Paris, France (2005 – present)
It all started with a double bass player, a guitarist and a violinist; all highly talented musicians who are really into swing, Django addicts who enjoy tinkering with electro. Their project swayed a singer, a clarinettist, a trombonist who doubles up on percussion and a guitarist who also acts as DJ. With their “Zazou” look (inspired by Parisian paleo-punks from the 1940s), they serve up festive, frantic music, an improbable futuristic and melodious Charleston fit for the dance floor. Caravan Palace is to swing what the Gotan Project is to tango.
It so often starts out like that: a gang of mates who’ve kicked around together for the past ten years and who each get into music off their own bat. In this case, it was Hugues on the violin, Arnaud on guitar and Carlos on the double bass. A shared craze for manouche jazz (gypsy-style jazz), played in its natural setting, bars. Relatively serious composition, with a Zeitgeist twist: DIY electro, house, dub and hip-hop.
What triggered it all was an order placed by a film production company: a soundtrack for silent porn films dating from the beginning of the 20th century! They trotted out all their talents. Our three heroes played the end result to some friendly listeners, the feedback persuaded them to drop their individual projects and come up with a repertory of their own. Because there was no question for them of reworking Django or giving swing a face-lift! If they were going to forge their own path, it had to be something completely fresh.
This was back in 2005: it would take them an entire year. At which point they met Loïc Barrouk, manager of the Café de la Danse, who was really keen on the project. He got them into the studio (recording with session musicians), and then got them some gigs. For that, they needed some reliable fellow travellers, so they surfed MySpace. Two months later, the troops had been mustered: Chapi (clarinet), Toustou (who plays trombone and beat synthing), Aurélien (alternating as guitarist and DJ) and, last but not least, petulant vocalist Colotis Zoé, every bit as sweet’n’saucy as her signature song “Jolie coquine”! Among the three pioneers, Hugues, the crazy one, has revealed a talent for frenzied scat, Arnaud and Carlos double up their instruments thanks to programming. All together, they composed a new repertory. The Caravan took off.
Caravan Palace’s secret is a supersonic buzz on the Internet (free promo) and a year on the road with hard-hitting concerts, even before they released their record. A prime example was their performance at the 2007 Django Reinhardt Jazz Festival, in Samois, where they wowed an audience who had never heard of them. Veterans from the classic manouche jazz scene were left speechless. The excellent Caravan Palace musicians, who are of course “gadjos” (non-gypsies), have breathed fresh air into the timeless swing scene without coming across as preachers. As well as listeners with curious ears, the Caravan also has its own following, a horde of fans totally into the electro vibe, who turn up at each of their concerts. Caravan Palace’s reputation has rippled beyond the frontiers too, with Europe eager to check them out.
The album has at last been set for release in October 2008, on the Wagram label. With Caravan Palace, the future of swing looks set to swing.