Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Brushing Up On My French, Le Concert Complet, Les Devoirs du Tournee: Lyon


It begins with a sleepless night. Consistently. The Art of Sleep Deprivation. (Perfect time in my life to be reading and listening to Tah Phrum Duh Bush’s “Luminous Dark Alleys: The Insomnaic Works.”) A night flight forward in time steals the sedative hours, especially when the Atlantic transverse is on an American airline. Seriously, what ever happened to complimentary (and unlimited) drinks on an international flight? Or movies, for that matter? Continental gets the gasface. The cheapest flights are the cheapest flights for good reason…

So the sleepless flight preceded by an almost sleepless NYC night. It ends with a mad dash to the finish line, the finish line usually being the security line at an airport. Loose ends tied, said most goodbyes, subletters arrived, bag regulation compliant. Made the 3:07pm NJ transit by 2 minutes, caught the Hired Gun at the Newark Airport where we began the decompression process that accompanies every trip outside of New York. Counting my blessings, embarking on my third European tour of 2010, fourth in 12 months. This summer has evaporated quicker than any I can recall. Ironic how working on the road provides the most time to reflect, rebuild and resolve.

Set to kick things off in Lyon, France, we had one small leg of travel before arriving there. We flew into Geneva, Switzerland, and had to take a train through the mountains to get to France. While having a coffee across the way from the rail station, Hired and I saw this young woman walk by, do a triple/quadruple take back at our table, and walk on. 45 minutes later she passed back by, walked directly up to me and was like, “I have seen you on MTV, right? On the show “Made,” right?” I timidly and hilariously smiled, nodding yes. Apparently the episode was on MTV Europe 2 days prior. Pretty incredible vibe to set off the tour. Her name was Orphy, she was half Swiss/half Greek and was going back to Senegal to continue doing social work. And she’d even tried beatboxing after seeing the show.

Upon arrival in Lyon, we were received by hostess superb Chris Bou. We were invited for a lush lunch at her house, and were granted the green light to fall out into the inevitable nap. Long day of travels, lack of food… that first meal will send all the blood rushing right to your stomach. We woke in time to meet Zajazza, relocate our gear to his place and head directly to Radio Canut. No time wasted. We hit the Hip Hop/Breaks show called “Ante-Chambre” for an on-air interview, performed a couple of tracks and spit an epic 12 minute freestyle. The show that night was dedicated to Herbie Hancock. Pretty sweet, especially since we have the same alma mater. There wasn’t much promotion to do for the concert the next night, as it was already SOLD OUT IN ADVANCE!

It always takes a few days away from New York City to recalibrate my pulse and pace. People elsewhere on planet actually take time during the day to chill with friends, have a leisurely lunch, take a walk… We are so overwhelmed by time management in NYC that your body literally vibrates with anxiety when removed from the whirlwind and chaos (no tornado pun intended). Fortunately, this is life preparation for days like Friday: up at 9:00am for a 10:00am radio show, prepping and packing for the concert, moving gear, soundchecking and rocking. We hit our second radio station in 12 hours, appearing on Radio Cap Sao with DJ’s Alpha and Jimmy. Pretty much the same routine as the night before, with a heavy dose of comedy. All the DJs have been showing the “Skillz” project mad love and have been duly digging the freestyles.

Friday’s flow from the radio show to a spontaneous nap to a jog along the Rhone river moved smooth. We were back at 21,22 Rue Imbert Colommes, the same spot Core Rhythm, Appl Juic, Zajazza and I rocked on the Boombox Effect tour in April. It’s a literal speakeasy, flashing light buzzer and all. The owner, Francois, is tres tres gentile and a true music aficionado. It was a real honor to be back in his spot, and an even greater honor to know that Zajazza and his team of friends had sold out the show in advance. Much love and credit to Core and Appl Juic for killing it so hard back in April; it really set up the hype for this show, as has Zajazza’s push of the album in Lyon.

Alongside us on the bill were DJ Old School (who set the night off with a bout of crate digger classics, all vinyl) and the incredible Fish LeRouge. Fish rocked with us in April as part of the trio Les Pirates (Fish, world champ beatboxer Tiko from team Under Kontrol, and flutist Celine). This time around, Fish was making his solo debut on produced tracks with producer/DJ Dudz aka Head War holding him down. I was literally bugging out during his soundcheck shit was so dope! This cat is a rap scientist with more flows than most crews have collectively. We had a chance to chop it up while walking around before the show commenced. He broke down how he’d written a 100+bar rhyme that includes every possible syllable variation, just to practice his double and triple time. Rap scientist I tell you!

FISH LeROUGE (Photo by Patricia Peignault)



Arriving back at the venue, the crowd was equal parts kicking it on the street and in the spot. Lots of familiar faces, lots of anticipatory looks. Got to reconnect with Tiko from Under Kontrol (whose partner, Fayabraz, I got build with heavy in Paris), and meet a bunch of folks vis a vis that I’d just known from Facebook. Curse the social network, but man, there is no 21st century feeling quite as warm as dapping up someone you’ve connected with online in person. Shouts to Ben Keep On (Under Kontrol’s manager) as well as Zajazza’s friends from Lyon. Inspiring to see how they all pull together to help make the night go off as smoothly as possible. Much love to Victor for shuttling us around and to Julien for letting Zaj use his TTM 56!


