Our Daily Bread 314: Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’

April 2, 2019

Review: Andrew C. Kidd

Labelle ‘Orchestre Univers’
(Infiné) 5th April 2019

“Nout Maloya lé mondial” (“Our Maloya is global!”) was what the Réunionese media exclaimed after Maloya – a vocal and percussive music genre forged on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion in the 18th and 19th centuries – was placed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of UNESCO1. Ten years have passed since that day on Réunion.

Enter Jérémy Labelle. Born in France to a Réunionese father and a French mother, he moved to the island in 2011 to further develop a sound he dubs “Maloya electronics”. He has successfully bridged the Detroit techno, modern classical and Maloya music genres on his two previous albums: Ensemble (Eumolpe Records, 2013), an amalgamation of synthetic and acoustic sounds (check out the aptly named track Rhythm), and the well-received Univers-île (Infiné, 2017), a more focused work that builds upon multiple tempi. His latest album, Orchestre Univers, was performed by the Orchestre Regional of Réunion Island, conducted by Laurent Goossaert. The ten pieces from the album (three previously published and seven original works) were recorded live over four concerts that took place on the island.

The opening piece is a revisited version of Playing at the End of the Universe (it originally featured on his Univers-île album). Admittedly, I do prefer the previously released and somewhat rawer version, particularly the dreamy build-up at the end that bustles with electronically-altered marimbas, glockenspiels and other tunefully percussive instruments à la Four Tet from his album Rounds (Domino, 2003). Take nothing away from the live version though, it is also very good. The dreamy reverberation of émotion du vide follows and is filled with reedy high notes that reach towards the sky. The woodwind trio also lift the stringed staccato and counterpoint percussion on Soul Introspection (Orchestre univers Version). This piece also features a time-signature bending rolling bass line which is characteristic of Labelle’s “Maloya electronics”. Prakash Sontakke slides around guitar notes in impressive fashion. He reappears later in the album playing a step-like lullaby on the final track, La Vie.

Le moment present initially tricks the listener into thinking that it is an outro to the piece that precedes it; the rhythm that builds upon the martelé (hammered) staccato and pizzicato of the strings quickly dispels this. The bassy drums provide depth as we are led into Oublie-voie-espace-dimension and O, the two best pieces on the album. The former opens with a fervent electronic sequence that dances around hard drum beats; the looped organ cycle that features adds an almost ecclesiastical dimension. The drums and percussion eventually reach fever pitch as O drops. O is a full-throttle, tribal house rhythmic adventure. Contrapuntal rhythms and maniacal synth-heavy electronics gradually quicken and push the sound into delirious overdrive. Strings and wind instruments converge at the end offering little in the way of respite.

Mécanique inverse sets out at a similar tempo. Labelle introduces a soundtrack-esque melody, masterfully played by the guitar, string, woodwind and percussion sections of the orchestra. The glassy, razor-like synth and radio-static outro herald an applause from the audience reminding the listener that this is a live album (the production and standard of musicianship are so good that one often cannot tell that these are live performances!). Stase, différence et répétition is a dark ambient piece akin to the likes of Nurse with Wound and Rasplyn. Percussive jangles and portamento strings float in a sea of muffled synths and indistinct field recordings. String harmonics and wood-tapping of the violins open re-créer (Orchestre univers Version). I have previously listened to this track on Labelle’s Post-Maloya EP (Infiné, 2018). A double-kick drum beat pulsates beneath steely and metallic sounding granular synths that change key and crescendo in a manner not too dissimilar to Clark’s Body Riddle (Warp, 2006).

Jérémy Labelle is clearly a very talented musician, composer and producer. He casts his net of influence wide to draw upon many musical styles. His synthesis of modal harmonies and tribal rhythms is very reminiscent of the ‘Fourth World’ created by the venerable Jon Hassell. I have read numerous interviews with Labelle who cites identity and anthropology as themes which have inspired him to write music. Orchestre Univers feels more like a celebration, a coming together of musicians and audiences to rejoice at the unique music that has emerged from the island of Réunion. The electronics and compositional complexities offered by Labelle are merely 21st century adaptations to what is an age-old sound. They should not be dismissed. His concept of “Maloya electronics” is truly global and will ensure that the next generation of Réunionese continue to declare, “Nous Maloya lé mondial!”

1UNESCO. Intangible Heritage Lists: Maloya. Available from: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/maloya-00249 (cited 29/03/2019)


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