To Catch the Past:
La Machine

Narrator: It's a Monday night at La Maroquinerie, a club in Paris' Belleville neighborhood.

Barbances [on stage]: Bonsoir, c'est La Machine

'We're La Machine', says Band leader Julien Barbances. He's standing center stage wearing a black scarf wrapped around his head, turban style.

Music: concert

Machine is the feminine form of "machin" which means "thingamagig". It's also the name of a town in central France—which is where the music that La Machine plays comes from---From the Auvergne and Berry regions

Music: concert

On most songs, Julien Babrances plays bagpipes. To his right is Greg Jolivet on an even more obscure instrument called the vielle a rou-- a hurdy-gurdy in English.

Music: concert

The hurdy-gurdy is an ancient European instrument that's essentially a mechanical violin. It makes the buzzing sound in their songs. With his right hand, Jolivet cranks a wheel that rubs against several sets of strings. With his left, he uses keys to play the notes.

Music: Mariez Moi

Nartation: The rest of La Machine is Jean-Laurent Cayzac on bass, and Mark Riou on percussion.

Music: Les Rôdeurs

Julien Babences says that most of what they play is dance music:

Barbances: The most popular form of music or dance is a bourrée. You can dance two peoples or four or much more.

Bourrées, bagpipes, four-person dances--- you might think these are old men playing in a town square, instead of thirty year-olds wearing the glasses and wardrobe of an indy rock band. So, what's going on here? Marc Riou explains:

Riou: It's an old music, but uh, we think it's possible to be modern--with different arrangement, with hurdy-gurdy, bagpipe, are traditional in center of France, and double bass and percussions- uh- can uh- can give grove and rhythm and uh- energy for this music

Music: Rond d'Argenton

Added to the mix are percussion elements from around the globe.

Riou: My- my set of percussion is composed by djembe, bougarabou, it's similar to congas, but in Africa. Uh- and one conga. One bongo, cymbal and Charleston. So a lot of rhythm are possible in this music

Music: Rond d'Argenton

Barbances: the center of this music is the melody. As a dance- so it can be a bourrée, waltz, Scottish, mazurka. And then we find a grove with percussions and base

Music: Le Déserteur

Barbances: French people and European people are not so connected with the past. Oh yes. Here when you want to create something you have to scratch the past. So our work I think is uh original, for this. Because we want to catch the past.

Bassist Jean-Laurent Cayzac thinks in terms of continuity.

Cayzac: je pense que on est dans la continuité. Je crois que c'est lá ou on est vraiment different d'autre chose- c'est qu'il y a pas de rupture

'That's where we're different'—he says—'we're not breaking with the past'. Of course, with imported African and Cuban rhytms, it's the past—with a twist. But band members say La Machine stays loyal to its roots--- like in this song, called Jean Baptiste:

Music: Jean Baptiste

Jolivet: Jean Baptiste- it's composition of band, but the melody is playing like a traditional boure of central France.

Music: Jean Baptiste

Riou: we try to respect the dance, uh- the- the foot, the tempo, the accent

Barbances: It's a new melody but not really new- it's variation from old melody, but it's our creation

For now La Machine is playing small shows in festivals and in clubs, with fans dancing in the aisles. Their first album Les Rodeurs came out last year, and they're working on a new one due this spring.

For the World, I'm Sarah Elzas in Paris

Music: Jean Baptiste

This piece aired December 5, 2006 on The World and on August 22, 2008, on RFI.

Producer: Sarah Elzas
Recorded in Paris, France
Edited with Peter Thomson
Photo from cover of Les Rôdeurs

- Golden (recorded November 13, 2006 at La Maroquinerie, Paris, France)
- Mariez-moi (Les Rôdeurs)
- Les Rôdeurs (Les Rôdeurs)
- Ronde d'Argenton (Les Rôdeurs)
- Le Deserteur (Les Rôdeurs)
- Jean-Baptiste (Les Rôdeurs)