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Zakouska: French quartet spiking sounds of the Mediterranean

By Alison Hird

Zakouska is a Russian hors d'oeuvre you knock back with a glass of vodka, but the band serve up a meatier dish. Their mastery of the violin, lyra, accordion and guitar, coupled with great complicity as a quartet, means they can take sounds from the Mediterranean, throw in some country guitar and clucking hens, and it makes perfect sense and exciting listening.They share their third album La Criée.

Elodie Messmer (violin), Arthur Bacon (accordion), Aline Haelberg (violin/Cretan lyra) and Fabien Bucher (guitars) are classically-trained musicians. They met and began playing together a decade ago in Strasbourg, nurtured within the Assoce Pikante collective.

Their first album, Musique Roumaine Amoureuse, was largely reinterpretations of Romanian gypsy music; on the second, A Dos de Géants, they wove the occasional original melody into music from the Balkans. La Criée (Fish market) is, you might say, their coming-out album: original pieces inspired by their travels in Mediterranean ports in Crete, Corsica, Marseille, Athens and Istanbul.

Aspasia is a tribute to a woman bar owner in the south of Crete and gives pride of place to the lyra: a beautiful pear-shaped three-stringed lyre similar to the violin but which you play with the back of your nails rather than fingertips. Haelberg fell in love with it but admits "it's quite difficult," to master.

La Valse des Vagues (waltz of the waves) is a wonderful guitar and accordion two-hander, inspired by "a Greek-Turkish mode called saba but played in a more western way with influences from gypsy jazz and musette," says its composer, Bucher. "It's a sort of meeting between a musette accordionist and Greek buzuki player in a bar in Athens."

Lautari gypsy music, heady rebetiko blues, jazz... Zakouska revel in experimentation giving full vent to their desire for both slow, wistful melodies and more frenetic, turbo violin.

They have a wicked sense of humour too. A few appreciative hens found their way into the mix and make a notable contribution to Cowboy. Click on the photo above to listen to the hens and much more.

Pochette album La Criée ©Zakouska

Zakouska official site here

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