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Terkel comments and presents musical performance of Pierre Bensusan

BROADCAST: Jun. 11, 1979 | DURATION: 00:23:24


Presenting music with Pierre Bensusan.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Pierre Bensusan is a remarkable guitarist. He has been acclaimed by audiences and critics of Western Europe. He recently performed the other night, that's a few days before this particular conversation we're having, at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and they've had a whole variety of folk artists, musicians. But rarely has one received the the response he did, standing ovations for his work. He- what he does with a guitar, of course, its, he explores it fully, completely. He becomes the-- he evokes images of the Irish harp, of the chanter of the drone, of the pipes, and it is a guitar. And so, he is my guest this morning and his music. So in a moment, his stuff, his work, and his own reflections to how he did it and his own approach to it, after this message. [pause in recording] [music fading] Wow, Pierre Bensusan, I was thinking of what you-- first was an a folk melody-- that's a folk lyric that you made your own melody to-

Pierre Bensusan Yeah.

Studs Terkel -and then came Irish reels--

Pierre Bensusan Yeah. Two traditional reels. I had the idea that the melody I made was, not only French anymore, but a little bit European. I mean with Saxon's-- Saxon influence inside. This is why I I love Irish music, I love reels, and I I love to play them, but I don't want to play them always like that. I mean, I just like sometimes to include them in an old set of music.

Studs Terkel What you do then is, you take a a lyric and your own music, that may be French in feeling, and then you see it's connected with some other music, as in this case the Irish.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Studs Terkel And this is from what region? That-- the lyric of th-of this pastoral song, Bourbonnais. Bourbonnais.

Pierre Bensusan Bourbonnais, this is an old name. Now-- now they're countries in France, these parts of France are not called the same names. This was an old name that's in center, center France--

Studs Terkel Where was it? Where? In Burgundy? No.

Pierre Bensusan No, no, Burgundy is south--west, no-- it's east, east. First, first middle of the country and Bourbonnais is just down.

Studs Terkel But this is no-- and then, and then you simulated some Irish instruments, of course, you had some backing of your French colleagues, here. You have the violin and the tin whistle--

Pierre Bensusan I had-- I had a frien- a friend on mine, playing dulcimer, another guy playing, another friend playing fiddle, another one playing tin whistle, another one playing bass, another one playing bodhrán, and I think that's about it.

Studs Terkel What do you do with the guitar, you, of course,-- we will hear you.

Pierre Bensusan This -that was a little hard to hear, only the guitar, because there was other musicians with, but, my way of playing is that I use, mainly, the open tuning. I don't use a standard tuning, I use--

Studs Terkel Open tuning.

Pierre Bensusan Open tuning. And I tried to go into the music, try to go into the music with this approach of the guitar.

Studs Terkel Wh-When you talk of this approach, were there influences on you? Who, who were the guitarists, the

Pierre Bensusan Oh, my main influence were not guitar players, but, but rather all, all kinds of music. I mean, real kinds of music, like Celtic music, Irish, Scottish, Brit- Britain's music, like classical music, like American traditional music, like English traditional music, like Indian from India, music like Tibet music, like jazz, like bossa nova, South America, Argentina--

Studs Terkel So, it's

Pierre Bensusan I like, I like-- I don't like everything. I like the good music. I like good music, everything good, yeah.

Studs Terkel But the-- therefore, through the guitar, through your guitar, you made the guitar reflect all this music. In fact, much-- more instruments than the guitar, too.

Pierre Bensusan I try to do it, I try to do it.

Studs Terkel You're, you're from Paris, but originally Algeria.

Pierre Bensusan I was born in Algeria. My family too and we were originally from Spanish Morocco. And we were all raised, raised in Algeria, and we arrived in France, when I arrived in Paris, when I was four years old, during the Algeria War. And I stayed in Paris in that time and I grew up in Paris. I went to school and when I was 16, I left school to [unintelligible] to take all my time for the music.

Studs Terkel And so--

Pierre Bensusan And when I was 17, I m- I m- I made my first album, this the album we're listening to--

Studs Terkel This album, by the way, is the only one that's available in America. Rounder Records, no doubt to be, I'm sure, a request by listeners for this, but we'll talk about that later. Another from this album, much of this music is your own.

Pierre Bensusan Yes.

Studs Terkel The reel was traditional, of

Pierre Bensusan The reel- But, we're going to listen to another song of mine, but not the words--

Studs Terkel This one -This is based on an old, old story too, isn't it?

