Double Take: Jurat ‘Sans Famille’ album review

Well, BD was away in Australia last week, and I thought it wouldn’t be fair on Jurat to do this one by myself, so I’ve invited a good friend and long-time member of the Beijing music scene Jean-Sébastien Héry (aka Zhang Si’an) to step into Badr’s shoes and take on the ‘He says’ side of this one. Here’s what we think of ‘Sans Famille’!

Jean-Seb on Sans Famille:

I have known Jurat for a long time. I first met him about five years ago somewhere in Beijing, in Jiangjinjiu bar I think. It is Ubul, a Uyghur percussion player I used to play with who introduced me to him. He was singing covers of Sting and The Police, as well as many other things such as folk songs from Xinjiang (China’s North-East region).

Jurat is a Uyghur musician who came to Beijing a few years ago with an idea of making music in his own way. He is from the North-East part of that region, and when I was asked by Ruby to do the review of his CD while Badr is out having fun in Australia, I said why not.

First of all ‘Sans Famille’ (Without a family) has a French title, which is an interesting point. The title comes from a French novel, written by Hector Malot around 1878 (Wikipedia says so…). That story is very famous in France. The novel was turned into movies several times, and there are even several Japanese adaptations in animated manga style. FYI I used to watch the Japanese cartoon version on TV when I was a kid in France. The story is about a kid who looks for his mother.

The first impression I got from the CD is that the sound is pretty good, and so are the musicians on it. All the songs are pretty well recorded, except maybe for the voice on the first song, which felt a bit too raw to my ears. I only listened to the mp3 versions of the songs, and didn’t have the CD in my hands, so I can say I’m not judging the music by it’s cover :-)

All the words in this album are in Uyghur, except for the last song, ‘Sans Famille’, which is in French. I didn’t understand the words at first glance but as a French man I appreciate the effort, especially knowing the fact that Jurat doesn’t speak any French. I can say that the song is not really the best of the album…

I got the a translation of the words from Uyghur to Chinese, which allowed me to understand the meaning of the music and the idea behind the words. The words of the songs in the album are mainly short poems, poems about loosing yourself, your soul, not knowing where you are going and why you live in one or another way. My interpretation is that it is also about being a lonely artist in a big city, with no family to rely on. It’s also about dreaming, and finally about death. There’s one song called ‘Mother’, which is about regrets.

I think the words in the last song, give an idea about what the words are about in this album (I think it actually comes from the original novel).

L’histoire d’un enfant,
Esseulé et sans parents.
Quand on est marmot,
Le cœur en lambeaux, en mille morceaux, rien n’est beau.
Un musicien des chemins,
Décide de lui tendre la main,
De l’emmener avec lui.
Seul le récit nous dira,
Une fois les épreuves passées,
Et épaulé par Mattia,
Si la mère espérée sera retrouvée

The story of a child,
Alone, without his parents.
When you are a child,
Your heart breaks into thousand pieces, nothing looks good.
A musician on the roads,
Decides to reach out, to take the child with him.
Only the story will later tell,
Once all trouble is gone,
And helped by Mattia,
If the mother willl be found

The influences of Jurat for that album clearly come from 70’s and 80’s rock music but it also feels like you are going through time listening to the history of rock music. In that album, there is metal, Italian rock, grunge, progressive rock, hard rock, ska and more. I hear Sting, Muse, Metallica, 80’s Genesis, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Eros Ramazotti, with also a Uyghur folk influence.

There’s a nice lady’s voice on the song called ‘Qux’, it sounds like Japanese, which made me think of the Miyazaki movie ‘Spirited away’. That’s the best song on the album for me.

The arrangements are sometimes very interesting but the sound is a bit too 80’s for me. On the other hand, if you like the 80’s, that album is for you.

Overall I think Jurat is better live than on this CD. I also got the opportunity to listen to experimental demos of Jurat that I felt were more inspired and sounded better and less commercial than this CD. I hope he will publish that work one day, because it would show you the guy is a real artist.

In any way, this album makes you discover one of Jurat’s way of making music. If you want to know more about Uyghurs and Xinjiang music, check IZ, Ashkar, and Xinjiang folk music forms such as Muqam (an art form classified by UNESCO).

Ruby on Sans Famille:

China always surprizes me with the sheer number of different styles and genres of music you can hear here every week. I think nothing of seeing Yunnan ‘country metal’, Ningxia folk, Beijing post-rock, traditional guzheng combined with American banjo and Mongolian rock all in the same week – in fact that’s exactly the shows I’m seeing this week! But when I saw on douban a few months ago a show advertised as Uyghur psychadelic rock, it grabbed my attention and I had to check it out.

What I got to see was a Uyghur guy wearing a Pink Floyd T-shirt, playing guitar with such passion and singing in a language so far removed from Chinese, it’s hard to believe it’s still part of the same country. I’ve caught Jurat’s shows a couple of times since then and it still doesn’t cease to amaze me.

Jurat went home over October holiday and recorded this album in Xinjiang. He’d recently lost his American bass player to the dreaded ‘it’s time to go home’ that has torn apart many a good band in this city. The album was recorded with musicians he is friends with, and yes, they are all very talented musicians, but you can hear on the album that it’s not his band, it’s just not as tight as the live shows I’ve seen them play.

The album pulls together songs Jurat has written from 1996 to this year, since before he moved from Xinjiang to Beijing to focus on his music. The title ‘Sans Famille” (Without family) reflects the vibe of the album, while I don’t understand the lyrics, it feels to me to be about the trials and hardship many musicians in the city face. They move away from home and leave their families behind to make it in the big city. Rustic tell a similar story in their album ‘City of Heartbreak and Horror’ It’s not easy to make a living from music in this city, especially without the support of your family to help you survive.

Jurat’s familiar psychadelic rock forms the basis for the album from the way he plays guitar, but the songs are all different and unique in their own ways. My two favourites on the album are the middle two, ‘Mihman’ (Just guests) with it’s heavier metal feel, deep gutteral vocals from his good friend Mamer; and ‘Qux’ (Dream) with spoken uyghur lyrics by Ismangul, which really does feel like someone talking to you in a dream. I also love both the vocals and guitar in ‘Hiyal’ (Fancy).

When I listen to the album, I’m left wanting more, maybe that’s because I’ve seen the live shows. But I also think it’s good thing, so often I hear an album, then am disappointed when I see the band live, because the album has been too over-produced and cleaned up it doesn’t reflect the real sound of the band. This album gives you a good taste of what to expect from Jurat’s show, but leaves it open for him to wow you even more in person.

So there it is, our impressions of what is a truly unique sounding album. The album launch was last Saturday at Temple bar, but you can definitely catch Jurat playing around the city over the winter!

ruby

a kiwi, a music lover, a traveller & an IT geek hanging around in the 'jing planning her next adventure.

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