As a fan of Caribbean music, how often have you felt like a hostage in a club or friend’s party, soldiering through hours of bubblegum top 40 and electronic noise, when all you need to really lift your soul are the heavy island sounds of some burning reggae? It was on a recent trip to obscure Corsica that I found myself yearning for some thundering bass lines and rub-a-dub bubblin’. I was in the middle of the Mediterranean, in a foreign land with no French speaking abilities of my own and a growing weariness of remixed American pop tunes. The hope seemed hopeless to find any reggae about the massive island until a group of guys known as Mr. Gang came to my rescue.
In the bustling town of Calvi, I caught sight of their poster and that night I would learn more about these ten friends from Paris who have been called one of France’s best live bands. Blending international styles with island flavor, Mr. Gang, rock out their latest album, “Paris-Lisbonne-Pointe-a-Pitre,” with the mixing of Derek Desmondo Fevrier, the sound engineer for the Twinkle Brothers. With songs in Portuguese, French, English and Creole, Mr. Gang pushes the up-tempo feel of ska with two complimentary vocalists and a serious rhythm section, occasionally supplemented with the soulful, yearning guitar similar to that found on the Wailers’ “Concrete Jungle.” When not skanking the sweat out of the world with their quick-paced, high-energy tunes, Mr. Gang can also spin intimate tales on cultural and personal issues as well as gruff-voiced ragamuffin rave-ups. Horns and percussion fill out what is a reliable, fun sound reminiscent of old school ska with Caribbean vibes and European worldliness.
Lead by a vocal duo that resembles a collaboration of Buju Banton and Sublime’s late Brad Nowell in both appearance and sound, Mr. Gang is signed with Epic France and has performed over 400 live shows in five years, opening up for such big names in reggae as Lee Scratch Perry, Burning Spear, Steel Pulse, Mystic Revelation Of Rastafari, Big Youth, Pablo Moses, and Bim Sherman (R.I.P.). The singers have been invited a few times by Albert Griffith to sing on stage with the Gladiators, and have performed a duet on stage with U-Roy. You can often find them at Europe’s annual live music festivals during their aggressive touring schedules.
Mr. Gang is sure to please European reggae fans, but those here at home will be just as charged by their music and rhythmic phrasing. Their albums, “Liberte Illegale” and the newer “Paris-Lisbonne-Pointe-a-Pitre,” are available now while the band is taking time to plan their next effort. Be on the lookout for Mr. Gang as they blaze a path ever westward and beyond–chances are you will be hearing from them again, and who knows, someday they might just save you, the lost reggae fanatic abroad, from “roots rock withdrawal.”