Going Around The Musical World

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Gabriel Yacoub is recognized as one of France’s foremost folk / pop artists, and is considered to be one of the pioneers of what today we call World Music.  He is often mentioned in the same breath as Peter Gabriel, David Byrne and Bruce Cockburn. With a career spanning 30 years and over 30 released recordings, he has performed in over 700 cities around the world.  This coming Wednesday, he plays at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.

Gabriel Yacoub was born in Paris to a Lebanese father and a French mother from the Loire Valley region.  He served his musical apprenticeship in Celtic harpist Alan Stivell’s band while just a teenager. Stivell’s combination of traditional music with rock inspired Yacoub to form a band called Malicorne.  Malicorne played traditional and medieval ballads on a mixture of contemporary rock instruments and crumhorns, bagpipes and hurdy-gurdies.  The band played for ten years, releasing 12 albums, three of which won gold records.  Malicorne also won the grand prix de l’academie du disque francais, a very highly coveted award in the French music industry. 

Even after achieving such success, Yacoub sought to develop his musical personality still further.  With the popularity of Malicorne at its height, he launched a solo career, releasing his first solo album, “Trad. Arr.”, in 1978.    Comprising 10 traditional songs and instrumentals, the album showed his distinctly personal style of musical interpretation.  This style was to become even more evident in his 1986 follow-up “Elementary Level of Faith (e.l.f.),” which marked his debut as a songwriter.  Distinctly experimental in style, the album was widely praised for its innovation and drew comparisons to renowned experimental artists such as Laurie Anderson.

In his subsequent albums, Yacoub has explored solo acoustic work as well as band arrangements, and has written songs in both French and English.  His most recent release, 2002’s “The Simple Things We Said,” is a collection of old and new songs played with simple acoustic arrangements.  Vanity Fair magazine described it thus: “Yacoub’s voice is liquid and reedy, his guitar work brilliant: rich contrapuntal lines and a classical technique which, sounded on steel strings, gives his instrument the fullness of a harpsichord.”

In live performances, Gabriel Yacoub currently plays as part of a trio.  He is joined by Vincent Letreau on violin and vocals, and Yannick Hardouin on acoustic bass, piano and vocals.  His shows are noted for their warmth and humor as well as beautiful musical arrangements.  Wednesday’s show, presented by the Celtic Society of the Monterey Bay, promises to be an enchanting musical experience for anyone who attends.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, April 10, 2003

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