Jean Berry discusses chanson, disobedience and busking in Paris with the group’s lead singer, Vincent Sanchez
For several years now Zoufris Maracas have been infusing their particular chanson française with Afro-Caribbean rhythms, African rumba and Gypsy guitar styles. “We thought we’d bring in elements that inspire us from around the world and sing in French,” says Vincent Sanchez the day before a gig at Le Casino de Paris. The band is named after the zoufris (the slang term for Algerian migrant workers in France in the 50s) and the Central-American Indian percussion instrument. As a result, their passionate yet celebratory protest and love songs, plugged by local Parisian radio stations, have been reaching large audiences since the release of ‘Et Ta Mère’ in 2011, a desperate break-up single that paved the way for their first album, Prison Dorée.
Following in the footsteps of Manu Chao and Tryo, Zoufris Maracas are injecting a fresh energy into the generally dreary chanson française scene with their taste for métissage, their cheeky popular slang and southern accents from Sète, the city where Sanchez grew up as a teenager. It was also the home city of songwriter Georges Brassens, who undoubtedly inspired Sanchez’s taste for police-bashing and anti-establishment lyrics. “We started in the Parisian métro, where undercover cops would sometimes come and try to intimidate us,” he notes. “That’s where we learned the hard way as we struggled to make a living and develop our music. Sometimes the whole carriage would end up dancing and clapping.”
The band have now moved on from busking, and their new-found recognition has led to extensive tours, including a recent WOMEX showcase in Budapest and a forthcoming UK date. “We don’t rehearse for concerts and refuse to build up stage characters, so that we remain ourselves – fresh and honest to the audience. That’s the way we like to perform. Our worst nightmare would be to get onstage in automatic mode,” continues the singer.
The two leaders (Sanchez and Vincent Allard) previously worked as humanitarians in West Africa with a travelling cinema, and as street fundraisers for Greenpeace. Inspired by this work, Chienne de Vie, their second album released earlier this year, was partly written in Mexico, and develops themes like confinement, citizen control and disobedience, capitalism, consumerism, love and relationships in a quirky and humorous way.
Zoufris Maracas performed in an old music hall in Paris on November 12 – the day before the terrorist attacks – in front of a crowd of 1,500 people, who sang along to their choruses. Not bad for a band who have made idleness their motto: ‘Travailler moins pour créer plus d’espaces de liberté’ – ‘Work less, to create more spaces of freedom’.
ALBUM Their new album Chienne de Vie is reviewed in the new issue (March 2016, #115)