Bumcello: France's blissfully odd couple
20 years ago, with drum and bass and techno at its height in France, classically-trained cellist Vincent Segal and Cyril Atef, drummer and singer with a punk attitude, decided to make 100% improvised music, playing in bars "like a giant DJ". A mad idea, but it worked. They formed Bumcello: "I'm the bum, he's the cello", says Atef. The odd couple talk to RFI about their 8th album Monster Talk and how this improbable partnership has stood the test of time.
Bum and cello, cello and bum, Atef and Segal seem worlds apart.
"Vincent comes from classical music, I started out more from pop and punk and reggae, and jazz," says Atef.
They ended up playing together in different bands, recorded with French artist M (Mathieu Chedid) in his early days and in 1999 decided to form a duo.
"We told each other let’s just improvise, 100%, let’s not rehearse just invent. We wanted to be like a giant DJ playing all different styles of music, mixing different styles up too, mixing classical with Haitian music, anything. Total liberty."
The jammed at the Cithéa, a bar in Paris renowned for DJs spinning acid jazz and jungle and found their niche.
"We said to the guys ‘don’t worry we’re improvising but it’s not gonna be like cerebral improvisation for hours’, says Segal. "The objective is really to make people dance. And Cyril is the guy for that. When he’s like hitting the bass drum you want to move."
"I want people to sweat," says Atef. And 20 years on, they still do.
Their latest album was inspired by social media.
It's about "the lovers and haters that just give their opinions every second," says Atef, "millions of monsters talking at the same time".
The duo keep up their reputation for mashing up genres: Haitian rara, gnaoua, raggamuffin, electro, dance, dub, with Segal's electrified cello weaving its magic throughout.
Atef sings or raps in German from time to time: "à la Marlene Dietrich" on Valse du cartel. On the plaintive Orange is the new white he takes swipes at President Donald Trump and impersonates Leonard Cohen.
Segal encouraged him to sing in different languages: German, English, French.
"I love this kind of cosmopolitan energy and think it's very important for Bumcello," says the cellist.
"I come from classical and in Bach's cello suite he uses allemande from Germany, menuet from France, gigue from England and that was in the 17th century ... 1685 to 1750. So [being] cosmopolitan was always the way for musicians I believe."
They're cosmopolitan for sure and never take themselves seriously, just the music.
Monster Talk is out on Buda Musique
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And because these guys never stop, check out their many, many other individual projects