If only everyone spoke French. The world would be a much more pleasant sounding place, n’est-çe pas ? Until such a utopian event takes place, one must grab one’s small pleasures where one can. Here’s one: Paris Combo (ahem, that would be Par-ee Com-boh for those who are a little phonetically challenged), from guess where. Light up the Gauloises and listen to Gypsy melodies go to the cabaret. Writer and singer Belle du Berry delivers her creations with a power and style that has been justifiably compared to Edith Piaf. Sidekick Potzi is the exotic spice of the quintet, evoking the acoustic spirit and mystery of Romany. The rhythms of Francois-Francois and Mano Razanajato intensify the intoxicating effects of this international ensemble. The circle is completed by Mr. David Lewis, horn man, who does not cheat, and is a native of Oz. I had the following conversation with Mr. Lewis as their U.S. spring tour was winding down.
You’re almost at the end of your tour. Do all towns start to look the same after a while?
David Lewis: No, they don’t. Especially not New Orleans.
How did you all happen to find each other?
Belle, Potzi and Francois have been playing together in a number of different projects for the last ten years or so. Originally it was a type of retro cult review that was on every Sunday in Paris. It was mostly acoustic and featured songs from the ’20s and ’30s. Then they branched off and got into a swing thing, like Django Reinhardt. Belle later started writing some originals. I knew them about 3 or 4 years ago, after Belle and I met at a cabaret show (with dancers and acrobats and things like that). I was a musical director and playing in a band and she was singing. We then began to play together as a group.
The Paris Combo sound definitely has a theatrical quality to it. Is that the cabaret influence?
Probably, but it also has to do with Belle’s delivery, which tends to be quite dramatic.
How difficult has it been to merge everyone’s various musical styles?
What we do together as a group is really based around that idea of including things rather than going towards one predefined style. We want to include what everyone brings, in and create our own style out of that. It makes for an eclectic repertoire, where every song does not sound the same. I think often you’re looking for things in common with different musical influences. The Django Reinhardt/gypsy guitar tradition can lead in a lot of different directions, with that eastern European feel and also the jazz traditions. Potzi and his guitar are the heartbeat of the group.
Where have you had the best reception?
The response we’ve had here has been quite touching. Especially as we bring songs that are not in English. When we were in Prague, a few weeks ago, we didn’t know what to expect. But the audience was up and dancing and we had a wonderful response there too.
Which Paris Combo song do you personally like the best?
For me, I guess “Istanbul.” I told Belle about a trip I had taken there, and then she wrote the lyrics from the story I’d told. I like it just as a song, but also as a collaboration.
What language is “Berry-Bouy” in?
It’s what the French call “yaourt,” which is a made up, phonetic language. The song is named after the village where Belle was born, in the middle of France, near Bourges. Everyone thinks that it’s talking about a Russian place!
What’s the next project for Paris Combo?
We just did an album that’s coming out in France in April . So we’ll be promoting it. There’s also a good chance that we’ll come back to the States.
Who or what d you wish you knew more about?
People in general.
Oh, I see! A student of human nature?