Pierre Bensusan This this is kind of--

Studs Terkel This is what? Farewell to my lady?

Pierre Bensusan It means, it means-- no, not farewell to my lady. But, it means I met a mistress--

Studs Terkel Made a misstress--

Pierre Bensusan Two days ago, but I'm obliged to leave--

Studs Terkel I'm to go leaving

Pierre Bensusan To go to the war, because the king wants me to go to the war.

Studs Terkel Yeah, this is an old theme in many folk songs-

Pierre Bensusan Yeah,

Studs Terkel -but the melody is your own.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah. [pause in recording]

Studs Terkel [music fading] Pierre, excuse me, what you've done here, is you, you've taken this old French lyric line, and you've introduced Irish, Irish, Irish feeling to it.

Pierre Bensusan Some sometimes English too. Some critics, some critics in England said that I was using French and Irish materials sometimes and putting some English fittings into it. But, I don't know. You know, the thing is, the things that I've done is that, it was a result of some years of listening to many traditional musics around this area of France, Ireland, Scotland, England and so the result is, I mean, logical because I have enjoyed this music very much. [unintelligible] you know.

Studs Terkel Also, musicologically, you're right too. There is-- because of the various invasions and the migrations--

Pierre Bensusan Yeah, they are very-- all those, all those countries are connected together. Even, even Scotland is connected with, sometimes, some Arabian cultures or some East Europe countries.

Studs Terkel So you're finding, in your own way, a kind of a Catholic quality, you know--

Pierre Bensusan A kind of

Studs Terkel Catholic with a small, "c," so universal quality, you know, in music.

Pierre Bensusan To find a universal quality, you have to know, to know many, to know very much about all those musics, but I don't. I mean, I just listened to many of, to many records, I admit sometimes I went to those countries, but yeah I don't know so--

Studs Terkel We should point out that the two works you just heard are from his album, "Pres de Paris." Pierre Bensusan is is my guest. This recording won the Grand Prize in 1976 for the best folk album in all Europe. The Grand Prix Du Disque, this won it, hands down--

Pierre Bensusan At the Montreux Festival--

Studs Terkel At the Montreux Festival, at the Montreux Jazz Festival, where jazz and folk are intertwined. Suppose we hear from another album, now. Oh, this album by Rounder Records. R-O-U-N-D-E-R records, in case the--

Pierre Bensusan This album has been made in '75--

Studs Terkel In case the record shop doesn't have it, it's Rounder Records, 186 Willow Avenue, Somerville, Massachusetts 02144. I'll write this down. I'm sure there will be some requests for it. The other night at the Old Town School of Folk Music,[laughter] they were grabbin' every one you had. So we have another album, what is, "Le Joli Bransle?"

Pierre Bensusan This is a a tune, a kind of classical tune, but it's not. So, traditional tune from the 17th or 18th century, it used to be a song but I just played, it's on-- it's not on the same album--

Studs Terkel No, another

Pierre Bensusan It's on another one made two years later in '77.

Studs Terkel This is instrumental.

Pierre Bensusan This is an instrumental tune--

Studs Terkel How do you the guitar here?

Pierre Bensusan Open tuning too. I use-- I always use my guitar in open tuning--

Studs Terkel When you say, "open tuning," to someone, a non-musician, what does that mean? Open tuning?

Pierre Bensusan Okay, a standard guitar, a normal guitar, will be tuned standard tuning, which is E, A, D, G, B, E. All right, I think. Yeah, and my tuning is co--is that I will put three strings down, the E, the B, and the other E too, of a D tuning. A, D tuning, this is the tuning that I I use the most part of the time now. But sometimes I use--

Studs Terkel Oh, it allows more flexibility--

Pierre Bensusan So, you can, you are able to play some, some tunes and, in fact, all kinds of music, but with a special sounds. And if you go deeply into those tunings, you will find out that you can play everything, in that tuning.

Studs Terkel Everything.

Pierre Bensusan With special sounds like, you will be able to play some bagpipes too. But, but because you have a drone, you have a constant

Studs Terkel Yeah so it's a drone bagpipe. Let's hear this then, "Le Joli Bransle," a traditional tune played--

Pierre Bensusan From France--

Studs Terkel Quite obviously in a non-traditional way. [pause in recording] Pierre Bensusan, and your open guitar, open tuning guitar. I notice in your, in your works, there is sometimes traditional, and sometimes your own-

Pierre Bensusan Yeah.

