French-Moroccan group, Bab L Bluz is coming to Australia for the first time where they will play WOMADelaide 2023. This group plays Moroccan music and African blues. We spoke with Brice Bottin and Yousra Mansour, two members of the group. Read our interview with them below.
So you are coming to Australia for the WOMADelaide festival. What can the audience expect from your concerts?
BRICE Love, trance.
YOUSRA The beautiful energy. And you have to dance hard and sweat.
Your music is very rhythmic, very easy to listen to and to dance to. But of course, in Australia, not many people understand darija. Is there a message you’re hoping to convey through your songs and how do you do that to an Anglophone audience?
YOUSRA First of all, we try to speak between – not all the songs – but to say the essential. And also, I think that even if you don’t understand the lyrics, you feel the energy that comes with the music, you feel the vibrations. It’s crazy, it’s not logical, but it happens. If you listen to a sound, you can guess what it’s about. If you’re really good, you think it’s possible. And also we have all the translations on the CD for people who really want to discover more.
Our very important message is that since we are really from different backgrounds, it is a message of tolerance and to value cultural and religious differences and not to consider them as a source of conflicts like today in different countries where we have wars unfortunately for banal and bogus causes. And there are people who do not die for no reason at all.
It’s like us, we learn every day when we travel and when our brains open up to other cultures, we want to share that with people and show them that there is us, there is the other and there is the other and everyone has their own environment, everyone has their own traditions, everyone has their own values, they have different points of view and that doesn’t mean that we have to go to war with each other, quite the opposite. It can be an excellent exchange, very, very interesting and very constructive.
I read that the group’s name Bab L Bluz means “The gate way to the blues” is that right?
YOUSRA Exactly, it means the door of the blues. When you’re in Marrakech where Brice and I met, there are several gates surrounding the old medina, the old city, and each gate has a name. So as soon as you enter, it’s like a labyrinth, you get lost. He doesn’t get lost, I get lost!
Marrakech is known as the gateway to the desert. So we thought it might be an interesting play on words to call the band the gateway to the blues, but a different kind of blues than the one we know. It’s African blues. And also blues, what you might call a sad blues song. So it can have different explanations as well.
And you’re both in Lyon now. Are you based in Lyon?
BRICE At the beginning we were in Morocco. I went back and forth. And then there was the COVID and then we settled down. We didn’t really have a choice. We had to make a choice. At one point, the borders were closed, we were in Lyon, and then we worked a lot in Europe. So Lyon was “more strategic. It was easier to to be based in Lyon to go and play in Europe.
But you’re originally from Lyon, Brice?
BRICE I’m from the Alpes, from Annecy.
YOUSRA I am from El Jadida on the Atlantic Ocean, South of Casablanca. I visited Europe for the first time in 2018.
How did you meet?
BRICE We were both called by a music collective in Marrakech that mixed jazz music with gnawa music. Yousra was called up as a guitarist and singer, but I was called as a guitarist. That’s where we met and we both loved Gnawa music. We also respected this tradition a lot.
And then one day, we said to ourselves “why not also learn, the gambri etc.”. We had a studio, so we were able to record the demos of our first album at the same time as we were learning the instruments and then the idea was to make it like a power trio, but replace the bass with the gambri and the guitar with electric awicha. That was the starting point.
And you also play instruments in the group, Yousra.
YOUSRA Yes, I play an instrument similar to the gambri, but the difference is that my instrument is smaller and sounds like a guitar. And Brice’s instrument is bigger and sounds like a bass. But we have the same strings, we have the same notes. They are three-stringed instruments.
I don’t know if it’s correct because you can’t believe everything you read. Is it true that normally women don’t play the instrument you play?
YOUSRA Normally at that time, all the music that did not follow an academic curriculum, that was not taught at the conservatory was difficult for women to access. I’m not going to say that women didn’t make music in Morocco, there are many musicians who made instruments. But really, in a framework, in a conservatory, with supervision, there is no freedom. But all the music that is a bit roots or rock, or gnawa music or chaabi music, but which is not taught at school – this music is difficult because there is already a whole environment where women are free to go out when they want, to come in when they want. And this does not please the patriarchy, of course.
Especially in the music which is roots but traditional, in a country where the woman, at the time, she had to cook and take care of her children. And even though there were many before, there were women who were just as free and there always will be and they fight. But still, there was a time when women lost a lot of their rights and their freedom and unfortunately, this also had repercussions on the environment and on the culture.
