Parisian groove theorists Bibi Tanga and The Selenites return in 2012 with 40 ° of Sunshine, their second release for the Nat Geo Music label. Due out on late spring 2012, 40 ° of Sunshine was recorded in the studio after a two month African tour, and it’s the group’s most warm, relaxed and deeply poetic recording yet.
“The whole band was in a more sunny and happy place for the recording of this album,” says frontman/bandleader Bienvenu (Bibi) Tanga, “which took place after an African tour that brought us to 12 hot countries. Our relationships as musicians and as friends were reinforced by this long tour, and the album is more sunny than the previous ones. On the first two albums, the moon was our central symbol figure, this time it’s the sun”.
The album’s title track, “40 ° of Sunshine”, was also inspired by this experience, as Bibi explains: “40 ° of Sunshine takes some poetic license. It’s a story that imagines what would happen if alcohol were replaced by liquid sunshine; 40 ounces of bottled sunshine”.
It’s been two years since the world was introduced to Bibi and Selenites on Dunya, their 2010 release for Nat Geo Music, but the group’s unique retro-futurist vision and smooth, Afro-Parisian sound remain intact on 40 Degrees of Sunshine. And their longtime producer and collaborator, le Professeur Inlassable, was once again at the controls in his studio near the banks of the Seine on the left bank of Paris, polishing the group’s sound to a luxurious sheen.
For those who missed out on Bibi Tanga’s international debut, here’s the recap: Born in Bangui in 1969,the dusty capital of the Central African Republic, Bienvenu (Bibi) Tanga didn’t see his homeland until the age of 2, when his parents brought him back from Paris where they moved just after he was born. Growing up, Bibi was one of 7 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. Eventually Bibi’s family ended up living in the suburbs of Paris, where he became a musical omnivore – devouring British new wave, African pop, and American blues and R&B in equal doses. As a teenager, Bibi learned guitar, bass and saxophone – and even took up tap dancing.
In 2000 Bibi – by now fronting his own band – teamed up with Professeur Inlassable (the tireless professor), and never looked back. 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. 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.
On 40 Degrees of Sunshine the Selenites are tighter than ever, and Bibi stresses that “This record is an even more collective effort than the previous one” stressing that the albums songs emerged spontaneously and naturally from the bands’ informal studio jam sessions.
“The album was recorded over a few weeks in the summer of 2011, during nightly jam sessions,” Bibi explains. “All the tracks emerged from collective jams based around le Professeur Inlassable’s sample techniques. He set the mood with his loops and then the band joins in to create musical background for me to write songs or sing poetry.”
That relaxed, collective approach paid off with funky synchronicities and poetic couplings on tracks like “Poet of the Soul” – built around a slippery funk groove married to lines from poet Walt Whitman’s masterpiece “Leaves of Grass” – and “Laughing Song” – based around a poem by canonical English poet William Blake.
Two of the album’s tracks, “Kangoya” and “Banda a gui koua” are sung in the Sango language of Bibi’s ancestors. Bibi explains that “kangoya is the name for palmwine in Sango, and the song deals with the beverage in a positive way, as a social and familial means to bring people together. While banda a gui koua is the name of a traditional dish of greens from Central African Republic. The song deals with immigrants’ love of recipes from their native countries.”
“Banda a gui koua” also introduces guest singer Emma Lamadji, who appears on seven of the album’s tracks. A fellow immigrant to France from the Central African Republic, Bibi and the band saw Emma singing with an Afrobeat band while on tour and a friendship was soon forged.
One track, “My Heart Is Jumping.” has a darker backstory than the rest, as Bibi recounts: “the track is built around Professeur Inlassable‘s loops of an obscure 1930s recording, which had a woman singing the words, ‘my heart is jumping’. Two days after le Professeur made the loop he had a little heart attack of his own.”
“Don’t worry” Bibi adds. “He feels better now and this event even had some positive influence on his life. But these kind of magic synchronicities happen frequently when the band is creating, because of our improvised/ free composition process that implies a lot of unconcsious and irrational attitudes.”
It’s this kind of fearless embrace of the creative mysteries that makes 40 ° of Sunshine such a surprising and satisfying listen – you never know where your head will roam, but your feet will always be firmly planted on the dancefloor.