Back by popular demand this year at the Chutzpah! festival is world music phenomenon Les Yeux Noirs, who will be presenting foot-stomping favorites from their latest albums that are sure to draw the multitudes with their limitless energy next month.
“It’s like we come back home when we play in your country,” said co-founder and violinist Olivier Slabiak from his home in Paris, France.
The now six-person band was formed in 1992 by classically trained family duo Olivier and his brother, Eric. Together, they performed traditional Yiddish songs that were passed down to them by their grandmother and their uncle who played the violin.
“This transmission of music is a big part of our culture. Sometimes we can feel Jewish because of the music,” Slabiak said.
In addition to listening to Yiddish music, they also picked up a taste for jazz manouche, or gypsy jazz, and rock music, which led to their migration from traditional to more contemporary compositions. After eight years, Les Yeux traded in their acoustic instruments for electric ones, with a mind to creating songs they could put more energy into while still keeping the flavor of their original influences.
With seven CDs under their belt and more than 1,700 concerts, Les Yeux band members are musical veterans. The guitarist joined the ranks in 1995, the drummer in 2001 and the accordion player and bassist were enlisted three years ago.
Playing with his brother lends a unique musical intuition to the ensemble, as well as a well-balanced vision. “Sometimes we feel the same thing at the same time when we play together,” Slabiak said. “We don’t have the same characters, so to work together is very complimentary to evolve our music with the same feeling, but with different directions.”
As for what they will perform on this North American circuit, the group plans to play a mix of songs from their newest recording, slated for a September 2010 release, as well as tracks from their 2009 best-of CD, Opre Scena.
Playing to diverse audiences around the world has taught Slabiak that sound can energetically unify a group of people and convey a message, as if by magic.
“It’s international language and, when you hear the music, it makes a new sound vibration and the vibration is international. For me, music is like Esperanto, so you can speak all over the world with lots of different cultures the same language and, if you are receptive, you can receive the same thing,”
Les Yeux’s intent is to give audiences a nostalgic feeling and translate the emotions of Jewish music, said Slabiak. “When we are on stage, we want to give all this soul of the music and, when we give something, we receive a lot. Sometimes, we have a piece that is very energetic and we want to send the energy to the audience, and the audience sends us the energy back, and this grows the ambiance of the show. In this music, you need to give and receive.”
Les Yeux are in their element in a festival atmosphere, playing with a diverse range of artists. “It’s very great for us to see an audience discovering our music and to see the effect happen on them,” he said.
Playing in front of a Jewish audience is a special experience for the group.
“We speak with people who say, ‘You know this song? I know this song since a long time. We like what you do with this song.’ For us, it is very important to see that Jewish people can recognize their music in the music we make,” he said.
For Slabiak, facing a Jewish crowd holds strong personal value. “Sometimes we can see in the audience some person who looks like our grandmother,” he said. The brothers recently came across old cassette tapes with recordings of their grandmother’s voice and decided to feature her singing on their latest CD.
Les Yeux Noirs perform one Canadian show only, as the last stop of their North American tour, for the Chutzpah! festival closing night party, Thursday, April 8, 8 p.m., at the Venue. Tickets at chutzpahfestival.com, ticketstonight.ca or 604-257-5145.