Bibi Tanga & The Selenites
The future of funk is being written right now by a pair of Parisian groove theorists named Bibi Tanga and Professeur Inlassable. Singer, bassist and bandleader Bibi Tanga bridges the divide between the arty South Bank of the Seine and the gritty suburbs, where he grew up as an immigrant from the Central African Republic. Bibi's music is marked by slinky, sinuous basslines and a wicked falsetto that conjures up Prince and Curtis Mayfield, while producer Professeur Inlassable ("The Tireless Professor") digs deep beneath the cobblestones of Paris to unearth the sound and spirit of another era. Together with Bibi's band The Selenites, the duo forges a stunningly original new sound and creates a space where Afro-futurism meets steampunk, Fela Kuti jams with Sidney Bechet and Marcel Duchamp gets down to Chic.
Though they've already made a stir in France, the group now teams up with Nat Geo Music (after a fortuitous spin on the Nat Geo Music TV Channel alerted the label to their sublime talent) to bring their fashion-forward funk vision to audiences worldwide. Bibi Tanga & The Selenites' It's The Earth That Moves EP was released in April, 2009, and the group's full-length international debut Dunya is scheduled for release later this fall.
Dunya takes its name from the word for "existence" in Sango, the language of the Central African Republic, and the album is both a vivid snapshot of the present moment in global music and a roadmap to the future. Deftly juggling English, French and Sango lyrics, Bibi embeds hyper-literate, socially conscious messages about immigration, malnutrition, AIDS, slavery and more in some of the most danceable grooves this side of Gnarls Barkley. "Dunya" takes listeners on a wild, eclectic tour through the history and pre-history of funk, layering afrobeat rhythms over electro-tinged soul and cosmopolitan trans-Atlantic grooves.
Born in Paris in 1969, Bienvenu (Bibi) Tanga didn't see his homeland until the age of 2, when his parents brought him home to Bangui, the dusty capital of the Central African Republic. Growing up, Bibi was one of 10 children and spent his earliest years shuttling from Paris to Africa to Moscow to Washington, D.C., and Brooklyn, thanks to his father's diplomatic postings. "I remember the first time that I realized I wasn't white," Bibi recalls "I was 4 years old, in Moscow, and the idea of race, of color, just hadn't occurred to me before. I always felt like an outsider until I was 10 years old and my parents returned to Paris."
Thanks to a coup d'état in the Central African Republic, his father turned from diplomat to refugee, and Bibi's family ended up living in the suburbs of Paris. "My mother supported us then, she worked as a nurse. It was hard, but I was happy to be in Paris, because it felt like home to me, I knew I could make real friends here."
It was in Paris that his musical education began in earnest. "My parents used to go to a lot of parties," he recalls, "And my father had a lot of records. I grew up listening to everything. Franco and Tabu Ley from Congo, Fela Kuti from Nigeria, Bembeya Jazz from Guinea? I grew up on all of that. American music, too - James Brown, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix? and of course Bob Marley? I love disco, funk, soul, reggae, R&B. It's all like a big library to me. I feel like there's this heritage of black music from around the world, and I'm the heir to it."
But Bibi's musical education didn't stop there. As a teenager growing up in Paris in the '80s, punk rock and new wave were inescapable - from French bands like Telephone to British bands like the English Beat, The Specials and The Cure - and they left an indelible impact on his music. As a teenager, Bibi learned guitar, bass and saxophone - and even took up tap dancing. "The first instrument is your body," he says "it's like having drums on your feet."
All those influences came together in Bibi's debut in 2000. Taking its name from one of his short stories (did we mention he wrote fiction, too?) "Le vent qui soufflé" was a collaboration with legendary French funk collective Malka Family that marked Bibi for bigger things.
Bibi Tanga's first meeting with Professeur Inlassable came in 2003, and the duo found that they shared a passion for much of the same music. Three years later Bibi Tanga recorded his second album, "Yellow Gauze" under the supervision of Le Professeur in his Paris studio. "It was like magic," recalls Bibi. "He knew exactly what we wanted and exactly what he wanted - and knew how to bring it out of us? but also how to get out of the way!"
Professeur Inlassable also brings his superb crate-diving skills to the table. A student of early decades of French popular music, Le Professeur adds a whole new dimension to Bibi Tanga's sound, recreating lost musical soundscapes that invoke echoes of Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg. For "Dunya," Le Professeur even pulls samples from National Geographic Emerging Explorer Josh Ponte's "Gabon: The Last Dance" soundtrack album.
Together with Bibi's band The Selenites - Arthur Simonini on violin and keyboards, Rico Kerridge on guitar and Arnaud Biscay on drums - Bibi and Le Professeur craft an otherworldly sound. "We call the band The Selenites because that's the name of the people who lived on the dark side of the moon." Bibi explains. "It's from a story by H.G. Wells. People think our music comes from outer space, like cosmic rays. So the moon is a big inspiration for me, I'm definitely a romantic that way - but my music is also rooted firmly on the ground."