Any band that dons a violin, acoustic bass and an accordion, dresses in colour coded fashion and self proclaims themselves to be a “hip swinging, toe tapping gypsy band” has to be something worth writing home about. At least that’s what I thought the first time I saw MANOUCHE standing on the stage in front of me.

So my expectations were a little high. What do you expect when your pre-gig research brings you to a band page claiming that the virtuosos you are on your way to see are the fore-runners of this generations “swing revolution?” Anyone even remotely interested in old-school swing would get their jollies on after reading that… not to mention, rush off to the Melting Pot in Muizenberg with great anticipation.

After the much pain-staking eagerness on my part for the gig to begin, I finally heard the sweet sounds of a tuning guitar and a drummer warming up his sticks by clanking a few hard ones. On the entrance of the first song I thought they’d hit the jack pot. It was the perfect mix of eclectic sounds. There were high energy rhythms, violin solos and what I liked to call the “Moulin Rouge” accordion effect. This all coupled up with the fact that I momentarily thought I was surrounded by a French peasant band, gazing at the Eiffel Tower with a croissant in one hand and a cheese baguette in the other. But by the closing stages of that same song I was far from sad to hear the end of it. What started off as a great sound stayed just that. There was no diversity, evolvement or direction. Even the greatest sounds can become tedious when they don’t go anywhere, which was exactly the case with MANOUCHE.

By the third song I started to wish I was part of an elliptical edit in those cartoons you see where hours are condensed into seconds. I became fascinated by the colourful walls and the intricate technique of the accordion as they slowly started to slide their way into the category of “if you know one song, you know em all” bands.

Though a fantastic concept, MANOUCHE hasn’t managed to grasp the notion of variety. An hour long set seemed to mesh into one continuous and tiresome sound. Individually, each of the six members of the band are all fantastic musicians. It is clear that they all have great technical skill and have honed their craft. However, in the end their original compositions failed to let them shine and is what lead the audience to tire of dancing and resort to the bar.

The best of their set were all cleverly chosen covers, featuring a bodacious jazzy singer who I was disappointed to see sitting on the sidelines for the majority of their time on stage. Ironically, none of their covers seemed so gypsy jazz in style, but they did work for the group…  perhaps they should have stuck to what works.

Attempting to embody too many genres into their own style of music is what MANOUCHE label as their “unique” sound. But in truth there is a reason why no one has ever attempted to cross French Gypsy jazz with Tango and folk. It just doesn’t work. It results in a cluttered, messy and confused sound that fails to leave any long lasting impression.

Unnecessary clutter of sound in replacement for variety really won’t get you anywhere. Some of the most famous bands have relied on simplicity as their go-to guide. While that can get old in itself, forcing unusual sounds together for the sake of being original won’t make people like you any more or hate you any less, and it certainly won’t make you revolutionary.

By Sarah Farrell

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