Behind Yann Tambour and his band Stranded Horse lies a faith in chance encounters, a belief that renewal is born out of chaos. They strive to skirt conventions and labels and wed together unexpected genres, rules and habits in an album of erratic wanderings, dance and trance, at a time when more and more get walled off by reluctance and suspicion. But a strange spell, it seems, was cast on our stranded horse since he chose to hit the dancefloor for the first time the very year nobody could.
This is not a lockdown record, much to the contrary, since this new album was conceived before Covid and co invaded our realities and vocabulary. “We wrote a post-visionary album,” say Yann and percussionist Sébastien Forrester jokingly, “an album that predicts the past.” And for good reason, since it is indeed an apocalypse that this “Grand Rodeo” is about, one that everyone saw coming. One against which our rider holds the reins as best he can so as not to fall, powerless like every one of us, cut off in his tracks with little choice but to let off steam in a frenzied trance or on the rumba beats of his “Rumba du Trépas” (also available in English as “Stroke Me with a Deadly Arrow”). There he is, oddly dressed, a little unwiling, like some indie Don Quixote tilting at windmills with endearing fervor... Yes, the catastrophe is here, before our very eyes, but never mind, this “Grand Rodeo” remains an opportunity to share and do our best to enjoy ourselves.
Yann Tambour was first known as Encre at the turn of the millennium. He was then whispering and stacking orchestral samples into a kind of spoken word electronica with an acoustic tinge. But in 2005, he decided to return to his early love for arpeggios and dusted off his classical guitar, all the while growing a fascination for the kora, an instrument symbolic of West-Africa. He experimented, both in instrument making and playing, developed a very personal style and released two albums that took him to several continents (“Churning Strides” in 2007 on Blanktapes and “Humbling Tides” in 2011 on Talitres). Between 2008 and 2012, he even collaborated with one of the great masters of the genre, Ballaké Sissoko, and later met his cousin and pupil Bocar Cissokho during a trip to Senegal, with whom he wrote the majority of “Luxe” (2016).
Bocar aka Boubacar, or Bouba to his close friends, a direct heir to the man who once brought the kora from Mali to Casamance where it did not exist before, leaves his inimitable mark throughout this “Grand Rodeo”, setting Yann’s heady twilight folk into a kind of perpetual motion only known to true Djelis. But this “Grand Rodeo” doesn’t stop there: If it takes its first dance steps, it is thanks to Gabon raised Franco-British percussionist (and electronic music producer) Sébastien Forrester’s essential contribution and passion for African and Afro-Caribbean rhythms. For the needs of the group, he designed an atypical pocket drum kit, with doundouns and a gourd he plays with his foot. As for our fourth horseman of the apocalypse, Miguel Bahamondès-Rojas, a fellow traveller on the “Luxe” tour, who has worked in the French indie scene as well as various projects throughout Latin American, he is the band’s multi-instrumentalist (violin, keyboard) and outstanding string arranger.
“Grand Rodeo” also sees him discover his talent for backing vocals with a timbre that fits Yann’s voice perfectly. Finally, Carla Pallone, Yann’s long- time friend and half of duo Mansfield TYA also adds her contribution via a violin arrangement that comes swirling over track “Le Ciment dessous nos pieds” (also available in English as “The Crumbling Ground Down Below”).
“Grand Rodeo”, whose bilingual title works both in the author’s native French and the tongue of a Britain that adopted him for a time also evoques the bitterness of seing her slam the door and stoop “So Low”, even though he is under no illusion as to the dreary path his homeland will soon follow. Here is a song whose melancholy is gradually illuminated by a rich instrumentarium and whose freshness is derived from sounds rarely associated with each other. A perfect example of how Stranded Horse constantly draw on new sources to give life to their rich and unique musical language.
Yann is fond of unusual marriages, leading him to the confines of creole music whose syncretism he reveres, or those improbable revisitations of western music from the four corners of the world that he either gleaned on the road, or discovered through re-releases by pioneers such as Sublime Frequencies, Finders Keepers or Awesome Tapes from Africa to name a few.
When asked about the album’s influences, he mentions Franco’s Tout Puissant Ok Jazz, Linda Perhacs or Tim Buckley’s contemplative wanderings, the mighty kora of the great Malian masters which bounced off the great Mississipi bluesmen or that time when Senegal became Afro-Cuban, with Super Diamono, with Star Band de Dakar, with Idrissa Diop, Ivoirian logobi, South-East Asia, Iran or Turkey’s strange psych pop, Haïti’s Voodoo or Reunion island’s Kabar transe and dance.
But Stranded Horse doesn’t forget to draw on the indie heritage that is still very much present, as evidenced by “In A Sharper Fairway”, which may remind the most passionate folk fans of the folk-mindedness of Jackson C Franck. As for the choice of English or French, it is a natural one: whether it is a question of immersing oneself into the contemplative and poignant “Sparks Turn To Stone” or entering the frenzied dance of the irresistible “Rumba du trépas”, the richness of the lyrics is reinforced by a voice strip- ped of all artifice, making each composition sincere and authentic. The same is true when, with Youssou N’Dour’s permission, Stranded Horse adapts Star Band de Dakar’s heady and vast “Thiely” from Wolof to French
Inevitably though, even if after “So Low” comes “So High” on this “Grand Rodeo”, the author, like all of us, struggles to find a glimmer of hope. The same goes for the warm colors and the kaleidoscopic blur of the superb visuals obtained via tweaked vintage lenses and infrared emulations of aerochrome film developed by Yann himself during lockdown with photographer Jasmine Bannister. These are the glimmers of a world that we find hard to enthuse over and whose flame seems to wane a little more each day. So what can we do but row in slow motion, “Towards a Waning Glow”? Stop the rat race, like tragicomical puppets gesticulating against the current, or, like Yann and Bocar, burn our fingers in frantic arpeggios to keep the flame glowing.