Onto the show. DJ Old School had the crowd hype, and Fish LeRouge and Dudz completely killed it. Maximum de Bordel! Fish’s set was comprised of songs produced by Dudz and by Zajazza. Zaj even got his hypeman on, backing Fish on a track he produced. By the time we hit the stage, the spot was smoke-filled steamy hot, and the crowd ready. We proceed to rock a 90 minute set, covering material from “Skillz To Take Brazil” to our solo projects to crowd favorites produced by Zajazza (I am getting chills right now thinking about how it felt to rock “State of the Union”). Tiko joined us onstage for a beatbox rendition of “Somos Assim,” and Zaj unveiled a blazing DJ routine. It’s a tribute to Zajazza to know that we have built a real fanbase in Lyon: peoples who come to the shows, support the merch, check us online and know the freakin’ lyrics in a foreign language! Incroyable! We ended this epic set with Very Good, and then started freestyling and then… they wouldn’t let us off stage. 20 more minutes of freestyling slid into object freestyles into blindfolded freestyling… Finally we had to just call the ball and get to the merch table. After catching some fresh air outside (the second hand smoke will kill you), I came back into to find Zajazza rocking the party back up into a frenzy. I got on the mic just to hype, toast-style, and by the time Hired Gun was back inside we’d sparked up another cypher. We were joined onstage by a host of local badass emcees, including Fish, Sami (who came with the reggae stylings) and ridiculous jungle/drum-n-basss MC Alkaline, who brought the much-appreciated female energy to the cypher. We were rocking over classic funk and breaks, and then I got seriously busy on the 2880 looper lacing drum-n-bass beatbox tracks. We basically did an entire 60 minute set, all freestyle. And again, the crowd wouldn’t let us off stage!

DJ DUDZ (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

ZAJAZZA (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

RABBI DARKSIDE (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

HIRED GUN (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

TIKO from UNDER KONTROL (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

MC ALKALINE (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

ALEX KICK (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

SAMI (Photo by Patricia Peignault)

Finally, Francois kicked everybody out, we broke down the gear and set off on the much-need walk home. Breathe.

The next day we were all pretty much dead-tired. Ran the follow-up errands (picking up the gear, settling up monies), took a nice stroll and had a great Japanese dinner. We got back to Zajazza’s place where I began to chip away at the mountain of “homework” I have on this tour. Upon returning to NYC, I jump right into 2 days of intense rehearsal with impresario cellist/trombonist/band leader extraordinaire Dana Leong, in preparation for a gig in Los Angeles at the Asian American Music Festival on October 15 (yeah, 3 days after I get back to Brooklyn). Dana’s project “Milk and Jade” is usually fronted by super MC Core Rhythm; in his absence super MC IllSpokinn sits in; neither is available in October, so I got the call. My homework is to write and memorize 10 NEW SONGS while on the European road, ready to hit in rehearsals starting October 12. Pretty daunting, totally inspiring. (Fortunately, scribing and recording 51 songs/4 albums in 12 months for the "Fresh Prep" project has got my chops where they need to be). Been living inside these tracks that Core has recorded, both studio and live, and in case you didn’t know, the man is a certified musical genius. Outside of his massive solo catalog, he’s a monster with the live projects and a well of lyrical erudition. So I caught wind on Saturday night and stayed up till near 4:00am penning songs. 3 down, 7 to go…

Sunday, Hired Gun bounced for Paris. Zajazza and I rented some Velibs (public bicycles), biked around the Parc de la Tet d’Or, shot another scene for the “Visas” video clip, and caught some lunch. Back in the lab, I kept the writing wheel turning while Zajazza was getting busy producing new beats. Late afternoon, the homey Fish LeRouge rolled over and we got cracking on a collaborative track. Zaj gave us two options: a sample heavy straight track, or one that he prefaced by saying, “This one is really challenging for emcees to rap over…” Fish and I were up to the challenge. What we laid down might be the craziest track I’ve ever been a part of. It’s called “Dab the Nuance.” I think you’re going to have to wait for the new album to hear this one. Big ups to Fish for being completely ridiculous!

So, here I am, enjoying the incomparable French cafĂ© lifestyle. Sipping espressos and small beers perched on the sidewalk, intermittently distracted by passerbys and bicycle traffic. In the midst of writing an albums’ worth of new songs, my own musings and keeping the stage game tight, setting aside a few hours to journal is the sanest thing I can imagine. I keep a calendar noting the events of each day, but it’s so healthy and filling to review them, peace by piece, and find their memory in words. Lyon is wonderful wonderful town, scenic as can be, completely French yet structured like an Eastern European city, spanning a river and 2 millenia. This has been a summer of re-upping my high school French and really catching the linguistic groove. Another month or two in France, and some grammar review, and I might be in fluent effect. Certainly helps to keep the “feeling at home” feeling alive.

One last day in Lyon, then it’s off to Marseille tomorrow, where we’ll link up with Farbeon and Hired Gun to rock a show. Rumor is Tiko and 2 more members of Under Kontrol will be there as well, which will complete the cypher. And leave it to France: on Thursday we travel by train from Marseille to Toulouse, but there is a pending train strike on Thursday, so wish us luck. Damn labor politics! One of those things that sounds revolutionary till it screws up your trip☺



*Big ups to Patricia Peignault for these amazing photos. Check the rest out

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