Studs Terkel -music,

Pierre Bensusan Right.

Studs Terkel Another-- it's funny how wars play a role because, no doubt, this explains why some of the music inter-relates that of another country because of the invasions. And we know, the-- some of the mercenaries or soldiers drafted, the poor boys of all countries. Irish, French, German-- wars of Germany, as a name of a number, is the theme of many songs, the wars of Germany-

Pierre Bensusan Right.

Studs Terkel -fighting in Thirty Years Wars and everything. And here's one, specifically, with that theme, it's another farewell song, we're about to hear.

Pierre Bensusan This is a- this is a guy who is supposed to leave friends to go and fight for the king in Germany and his girlfriend doesn't want him to leave. And, finally, she will prohibit-- she she will, she will say to him, "You will stay with me, you will not fight." And so, I think he's going to to obey and to to desert the Army, to stay with his girlfriend.

Studs Terkel You think, he's going to desert,

Pierre Bensusan Yes. In fact, the song first had three verses and at the end of the three verses-- no, at thirty four verses. At the end of those four, the story didn't say if he was going to stay or not, but the story said he was going to leave and fight. But, I put another verse.

Studs Terkel Oh

Pierre Bensusan I invented it, yeah. I didn't want him to leave. [Stud's laughing] I want him to stay. So he's he's going to stay.

Studs Terkel So it's your verse to the traditional music.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah, and I I asked a friend of mine from Brittany to take his bagpipe and to come and play with me in this song--

Studs Terkel So there's a bagpipe accompaniment--

Pierre Bensusan There is a bagpipe, after, yes. There is all-- there is during all of the songs, there is a bagpipe drone and then the bagpipes come--

Studs Terkel The drone and then the pipe, itself.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah. [pause in recording] Right.

Studs Terkel Beautiful. I I was thinking of the pipes and the and the tune is traditional, and yet you're playing-- you your colleague there was Patrick Molard.

Pierre Bensusan From Brittany-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -and he came right to Paris for this reason.

Studs Terkel By the way, he's from Brittany--

Pierre Bensusan He's from Brittany, he used to play with Alan Stivell, do you know, Alan Stivell? He's Breton's harp player. He came to the states a few time to tour.

Studs Terkel Nope, I don't know-- but the reason I ask, is 'cause, here again, Brittany, along the coast--

Pierre Bensusan West Coast--

Studs Terkel Yeah, but also, the connecting link of all the areas of France, the most connected with-- outside, would be Brittany, to some extent.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah--

Studs Terkel Because of the, of the-

Pierre Bensusan You know in

Studs Terkel -migrations back and forth--

Pierre Bensusan In in France, you will have some countries with a very very peculiar and very strong culture. But this culture was very strong in the past, but in Brittany it's still alive,

Studs Terkel very Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan Many people are playing, many musicians, many festivals, many contests, many stuff like that--

Studs Terkel Still maintained? The old traditions, musical.

Pierre Bensusan They will and them- they they do. And at the same time, some new people are coming, playing new music from, from--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -original music, but living from the tradition.

Studs Terkel My guest, Pierre Bensusan, young French guitarist, but singer of-- all around musician. Also, though he may deny it, musicologist, too, it's quite obvious there. And he was at the Old Town School of Folk Music a few nights before this particular conversation. He's passing through Chicago now and was a smash, as you may gather. And the album, not all from this album, but the album available in America is, "Près de Paris," Rounder Records. But, it's possible some of the stores may have them now. They will soon I'm sure. Let's take a pause now, we'll resume, in a moment, with more of your music-

Pierre Bensusan OK.

Studs Terkel -all variety, after this message. [pause in recording] So, resuming the conversation with Pierre Bensusan, and your guitar, and this one, "Le Marche du Sonneur--" means what? The march of the--

Pierre Bensusan "Le Marche du Sonneur Égaré," means the lost piper march. And this is an original tune about a Scottish piper, who is normally wo- working at the mail post office in Glasgow, and twice a month, he is leaving to go and pipe and march with 99 other pipers on a huge field, 50 miles north of Glasgow. And this time he was marching and entering into his seventh hour of marching and piping. He closed his eyes and-- he was keeping on marching, when suddenly, at the same moment, as the piper major decide instead to go straight ahead, as he used to do for 45 years. He was going to turn a little bit on the left-hand side and everybody was used to go straight ahead. And and our friend, has his eye eyes closed to-- for all this time, so he went straight ahead and they never found him back, so it's called, "The Lost Piper March--"

Studs Terkel So, he disappeared. It this based upon an old legend?

