Wednesday, 2 April 2014


Some of the members of Danakil. Photo: Julie Arnoux

If you want to listen to music that speaks to and of the times, then go for reggae, or at least roots reggae - the kind with socially conscious lyrics and a solid stance against injustice.

That at least seems to be the message from Entre les Lignes (Between the Lines), the latest album from French reggae band Danakil, a group not much liked by French critics but loyally supported by fans.

Their new album is a collection of unequivocal compositions in the tradition of Bob Marley and Third World; it chants down inequality and political hypocrisy, while still providing an infectious rhythm.

The cover of Entre les Lignes
France’s “unhealthy, one-way” relationship with its former colonies comes in for particular criticism on the album, especially on Mali Mali, the second track after the very lively opening song Poupées Russes (Russian Dolls).

“They want to sell the country as if it were merchandise … as if the population belonged to them,” lead vocalist Balik sings in French about the political treatment of the West African nation.

“Yes, they are the ones who put clientelism and corruption in place,” he adds.

As is widely known, France launched a military operation in Mali in January 2013, a year after armed conflict erupted in the north of the country with rebels seizing certain territory. Since then, Malian and French forces have largely recaptured the north, but public opinion in France is still divided about the government’s action.

With Entre les Lignes, Danakil urges listeners to read between the lines and to look at Europe’s history of colonialism. That message also comes across in the track L'or noir (Black gold), where mellow instrumentation contrasts with the tough lyrics about greed and political trickery.

Politics is not something that's obligatory for us, it just comes naturally,” says Mathieu, the band's manager and saxophonist. "We love and respect the traditions of reggae, which has a political aspect. But we also sing about things we see and experience ourselves."

Danakil in concert. Photo: Lisou Becker
In Le Rêve (The Dream), the second single released from the album, following the brass-driven Hypocrites, Danakil portrays a world in danger, while channeling youth discontent. The official music video shows scenes of destruction, makes reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement and runs through a host of long-past as well as more recent demonstrations.

“Neither deities nor devils will prevent me from believing … in those who raise their voices,” goes a line in the song, one of the best tracks on the album. The video also shows scenes of police violence and flashes a now iconic image of Jamaican political rivals Michael Manley and Edward Seaga at the 1978 Bob Marley peace concert.

Entre les Lignes thus pays homage to the home of reggae, and one of Marley’s sons, Ky-Mani is among the guest artists on the album. Others who lend their skills include The Twinkle Brothers (a Jamaican band formed in 1962 and still performing), and Harrison "Professor" Stafford and Marcus Urani, founding members of the American reggae group Groundation.

The guest artists contribute to the polished yet edgy sound of the album, but it is Balik’s persuasive voice that holds everything together. Since the creation of the band by eight young Paris-area students in 2000, he has given Danakil their signature sound: harshness combined with poetic beauty, rather like the Danakil Desert in Ethiopia, which inspired the band’s name.

Danakil is currently on a European tour with performances throughout France as well as in Belgium, Austria and other countries. The band will appear at Reggae Sun Ska in Bordeaux in August.

To view the official video of Le rêve go to: