ba.fnu & Yann-Fañch Kemener
Review by Lee Blackstone
Read the full review at rootsworld.com
Based in Prague, Czech band ba.fnu meet with legendary Breton singer Yann-Fañch Kemener on this remarkable project. ba.fnu are a young band, comprised of Mikuláš Bryan (cittern and other stringed instruments), Daniel Kahuda (hurdy-gurdy), and Simon Vojtík (percussion, programming). They have an affinity for both Czech and other European styles, but especially Breton fest-noz tunes. Yann-Fañch Kemener is famous for helping to revive Kan ha diskan, the Breton vocals distinguished by a call-and-response pattern, that accompanies dancing. The musicians largely work with tracks that Kemener collected, while three of the tracks feature modern lyrics.
Ba.fnu bring a contemporary modern aesthetic to their arrangements, which can described as traditional music incorporating urban street sounds. They have invited a number of other musicians to join them, so the sound is fleshed out by viola da gamba, clarinets, harp, archlute, shruti box, and much more. The entire aural tapestry is cleanly set amidst modern electronics, so that Kemener’s vocals circle through the mix and add a trance-like quality to the tracks.
What the musicians aim to achieve here are not merely danceable songs, but experimental sound-art. YFK 2016 is meant to be experienced as a sonic calendar, with a distinct political message. The limited edition CD is packaged like a mini-wall calendar that flips open on a spiral binder: inside, there are twelve block prints (the ‘months’ of the calendar) and statements which add up to a larger picture:
1338 babies were born during this song
to a world in crisis
run only by greed and money
where political trials
ruin lives with lies
people rob each other
in a way too surreal to be captured by words
and where people cry for help
only to get hate in return
because many pay for the sins of the few
even though we are alone after all
yet they will fall asleep every night having faith in us.
The sound of this “world in crisis” is post-modern: ba.fnu and Kemener combine a whole host of samples, many of which are in English, continually throughout the music and these provide a running commentary on international affairs. We hear radio announcers talking about the Greek debt crisis and countries abandoning each other; Michael Douglas’ ‘greed is good’ speech from the movie Wall Street; various quotes that speak to justice, or the lack of it; an American advert for Payday loans “due on your next payday,” goats, and commentary on the migrant crisis. It’s a world off-kilter, and the songs veer from drum ‘n’ bass, dissonance, lush soundscapes that tread the line between chamber music and industrial (as on the gorgeous “lariden”), cabaret, and languid jazz. Despite the variety, the entire YFK 2016 experience stands up as a cohesive whole.
We are in for unpredictable, disorienting years following the 2016 U.S. election and the hard Brexit facing England and the E.U. YFK 2016 throws you into the thick of it, and the samples resonate for these times. If you are feeling despairing against larger social and economic structures, then you are likely to find this collaboration between ba.fnu and Yann-Fañch Kemener a worthwhile way to offset impersonal global forces with musical people power. – Lee Blackstone