Pierre Bensusan No it's not.

Studs Terkel It's your own? Oh, it's your own story, too! [Both laughing]

Pierre Bensusan Yeah, it's my own story.

Studs Terkel So, young French artist re--invents a Scottish tale involving a piper and the music is yours too.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah.

Studs Terkel Okay. [pause in recording] [music fading] That's fantastic. Pierre, what you've done, you've recreated as though it were a piping band with the guitar and and also, you, you came to the mandolin there too.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah, I used to play mandolin in the past. I used to-- I used to play some American music, bluegrass music with my friend Bill Keith, who is who is an extraordinary banjo player. He was in Chicago one week or two weeks ago playing with Ray Tate and Jethro Burns. But, when Bill came to Europe, we used to tour together two times, two times, three years-- three months with another friend. So it was [unintellgible] because--

Studs Terkel I'm thinkin' about this this work, that you-- this wholly of your creation. You've have made yourself acquainted with Scottish folklore and music.

Pierre Bensusan I love Scottish folklore. I love the Scottish bagpipes--

Studs Terkel And the bagpipes--

Pierre Bensusan This is, this is in particular, I love this music called pibroch which is the only classical Scottish music that they have.

Studs Terkel What's it called?

Pierre Bensusan Pibroch.

Studs Terkel Pibroch.

Pierre Bensusan The pibroch, it's a it's a type of tune, very slow tune, which with maybe five notes maximum and the art of this of this tunes, is in the fact to play those five notes with the octave. And they can put-- they put a lot of variations, rhythm-- rhythmic variation--

Studs Terkel And what you did with the guitar and with your mandolin there seemed to recreate the whole picture, a portrait. Have you ever been called a troubadour?

Pierre Bensusan Yes, some, [laughter] some people call me

Studs Terkel Because you are. You're a throwback to another century. [unintelligible]

Pierre Bensusan Yeah, but I like the 20th century too, you know. But, I think every century was good and bad at the same time.

Studs Terkel Yet both. Let's switch now, let's go to another society--

Pierre Bensusan Another society, yeah--

Studs Terkel Argentina-- Latin American or a tango.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah, I am-- I am, all my family and me, we are originally from Spain, from Spanish Morocco. So it means that my backgrounds are, instead, occidental, rather oriental. This is-- my father, my mother used to speak Spanish and Arabian too. They--

Studs Terkel Spanish and Arabian?

Pierre Bensusan Arabian, yes. My mother was a teacher in Arab-, in Algeria. So she she was obliged to speak Arabian and my father was, was, he was commercing, in Algeria too. So we were always, even with my parents, we're always communicating with Arabian people, you know. And my mother was singing some lullabies in oriental way, with a very oriental way of singing. My fa-- she used to play the violin when she was very young and my father used to play tangos music, Argentino, with brother, trumpet, and concertina, when they were very young. And now my father is a great-- one of the biggest lover in the world of the tango music.

Studs Terkel Your

Pierre Bensusan But, I used to-- to don't like his music because it was my family's music. So I didn't want to listen to those kind of things, you know. But two years-- one year and half ago, I started to be a little more intelligent [laughter] and I start to listen carefully to this music and I discovered so many great things. I think we're going to listen to--

Studs Terkel "Adios Muchachos."

Pierre Bensusan Yeah.

Studs Terkel [pause in recording] And so there's the Spanish. [laughter] And you say a touch of oriental too, as far as your culture is concerned, and in Morocco. Your parents, Morocco, the you were Paris. And, of course, in Paris too, you have a fusion of so many other cultures.

Pierre Bensusan Oh in Paris, yes, of course, there was a a music called musette music--

Studs Terkel Musette, little

Pierre Bensusan Accordion, accordion--

Studs Terkel Yeah--

Pierre Bensusan Accordion music, accordion Paris music, and this is a music I like very much, now, this type. I would like to play it on the guitar. I mean, I've thought to play it on guitar. But I'm going to be more involved inside because it's one of our real French music that we have. Very strong music that I would like many young people like me discover again now and play it-- the music--

Studs Terkel Kind of music, with just kind of street music. It's a little squeezebox--

Pierre Bensusan No, an-- a chromatical accordion. It's a big accordion.

Studs Terkel Oh, it's a big one? I thought that it was a little one, it's a big one!

