Parisian pupils move to Motown

24th March 2006 at 00:00

With a great burst of energy, the acclaimed jazz trumpeter Abram Wilson kicked off a week of rehearsals of 160 young musicians and singers for next week's Banlieues Bleues, or Suburbs Blues. The songs took up many of the issues faced by young French immigrants in the outer urban areas hit by riots in November.

Mr Wilson and British saxophonist Denys Baptiste, both members of the award-winning Jazz Jamaica band, worked with pupils from five coll ges, (lower secondaries) and community groups in disadvantaged Paris suburbs to produce the show of Motown music under the Marvin Gaye song title "What's Goin' On?" Jazz Jamaica will also give a concert on April 1.

Mr Wilson wrote the arrangements for the student choir and percussion group, the adult big band and slameurs (rappers).

Kouthair Baccouche and Farid Hamzi, two 25-year-old slameurs, Bobigny residents and community workers, wrote lyrics as they soaked up the music in rehearsals.

Mr Baccouche said France may be the land of liberty, equality and fraternity, but for some young people it is one of "unemployment, debt and precariousness".

After four hours non-stop at the Music Conservatoire in Bobigny, a suburb north-east of Paris, Mr Wilson said: "It was an incredible, musically satisfying experience." Everyone had done their homework, so all he had to do was put the "finishing touches" to the group's two concerts, tomorrow and on April 2.

His enthusiasm was contagious. "He transmits his energy and makes us want to try harder," said Giselle Isaka, a 19-year-old singer in her final year of lycee or upper secondary school.

Ange Fandoh, who runs the choral workshop for the show, said: "My name means 'angel' and I certainly grew wings during the rehearsal."

Banlieues Bleues is the biggest project Mr Wilson has undertaken with Tomorrow's Warriors, a UK non-profit organisation set up in 1992 by Jazz Warriors' double-bassist Gary Crosby to develop young jazz musicians. Their next stop is Armenia, adding further to the impressive list of countries they have already toured, including Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland, Greece and the UK.

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