Sometimes when the world feels like it couldn’t possibly be any crueler or unjust, the only thing you can do is dance. Don’t believe me? Take a look around. We’re in a worldwide pandemic, where the economic divide has become more evident than ever before and yet people are still singing and dancing in their living rooms, on their balconies or even the street. It’s one of the things that can’t be taken away. If you need a proper soundtrack, I give you Francbâtards’ latest EP Karné. Though a sprawling political piece, it isn’t solemn or cynical. It’s angry, yes, but it’s also life-affirming almost as if it’s daring us to dance as if our life depended on it.
Francbâtards are a 10-piece Montreal band that blends reggae, ska, afrobeat, and rap with left-leaning socio-political,anti-establishment lyrics, but peace driven. Despite their jam-packed lyrical sheet that takes on every societal issue imaginable, they also have a strong sense of fun. On Karné, they continue the ancient tradition of sewing together pulsating rhythms with folk stories of the day. Same oppression; different era. At its best, there is nothing quite like this combination. You’ll come for the groove and leave wanting to fight the man.
The one barrier you may encounter with Karné is a language one. If you’re one of those folks that can’t listen to music if it’s in a foreign language, then this probably isn’t for you. Though to you, I say music is the universal language, so shut up and dance, man! True to their name, Francbâtards, are made up of French-speaking musicians from France, Quebec, and Mauritius. Their lyrics can be culturally specific, dense and full of Québécois Créole. For a hopeless anglophone like me, who after 29 years still has not managed to improve his pathetically awful French accent, trying to decipher Créole and keep up with the rapid-fire French can be quite the translation nightmare, BUT I urge you to put in the effort because each of these songs are lyrically, musically, and emotionally rich and universal.
The centrepiece is opener “Komandèr”; a sprawling 8-minute takedown of the government and the ways it’s fucked us over, lied, pollutedand forced us to all be the same while literally and metaphorically feeding us shit. It’s a seething, machine gun-like character assassination and yet singers Alex Paquette and Jérôme Cadet, and the rest of the band sound hopeful. The song intends to inspire and cause a movement. It conjures Fela Kuti’s “Zombie” and the stream of consciousness of Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).”
The one downside to this EP is that the following three tracks are in the shadow of “Komandèr”. Not to say that they don’t have anything to offer, it’s just very clear that “Komandèr” is the mission statement and the other tracks seem to say more of the same. The only possible exception being “Petit reggae”, which is a nice, breezy reggae/ska tune that is delivered as a heartfelt tribute to all the people trying to fight the powers that be to live a good and honest life. In this way, it is Karné’s walk into the sunset. It is the letting go of all the built-up rage and the promise to live, love and dance until you can’t anymore. In this way, Francbatards’s Karné is exactly the kind of EP we need right now.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*Edited by Dominic Abate