Home Music Various Artists: Tchic Tchic: French Bossa Nova 1963-1974

Various Artists: Tchic Tchic: French Bossa Nova 1963-1974

How does one describe bossa nova, the Brazilian pop form that took the world by gentle storm in the ‘50s? Ask a Frenchman, and he might quote Jean Cocteau. Pierre Barrouh borrowed from his surrealist countryman when he said of the new music from South America, “I like things that lean, the in-betweens that limp with grace.” Likewise, Tchic Tchic, Born Bad’s hour-long set of Francophone bossa nova, fuels the genteel pop with the gas of Francophone art and pop. The result is, évidemment, très catchy.

Barrouh was friends with Les Masques, the vocal group that launches this set with “Il Faut Tenir” (“One Must Keep”), originally a single released in 1968. Composed by Alice Herald and Claude Germain of the French vocal group Les Swingle Singers, the track opens with chirping organ timbres and a lightly tropical rhythm. But the sound is dominated by vocal harmonies, female vocalists trading choruses with a male group, the brassy accompaniment and sophisticated piano solo providing a quick hit of jazzy ‘60s swing.

Bossa nova rhythms served as a launching point for European pop styles, as on the romantic “De Jour en Jour” (“Day by Day”), a 1963 single co-written by prolific Italian soundtrack composer Armando Trovajoli and sung by none other than actress Sophia Loren. Similarly, “Jusqu’a la Tombée du Jour” (“Until Nightfall”) is another sultry vocal feature for a singing actress, in this case Isabelle de Funès.

Tchic Tchic gets more interesting when it leans more heavily into Brazilian sounds, as in Sylvia Fels’ “Corto Maltese,” whose acoustic guitar-heavy arrangement is gently bolstered by seagull cries, ocean waves and lithe percussion. It’s hard to believe this track came from as late as 1974; it sounds like vintage ‘60s pop, in part thanks to the chanting background vocals. Charles Level’s 1970 single “Un Enfant Café au Lait” is a smooth synthesis of the Franco-Brazilian relationship, the melody flowing comfortably along the signature rhythm. While some of the earlier tracks here are perhaps too agitated to suit the cool tones of such bossa-nova icons as Astrud Gilberto, the relaxed male vocal strikes the right blend of desire and ennui.

It’s perfectly apt that the most enchanting—and catchiest—track here is “Un Poisson dans l’eau” (“A Fish in the Water”) from Christiane Legrand, whose brother, famed composer Michel, accompanies with his orchestra. The acoustic rhythm guitar and chirping berimbau pay their dues to Brazilian roots, but the French lyrics could be universal, the playful sounds reach delightfully loopy heights.

Purists may quibble that Tchic Tchic is mere pastiche, but with music this catchy, who cares about authenticity? One of the most “authentic” tracks here may be from Marpessa Dawn, who starred in the 1959 film Black Orpheus, a retelling of an ancient Greek myth set during Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Dawn was in fact a Pittsburgh-born French actress, and her 1963 single “Le Petit Quica,” despite some bossa percussion and berimbau, sounds as much like a yeh-yeh record as anything. Still, the track has a deep pedigree; co-writer José Prates created musical arrangements for a dance show that toured Europe in the early ‘50s and may well have set the scene for the blossoming of bossa nova. Tchic Tchic uncovers just one global stop in Brazil’s musical travels around the world, and if it lacks some of the soul of the source material, it’s still fairly irresistible.

Summary
Purists may quibble that this Franco-Brazilian hybrid is mere pastiche, but with music this catchy, who cares about authenticity?
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