Album Review of
Pieds Nus

Written by Joe Ross
June 13, 2022 - 1:56pm EDT
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Soadan’s Pieds nus (meaning “Barefoot”) is a dreamy, cheery and soulful project of jazz infused with the band’s inspirations from the trio’s encounters during three winters in West Africa. While English translations aren’t provided, I’m told that the French lyrics refer to “images and metaphors such as sea and islands, trees, nature’s beauty and themes such as knowledge transmission, values sharing and immigration.” It helps to contemplate the translated song titles: The Anchor, The Ink, The Salt, Where to Go?, Let’s Make Love, Marumba, Robben Island, Granny Creole, The Village.

Opening with the project’s captivating title cut (“Barefoot”), Soadan’s music then flows seamlessly with a relaxed groove that creates sonic impressionism with elements of African funk, Congolese rumba, high life, Mandingue, Afro-Mandingo, Creole blues and Maloya fusion. Gregory Audrain (vocals, guitar, bass), Armel Goupil (marimba, keyboards) and Jean Marie Lemasson (vocals, drums, percussion) accomplish this by creating their own signature sound complemented by guest instrumentalists on trumpet, trombone and piano.

Audrain and Lemasson have a pleasant vocal blend together, with their original lyrics typically sung together or with some call-and-response. A few English lyrics even appear briefly in the song “Ou Aller?” (Where to Go?) when they vocalize, “You see what I say, You see what I saw, You know what I mean, You know how I feel.” Guest vocalist Barbara Letoqueux appears on “Aimons, Foutons,” an intimate song that speaks to desires and enjoyment of sweet pleasures. It was a nice stroke to include some female vocalizing and reminded me of how Natalie Natiembé, Leila Négrau and Maya Kamaty journeyed into similar music, albeit with more politically-charged statements.     

Soadan acknowledges the strong influence of the Maloya recordings of Alain Peters and Danyèl Waro. Maloya, or “music from long ago,” is the revolutionary Creole vocal and percussion music of the Indian Ocean island, La Réunion. The music remained underground until 1959 when it was first performed in public by Firmin Viry to draw attention to the Reunion Communist party. Only in about 1981 did it become legal to perform Maloya in public. In the early 1990s, Danyèl Waro burst on the scene with his landmark bluesy songs about childhood, family, island cuisine, insect life, flora and fauna. Waro once said, “Maloya music brings me back to my irrational self, my religious and spiritual side.” He was able to channel the music into a metaphysical engagement well beyond the necessary militancy that helped him and fellow-travelers Alain Peters and Ziskakan retrieve Maloya from the gallows to which the French administration had condemned it.

Now, it seems that with Pieds nus, Soadan honors the diversity of that island and other communities with their scintillating compositions built upon Indian Ocean melodies and rhythms, embellished with occasional innovations here and there that allow them to enhance the music’s emotional range and call it their own. It’s a blend that somehow sounds both delicate and powerful in equal measure with plenty of atmosphere, presence, depth and balance between voices and instruments. The resulting music hits the ear but touches the heart and soul. (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)