Orchestre National de Barbés - Indigo2, London (25/05/2011)

Laura Bruneau | Tuesday, 07 June 2011

Orchestre National de Barbés - Indigo2, London (25/05/2011)

Within the monolithic surroundings of Greenwich's O2 complex, the Indigo2 stands as the stadium's, more modest and intimate little sibling and it was here that one of world music's most impressive collectives took to the stage. The crowds were by no means huge but there were no casual music lovers either. Anyone who was there wanted to be and was passionate about the kind of music being played.

First up was Los Desterrados, a band of beautiful rabble rousers from AndalucĂ­a who delivered a mixture of traditional Jewish music from across Europe. Wedding songs and other traditional fare was vocalised by their sultry female vocalist who dripped with an exotic and refined mystique.

Wearing traditional dress, their instruments seemed to sing along with the vocals. At times they showed hints of the Gipsy Kings, but with Turkish influences and an ethereal transporting quality reminiscent of fantasy film soundtracks.

What made Los Desterrados' performance stand out was that watching them felt like being at a family gathering or wedding. Their female vocalist managed to get everyone clapping along and somehow they managed to make a reasonably large venue feel very small and intimate.

Despite the less than smooth changeover between acts, ONB, when they finally took to the stage, made an impressive entrance. As they came onstage they started playing one by one, and gradually built up an intricate soundscape. With multiple vocalists they created a chorus of voices on the vocals for an expansive sound.

ONB proved that immigrants make the best music. They were able to take from all their own cultures and mix them with their experiences of living in urban Paris. They utilised multiple musical traditions without ever compromising those cultures or rich musical histories.

With eleven people onstage at once they were able to build up the sound into a complex composition of depth an intricacy. Maybe they have such a large ensemble because, as they said onstage "you can cook by yourself, but you can't make love by yourself" and their music has the passion and vibrancy of lovemaking.

Big performance pieces littered an impressive set, the highlight of which was a song about African soldiers who fought for France in WW2 that are now ignored by France, their sacrifices unacknowledged and unappreciated. The four vocalists worked so well together, playing off one another and using call and response styles at times.

ONB sing songs about the reality of France not the romanticised version that is put around so much in popular culture. They tell the truth and tell the stories of unheard voices. A great festival band, if you get the chance to see them live they are not a group to be missed!

Rating: 4/5