|French duo !What The Folk?, Cyrille Bourgogne, left, and Laurent Vanhoenackere, center, will be joined by Detroit bluesman Paul Miles in concert tonight at AJ’s Music Café in Ferndale.|
Laurent Vanhoenackere and Cyrille Bourgogne of the French acoustic duo !What The Folk? have a deep love of American roots music. Their new CD, “Living Roots,” features elements of blues, African-American spirituals, and country music.
The two Frenchmen are currently on their first tour of the United States, including a performance with Detroit bluesman Paul Miles Wednesday at AJ’s Music Café in Ferndale. Their visit is being recorded for a video documentary.
You could call their trip to America a fact-finding mission.
“It’s very interesting,” Vanhoenackere said. “I tried to come with no expectations. We’ve been listening to American music for years and years, so we already had an idea of American history and the way people are and where it comes from. Some things appear to be so, and some things were very different than what we had in mind.”
The duo played several dates in Georgia and Kentucky. Their home city, Mâcon in France’s Burgundy region, is the sister city to Macon, Ga. While in Macon, they were able to attend a local Gospel church service.
“I realized the importance of the churches and religion as the roots of black music, soul and funk, which I didn’t expect really,” Vanhoenackere said. “I know James Brown as James Brown, who is very sexual in a way and quite a way from the teachings of Sunday morning.”
The duo were also surprised at the racial segregation they’ve witnessed in our country.
“It’s the fact that the communities don’t mix (racially) at all, even in big cities,” Vanhoenackere said. “There’s some segregation in the South, definitely. The segregation is on both sides. We noticed that black people wouldn’t mix with white people either. It’s very different than European culture.
“France is in the center of Europe, so we have Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, and Algerian people who came to France to work. It’s very different. There are obviously language and religion differences, but we talk to everyone. We do a concert and Portuguese people will come to the concert and share a drink with the French people. All the people (here) are American, obviously, but it’s very different.”
The new release by !What The Folk? has three traditional American songs – “Pick a Bale (of Cotton),” “Western Plain” and “Black Betty” – and 10 originals inspired by American roots music. In another era, these guys would have been comfortable jamming with Jimmie Rodgers, Leadbelly or the Carter Family.
Like many Americans, the Frenchmen were initially exposed to the blues through the music of British rockers of the 1960s.
“In Europe, as everywhere in the world, we listen to The Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” Vanhoenackere said. “They are very popular in France. They themselves say that they are very much influenced by black American blues people. By listening to all these kinds of music, we went to the roots afterward. So, we wanted to come across the ocean and do some research, basically.”
Vanhoenackere and Bourgogne initially established an online friendship with Miles. That led to Miles touring Europe and performing in France with !What The Folk?.
“We made a connection, not just as musicians, but as people,” Miles said. “That adds to it and they are very, very versed in the traditions of the music.”
Miles sees musical collaborations as a way to bridge the gap between nations.
“ That’s how we get to know other people and that’s how we have a chance to have world peace,” Miles said. “Musically, if I can bring some people together and have a good time, then other musicians can go, ‘Wow, maybe I can play with a guy from Spain, or play with some African drummers, or a guy from Ireland.’ That’s the power of music.”
!What The Folk? and Paul Miles will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday at AJ’s Music Cafe, 240 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale. There will be a $5 cover charge to raise travel money for the group. The event will also be livestreamed at www.ustream.tv/channel/aj-s-cafe-open-mic-with-ted-berlinghof.
To see a video of !What The Folk? performing the song "The Honey & the Bee" click here.
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