Wednesday, January 13, 2010

MC Solaar: French Rapper Live In London, UK Concert Recap

As reported by Toby Green at London's Independent (photo courtesy of the Independent)

Five years have passed since arguably the world's most famous non-English-speaking rapper performed a solo show in the UK, so it was no surprise that tickets were hard to come by for this three-night mini-residency at Camden's Jazz Cafe (January 8-10). What prompted MC Solaar – whose real name is Claude M'Barali – to cross the channel is not entirely clear. His most recent record, Chapitre 7, was released in 2007. But the crowd are happy to welcome him back.

It is certainly a treat to see a multi-million selling MC in such an intimate venue, although those who missed out on a ticket would be unlikely to agree. There are not too many 40-year-old rappers who can be said to be near the top of their game but Solaar – who is entering his third decade as a recording artist, having released his debut single, "Bouge de là", in 1990 – does not look his age as he opens with "Carpe Diem", from his last album.

Some gigs have seen him backed by a live band but tonight – sensibly so, given the space available – he is joined by a DJ, two MCs and his regular co-singer, Linda. It is she who comes closest to stealing the show, with her belting voice and ability to switch styles between songs. She even finds time for a few costume changes, appearing as a belly dancer for one song.

The sheer magnetism of Solaar, however, means that his position as the star of the evening is undeniable. Ever genial, often with a little smile playing on his lips, he charms the crowd between songs. The only problem for non-Gallic members of the audience is that he speaks almost entirely in French, leaving odd moments when half the crowd are in uproarious laughter while the rest look to them for translation.

Still, for the songs a lack of knowledge of French is much less of a hindrance – you may not know what he is saying, but Solaar's smooth and laid-back technique makes the language sound its most beautiful. He is such a compelling performer that he keeps the attention of the crowd even on songs where the beat is pretty average.

He changes his style regularly – one moment spitting super-fast rhymes, the next seeming more like a spoken-word performer – but whatever he does, his delivery is perfect. In terms of the night's pacing, there is a nice mix of lively numbers that get large sections of the crowd dancing and more introspective, moody tracks. The pick of these is the atmospheric "In God We Trust".

"Au Clair De La Lune" is similarly beautiful, but judging from the reaction from the crowd "Solaar Pleure", from the 2001 album Cinquième As, is the most anticipated song of the night. It lives up to the expectation and is a clear highlight with its distinctive guitar riff. As the song builds Solaar gets angrier and angrier, from verse to verse, until the powerful climax.

He jokingly threatens not to do an encore, but he then returns for another three songs. Even this is not enough for the audience, who are unwilling to let him go – after all, who knows when they will next see him in these parts?

Also, read Lisa Verrico at London's Times MC Solaar concert review here:
MC Solaar at Camden's Jazz Cafe

Fan shot footage below.

(video courtesy of osy98jb)

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