On Wednesday El-Sawi Culturewheel hosted a concert by French alternative rap group “La Caution.” Hailing from Noisy-Le-Sec in the eastern suburbs of Paris and of Moroccan origins, the group roamed dingy Parisian concert halls for years before gaining international fame in 2004 when their track “The a la Menthe” (mint tea) was heard on Steven Soderberg’s "Ocean’s 12" soundtrack.
On their first visit to Egypt, Al-Masry-Al-Youm had the privilege to spend time with the group as they toured the pyramids on the morning of the concert.
Strolling along the dusty pathways leading to the pyramids, Nikkfurie, Izno and Dj Fab pose gangsta-style in front of the camera, their baggy jeans and American caps an interesting contrast with the ancient ruins in the background. One immediately feels that these guys are genuinely down-to-earth, fortunately lacking the frivolity usually associated with rap artists.
“The band was founded by my brother Hi-Tekk and me in 1995,” explains group lead rapper Nikkfurie. “We developed an early passion for all kinds of ghetto music like funk, soul and hip-hop, and the American flow particularly impressed us,” continues the 32-year-old rapper with a frank smile. Nikkfurie, a gold chain dangling from his neck, recalls the real starting point of La Caution, right after he and his brother won a radio freestyle contest by rapping over the telephone.
“We were then invited to perform on air for this radio station and afterwards made repeated stage appearances in all kinds of music halls,” he says, suddenly laughing while remembering a particularly “traumatising” concert that took place “in a hall that had a sandwich bar inside!” Their careers began in earnest when the group participated in a series of compilation albums that led to the creation of their own label titled “Kerozen Music.”
The release of the group’s first single “Les Rues Electriques” (electric streets) in 1999, a powerful blend of hip-hop, funk, electro and rock, was immediately categorized as “alternative” by the critics, a label “that pissed us off at the time,” confesses Nikkfurie. “The people who classified us as ‘in the margin’ at the time had a simplistic idea of what rap music was,” he explains, adding that La Caution’s vision of rap was one of creativity and openness. “But we gradually realized that all the good French music also fell under the “alternative” appellation so then we proudly accepted it,” Nikkfurie says, bitterly regretting having brought his leather jacket, obviously too warm for the Egyptian December sun.
In the French hip-hop scene, La Caution stand out for attracting vibe freaks from various musical horizons, be it metal, electro or rock lovers. “Our public has a special musical acuity and responds well to experimental and original mixes in general,” he stresses with a hint of pride. Encouraged by the success of the single “Les Rues Electriques” La Caution, shouldered by the talented Dj Fab, released their first album “Asphalte Hurlante” (Screaming Asphalt) in 2001.
Nikkfurie, his brother Hi-Tekk and Dj Fab are well-known for breaking away from the mainstream hip-hop scene by combining energetic electronic sonorities with original and percussive lyrics. “We are phrasing and rhythmic freaks,” admits Nikkfurie, who considers the play with language as important as the message delivered.
Questioned on the “National Identity” debate that has been ongoing in France for the past few weeks and led to a series of racist slips by politicians, the rapper visibly flares up. “The only objective of this debate is to separate the ‘genuine’ French from other French citizens. This “other French” category includes people held at various levels of acceptance, Arabs being the last wheel of the carriage,” the rapper states, clearly furious. “French TV has done such a wonderful job in demonizing Arabs for the past 50 years, that a farmer in a remote area who has a hard time getting subventions will blame it on the burqa or the minarets!” he continues, increasingly angry.
“We will probably drop a few allusions to this lousy debate in our next album,” Nikkfurie says, using his arms to end the discussion with a pronounced gesture of vexation.
La Caution’s full-scope take on society was expressed during the show. “My cap is full of grey matter and my sneakers filled with grey hassle,” is an excerpt from the track “Casquettes grises” (Grey caps) that starts with blaring metal and a long, terrified scream. They played it at the end the concert, Nikkfurie declaring onstage that he has no idea how the Egyptian public is going to respond to this “more aggressive track.” It worked pretty well, as the handful of people present got on their feet and started moving frantically to the music.
The concert did not last more than an hour, but demonstrated La Caution’s crazy style and eagerness to tap into different musical influences in order to come up with their own personality. A particularly excellent song was backed by a fly beat somehow reminiscent of a Blondie hit, while another one made use of an electronic machine-gun fire flow that left the public panting. The audience, still in the aftershock of such a daring musical blend, left the hall satisfied and seemingly seduced.