Musette delivers taste of France

by Yung-hsiang Kao

Louis Vuitton may have charmed Japanese wallets, but if Dominique Cravic and Daniel Colin have their way, musette will soon enchant Japanese ears and minds.

Musette is an accordion-centered traditional French music created in Paris in the 1920s from a mix of sounds by Italian immigrants and Auvergne folk from the Massif Central region.

It is to France what jazz is to the United States, according to Cravic, a producer and guitarist.

“Musette was very successful until the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll,” Cravic says in English on a recent visit to Japan with Colin, an accordion player. “Accordion players were overwhelmed, so most of these guys tried to be more showy.

“For 15 years now, there has been a comeback of the accordion and musette — trash musette, hip-hop musette — but with this group (with Colin) it is a more traditional French musette and chanson.”

To increase musette’s popularity in Japan, Cravic has embarked on a two-pronged approach. Cravic produced and played guitar on Colin’s latest album, “Accordeon au coin de la rue de Paris,” which is filled with Colin’s favorite musette classics played by traditional instruments, including a guest appearance by fellow accordionist Jean Corti.

“We tried to . . . give a type of presentation of Daniel’s ability, his virtuosic playing,” Cravic says.

Concurrently, Cravic and Colin played on a chanson album, also produced by Cravic, featuring Claire Elziere on vocals. Corti makes an appearance again, but two guest artists are Japanese: Kazuhisa Negishi on sanshin and Yosuke Irie on shakuhachi. Negishi usually plays Okinawan folk songs while Irie is mainly a soloist playing his original compositions.

Cravic and Colin heard the Japanese instruments during a concert in Okinawa. “Such a surprise,” Colin says in French, interpreted by Cravic. “Why not put this music in our music?”

So they did. For example, the shakuhachi plays in a “typical French song, but the sound fits perfectly,” Cravic says.

“It will lead us to other things — not revolutionary, but sharing our roots in different ways,” Cravic says.

“With the Claire album,” Cravic adds, “we made a selection of different songs — 1920s, ’60s — trying to present a music that is traditional, genuine.”

Both Cravic-produced albums were released in Japan at the same time in September and the artists from the recordings will be touring Japan in December, headlined by Colin, Elziere, Cravic and pianist Gregory Veux.

Cravic wants “to present a French version of world music.”

Musette is “music for dance or for listening, or for accompanying” as in chanson, Cravic says. “It could be very simple and popular. . . . It could be a bit like jazz, with changes.”

The hopes for a resurgent interest in musette lie mainly with the 68-year-old Colin.

Colin “can play accordion, bandoneon, piano — jazz, real sophisticated music — he’s a master,” Cravic says.

After Colin went to Paris in his youth, his intense performances caught the attention of the late French accordion master Jo Privat, who called Colin “the man with fingers of steel.” As his stature grew, he was invited to perform around the world, including 13 trips to Japan, most notably in 1994 when he accompanied popular postwar singer Izumi Yukimura in “Izumi Yukimura Sings Musette” in April and played at a special event called “Paris Musette & Tango” held in October during the fifth Festival Konda Lota.

Since that time, Japan has become the world’s largest market for Louis Vuitton goods and locals have created high-quality French restaurants and developed world-class, homegrown pastry chefs. Musette is a typical music heard in many French-style cafes and pastry shops in Japan.

Recalling a recent live appearance on Japanese radio, Cravic says: “It’s the 21st century, but we went to an FM station with young people and they were interested and surprised. When they encounter the real stuff, live, it has a big impact.”

Daniel Colin and Dominique Cravic, along with Claire Elziere, Gregory Veux and special guests, will play in Fukuoka at Nishitetsu Hall on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m., in Naha at Sakurazaka Gekijo Hall A on Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. and in Tokyo at Hakuju Hall on Dec. 12 at 2 p.m. and Dec. 13 at 1:30 p.m. Contact the venues for more information.