just novel variations on American sounds; at their most intriguing, they reflect the unique cultural makeup of post-colonial France. Boogie, of course, grew out of the cross-pollinations between African American funk and European synthpop; the Gallic variety, with its roots in French immigrant communities, incorporated even further-flung influences from Africa and the Middle East. The aforementioned Dinn, born Mohammed Ben Bouchta, performs in Arabic, as do many of the other artists on the compilation; “Propriété Privée” singer Sammy Massamba hails from the Congo; the proto-electro “Ettika” was recorded by a group of Franco-Arab women of the same name.
Chébran is rife with such intercontinental couplings and fascinating stylistic mutations, and the later chronological focus of this second volume opens up even more possibilities, with frequent forays into hip-hop and pure electronic music. It’s easy to picture Afro-French B-boys popping and locking to “Porquoi Tant de Haine,” the 1988 closing track by MC Joel Ferrati; or to Ethnie’s 1986 “De Chagrin en Chagrin,” which pairs a funky live hip-hop arrangement with an Arabic call-and-response chorus.
Like most compilations of its ilk, Chébran’s sampling of international dance obscurities holds immediate appeal for DJs and other crate-digging connoisseurs of rare grooves. But there’s also an intrinsic value to hearing post-disco sounds defamiliarized and recontextualized in this way. A nebulous, short-lived genre even in its American form, boogie is often overlooked as a stopgap between disco proper and its sleeker, more mechanized offshoots, such as electro, house and techno. The hybrid formulations on Chébran Volume 2 offer a glimpse of the style’s unexploited possibilities, its adaptability into alternative cultures and contexts. More prosaically, but just as importantly, they also offer 17 monster grooves for lovers of synth-driven funk.