Pierre Bensusan Oh, musette. The name, musette-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -is a, is a pipe.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan The musette, what we call, musette, is a small pipe--

Studs Terkel A pipe--

Pierre Bensusan A French pipe, from center of France, from Auvergne. But this is when the Auvergne people who came to Paris-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -when they moved in the last century that they created-- they bring-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -with us the music--

Studs Terkel They brought their country's music with

Pierre Bensusan And in Paris, at the time, there was other musicians and the fusion of everything was called musette. And one of the big, one of the main music player, was Django Reinhardt.

Studs Terkel Oh, Django was, he was a gypsy though--

Pierre Bensusan He was a gypsy, yes. He was a jazz player, of course-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -with Grappelli, but he played a lot of musette, too.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan He played with many accordion players.

Studs Terkel So it's the fusion that you like?

Pierre Bensusan Oh, I like-- I love all kind of destructions and and fusions in music.

Studs Terkel "Au Jardin D'Amour," the "Garden of Love," this is your-- this is your melody.

Pierre Bensusan Yes, this is not musette at all--

Studs Terkel No, this is your melody.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah.

Studs Terkel Does this have any basis?

Pierre Bensusan Sorry?

Studs Terkel Any this melody-- was there, were there words to this with the tradition--

Pierre Bensusan So yeah, the words were in another song, but I put the words off-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -and I I made a melody for, for me. It was-- it's a love song. You know, it's very nice, love song, it was a poem, first. And I took the poem and I--

Studs Terkel An old poem--

Pierre Bensusan An old one, and I put the music inside, and my-- I have a friend who plays with me some electric bass.

Studs Terkel It occured to me, Pierre, you could be a great cafe singer. I know cafe songs are different than the one's you sing, but, you could do cafe singing.

Pierre Bensusan Oh yeah, I like cafe singing, but I prefer to do some stuff more original than that. I prefer to sing my own way-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -and play in my own way on music. But I like, I like very much just cafe singing, which goes very well with musette music.

Studs Terkel Musette. When I say cafe singing we-- perhaps you should explain that. French cafe singing is somewhat different. These are songs written for a particular artist like Piaf or Montand, you know.

Pierre Bensusan Yeah. But I would rather-- I would say too that cafe singing is rather a special way of

Studs Terkel I know.

Pierre Bensusan Very popular in France-

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Pierre Bensusan -and in Belgium. You know, and on the continent.

Studs Terkel Yeah. But, you, you, you're-- you're an original, obviously, you're own. You wanna -- we'll go to Latin America again, "Palomita Blanca." This is a waltz?

Pierre Bensusan This is a waltz, which, an Argentina waltz. It used to be played as well in musette music, you know. At the time where Argentina music was very popular in the 13-30- the 30's-

Studs Terkel Yes.

Pierre Bensusan 1940. Many people in Paris were playing accordion-- were playing music, musette music, and they, they were used to listen very much Argentina music and they include Argentina music and musette music. This is one of the other rhythms--

Studs Terkel I noticed--

Pierre Bensusan A little bit musette, a little bit Hispanic, a little bit I don't know what, a little bit of free, free at the end.

Studs Terkel "Palomita Blanca." [pause in recording] And so, Argentina. My guest is Pierre Bensusan, who will be returned to Chicago soon, I know, again. And we'll be plugging it-- before we hear his last piece, again, references to Ireland and the fusion, the voyage to Ireland. This is an old-- this is your own melody-

Studs Terkel Yes.

Studs Terkel -the one we're about to hear, isn't it?

Pierre Bensusan Yeah.

Studs Terkel But based upon some-- what about the lyrics of it?

Pierre Bensusan The lyrics of what?

Studs Terkel Of this song-- oh, no, no lyrics!

Pierre Bensusan No lyrics, there is only a voice, but he is like an instrument.

Studs Terkel A voice like an instrument, we should, perhaps, mention the one album of your's that's available. The one that, the one that won the Grand Prix Du Disque, of 1976. It's Pierre, B-E-N-S-U-S-A-N, Pierre Bensusan, "Près de Paris," is the record and Rounder is the label. And it's 186 Willow Avenue, Somerville, Massachusetts, in case your music store doesn't have it. And so let's end with this one.

Pierre Bensusan Okay, it's called, in French, "Le Voyage Pour l'Irlande," that means, "trouble for Ireland."

Studs Terkel And we'll see you again, very soon.

Pierre Bensusan Thank you very much.

Studs Terkel