I’m your average alternative-pop music-listener. You know, The Black Keys, Arctic Monkeys, The Lumineers, Mumford & Sons, all that jazz. Of course, I occasionally rock out to some Miley or Beyoncé, but I never really listen to anything beyond that scope of music. As you can imagine, with this limited musical background, I had never listened to a band that specialized in blending North African, Romani, Eastern European, and Jewish sounds – all into one song.
But this band’s music makes it obvious they are able to make this blend work perfectly. They were lively, catchy, musically-interesting – something you could dance to or do your homework to, or perhaps play at an upbeat dinner party. The music is easy to listen to but also has a layered and kaleidoscopic quality to it.
The masters of this African-European-Jewish somewhat jazzy sound are called Trio Populaire, a new group formed in 2010. Self- managed, recording independently, they are already getting a lot of attention in Montreal, despite not yet having released an album. The three members of the band are Tacfarinas Kichou on percussion, Joey Mallat on guitar, and Pierre Emmanuel Poizat on clarinet.
The biggest question I had for this band, however, was how they managed to bring all of these sounds together. In an interview with The Daily, the charming Poizat offered me some tea, and explained that the percussionist is from Algeria, which explains the North African influence. Their guitarist is from Lebanon – yet “we don’t have a specific influence from [Lebanon] but [Mallat] is where the Middle Eastern influence comes from.” He continued to explain, “I was interested in Jewish music from Eastern Europe because it has a lot of clarinet. There is also a lot of clarinet in [Romani] music, so that’s where that comes from.”
When I asked how the three band mates knew these types of music would all sound good together, he said, “We didn’t!” and quickly added, “We just jammed until it sounded good.”
Poizat explains how the title of their song “Un Chameau à New York” (“A Camel in New York,” one of their most interesting tracks) is a perfect representation of how they mix sounds. “It’s kind of a joke to show the mix between the North African desert, and American music, jazz.”
Like their music, Trio Populaire’s audience is a diverse crowd. Poizat recalled how “Some people […] recognize the Jewish sound so they come and say ‘oh man it’s Yiddish music!’, some people come from Africa so they hear the drums, some people like the guitar, some, the jazz.”
Poizat made it clear that Trio Populaire is not in any way traditional. “The way we play [music] is totally different, it is influenced by a sound but we take the melody and mix it with a different kind of rhythm.” Trio Populaire has been defined as “world jazz” but Poizat noted with a laugh, “World jazz can really mean anything you want.” The group’s defiance of simple categorization might have had a thing or two to do with the Diversity Prize they recently won from the Conseil des arts de Montréal. Trio Populaire’s enthusiasm for a variety of sounds, and their talent for blending them all together, seems to be key to the band’s appeal.
Trio Populaire will be playing at MAI (Montréal, arts interculturels) (3680 Jeanne-Mance) on January 24 and 25 at 8 p.m.. Tickets are $18.50 for students.