But recently, but for a good ten years now, there has been a strong female presence. There are a lot of girls and women who take instruments, who also go to pubs, clubs, who go to jam, who go on stage, who take their courage, who film videos, to put them on the internet without worrying, without being afraid. And that, I find very courageous. And as a result, society is also beginning to accept it. That’s the point, it’s not that it accepts it, but it’s just that it finds it normal because it’s normal that women have the same rights as men in society.
Not to go on about it too much because it’s a bit negative but I’ve also read that you’ve had some criticism because of your singing.
YOUSRA Yes, That’s for sure. Not a lot, not now. Now we really have a lot of encouragement. But it’s true that at the time when i was starting to learn the guitar, going to places where there is alcohol, alcohol that is already “forbidden” in society, even if it’s not really forbidden…
As a girl, I used to dress the way I wanted to, so they didn’t necessarily like it. I lived in a traditional environment, so that was really popular where I grew up. So it’s true that there was a problem with the freedom I had with my sisters that some people in our neighbourhood didn’t like, but in the end, we have a beautiful mother who has always supported us and encouraged us to be free and do what we wanted to do, and encouraged us to be happy, not to worry about how others looked at us.
It’s good to have family support like that – someone who supports you, who encourages you to continue.
YOUSRA Yes, we also have a lot of friends because it’s true that the neighbourhood environment was not very, very, very open. But in other cities in Morocco, there has been support. There is a community that also encourages music, that encourages this freedom and fortunately we end up meeting and encouraging each other.
Brice what brought you to Morocco at the time you both met? Was it that collective where you were there for a work trip?
BRICE It was a band. In fact, I was lucky when I was offered to join a band in Morocco as a guitarist. It was in 2014 and it was the first time I was on a plane and it was to go to Morocco. This band didn’t bring much to the table but it allowed me to meet other people and I had other bands afterwards in Morocco before I met Yousra. I didn’t necessarily think about going to Morocco. It was Morocco that chose me, so to speak.
Yousra, you sing in darija which is the Moroccan Arabic dialect. Is it your mother-tongue?
YOUSRA Yes, Darija is my mother tongue. It’s a bit of a mixture of Arabic and Berber, which is the original language of North Africa, especially Morocco. There are also some words in Portuguese. Sometimes you can find them, there are French words, there are Spanish words. There have been many populations that have crossed North Africa, and Morocco in particular, so there has been a lot of mixing to give birth to this dialect which is Darija.
And why did you decide to sing in darija?
YOUSRA It was not really a choice that was well thought out, it’s just that it will be more sincere if I sing in my mother tongue. You can express yourself better and it’s easier to write in your mother tongue. That said, we also have a song in classical Arabic [Ila mata] which is really the literary Arabic spoken and taught in all Arabic speaking countries.
There is also Waylala but we didn’t write it. It’s a traditional Mauritanian song that we played in a completely different way and which is also in classical Arabic, there’s a little bit of Mauritanian dialect in it. And there is also a song in English. – English with an African accent.
Like me speaking in French with my Australian accent then!
We thank Brice and Yousra for this interview and can’t wait to see Bab L Bluz in concert at WOMADelaide 2023.
KEY INFO FOR BAB L BLUZ À WOMADELAIDE 2023
WHAT: The group Bab L Bluz in concert at WOMADelaide 2023
WHEN: Bab L Bluz will perform at the following dates and times:
- Saturday 11 March, 3pm
- Monday 13 March, 8pm
And the group will be leading a workshop on Sunday 12 March at 3:30pm – the subject has not yet been announced
WHERE: Botanic Park, Adelaide
HOW: Purchase your tickets via this link: https://www.womadelaide.com.au/tickets
HOW MUCH: Tickets for Saturday are now sold out. However, individual tickets for Friday, Sunday and Monday are still available at the following prices:
Friday (Bab L Bluz does not play on Friday)
- adult $166
- concession $148
- youth (13 to 17 years) $103
- child (under 12 with an adult) Free
Sunday (Bab L Bluz will be in a workshop but not in concert)
youth (13 to 17 years) $137
child (under 12 with an adult) free
- adult $225
- concession $198
- youth (13 to 17) $137
- child (under 12 with an adult) free
LISTEN: You can listen to Bab L Bluz on Spotify while waiting for their WOMADelaide shows here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/07J09Vf9YReIIaFtarQshi?si=bUUUZp7OREyeOXM4Ja-p2Q
Read also our interview with Madeleine Peyroux who will also be performing at the WOMADelaide 2023 festival.
Plan your February with events related to France, French culture and language, and the Francophonie by checking out our What’s on in February