Photograph by Michael Putland
With 30 years under their belt, Lo’Jo’s tenth studio album Cinéma El Mundo topped many Best Of lists last year, confirming their position as one of the world’s leading musical outfits. This Friday (December 13), Lo’Jo will perform at London’s Barbican Centre as part of this year’s Songlines Music Awards Winners’ concert.
The collective of musicians from the south-west of France known as Lo’Jo has been going strong for 30 years now. Their tenth album, Cinéma el Mundo, betrays no sign at all that they intend to slow down, and features prestigious musical guests such as the legendary Robert Wyatt (who opens the album intoning in French) and Ibrahim Ag Alhabib from Tinariwen.
Back in 1982, Lo’Jo’s lead singer Denis Péan and his violinist friend Richard Bourreau started playing and recording together. Both were studying classical music, but were just as interested in the music of Léo Ferré, John Coltrane and punk. They were invited to contribute music to performances by a local street-theatre company called Jo Bithune, and toured the world with them as part of a show called Décrocher La Lune (Unhook the Moon). It exposed them to many different genres of music, and they returned home from their travels with a collection of new instruments and influences from Mali, Turkey, Egypt and Cambodia.
Péan and Bourreau have remained the core of Lo’Jo over several line-up changes across the years. The band is currently a six-piece, with Middle Eastern harmonies provided by the singing sisters Nadia and Yasmina Nid el Mourid, bass from Nicolas ‘Kham’ Meslien and drums by Baptiste Brondy. Lo’Jo have embraced French chanson and musette, jaunty reggae, African, Arabic and Gypsy flavours; they are a world music institution that remains stylishly, quintessentially French.