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Malka Family, French funk combo returns to 'kif'

By Alison Hird

Bruno Mars' sweeping the board at this year's Grammy Awards with his brand of uptown funk suggests the music popularised by James Brown in the 70s is back in fashion. However, France's very own Malka Family, who enjoyed huge success here in the 80s, believe that groove never went away.

After a two-decade break, they're back with a new album Le Retour du kif and the will to make every day a party.

The standout song - Donne moi ca! encore une fois (Give it to me one more time) - gives them a funk revivalist 'feel'.

"Let’s say we’re part of the funk revival movement, but I think the funk was always there," says bass player and vocalist Dany'O. "It’s like the force in Star Wars, it was there. Even in electro, even in hip hop music you can hear funk."

It's helped bands like Daft Punk, or singer Bruno Mars, to reach huge audiences used to hearing funk from the 70s and 80s.They're generous towards the young Bruno Mars.

"It’s a really good thing that Bruno Mars won six Grammys," says co-founder, guitarist and producer Joseph "Mannix" Guigui. "Because it’s like when it was the Michael Jackson period, we had the same feeling of someone flying the flag for this R&B and funk music. It’s like a new Michael Jackson."

The early P-Funk days

When the band formed in 1988 "it was more difficult to express what funk was" says Mannix. Their references were James Brown, Michael Jackson and George Clinton. But for most people in France funk meant Cool and the Gang or Imagination.

"Clinton, pioneer of P-Funk, wasn't known here. Very few people like us knew this Parliament funk and having these records was like really underground," says Mannix. "You had to search a lot, give a lot of phone calls."

"Or go to England to record shops in London," Dani'O chimes in.

"So when we start to play P-funk and funk here, it was like ‘what are you doing, you’re crazy people!'"

Malka Family en concert à La Cigale, Paris, le 12 janvier ©Pascal Pesca

Funk à la française

With around 13 singers and musicians, Malka Family are what you'd call a big funk family and they sing in French.

"We are French, we're doing French songs, but we love the funk, our life is funk so we do French songs with funk music," says Mannix.

And the songs are, let's say, rhythm-led, slightly silly, big on wordplay.

"Portenawak is ... how do you say ... 'Never mind the bollocks' says Dani'O.

Guigui is more explicit in summing up the spirit of the band.

"Behind these crazy stupid words there is a really huge message. It’s ‘we don’t give a shit’. And we are all together not giving a shit. Our music is for having a party. Life should be everyday a party.

One big street party

And a colourful, multi-cultural one at that. In 1992 Malka Family had a huge hit with Tous des Oufs (We're all crazy). For the video they put out flyers inviting people to join them, kitted out in their funkiest gear, for the 9 a.m. shoot in central Paris. It was a roaring success: chickens, leopard skins, percussion hammered out on saucepans...

"The kitchen was in the street at this period," says Mannix.

As for the African symbolism "it answers the question about who we are" Dani'O continues. "We're all together, we live in Paris, we have a lots of influences, and we want to stay natural."

They had no authorisation to film, something that would be unimaginable nowadays.

"It was spontaneous," says Dani'O. "At our last concert a lot of people were surprised by our energy. But it’s like giving and getting. We give to people and people give to us. When we’re all together we create a lot of energy and I think it could be a message like on the Haitian flag, L'union fait la force (United we're stronger).

"I think it’s a message that we can give to the world at a period where there’s a kind of disunited feeling all around the world," he continues. "We take this from our anciens [elders]: you have to unite to survive."

French Funky Chicken and vegetarian delights

Lest we get too serious, conversation turns to the band's mascot: chickens.

"The chicken is a funky animal," says Mannix. "There are lot of songs like Rufus Thomas' The Funky Chicken. And we always say that our music is like cooking. We have like a big jar, we’re putting a lot of ingredients and elements [in it] and in a lot of our songs there’s a reference to cooking. The funky chicken and the chicken for us is like a flag or mascot."

Hence the song Poulet Cuit (cooked chicken). Sounds silly enough but it's actually a hymn to vegetarianism inspired by the band's saxophonist Woody.

"Woody is vegan so the song is talking about veganism. It says 'il a plus de patates qu'un poulet cuit' (he's got more energy than a fried chicken)"."

Patates is slang for potatoes so that gives you 'he's got more chips than a fried chicken'. Well it works in French.

"Maybe it’s the end of the funky chicken," says Mannix furrowing his brow. "If we all turn vegetarian.."

And on that post-funk note we bid farewell.

Malka Family are touring in the Spring, and open for George Clinton himself on 3 July at Casino de Paris.

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