Friday, May 13, 2011

Vigon, '60s 'soul man' of France: a Moroccan, real name Abdelghafour Mouhsine

I just learned about Vigon thanks to Jeff, who posted an AFP article on Facebook. I used Google Translate, and then modified the translation. (My French is very far from perfect, so if yours is better, please correct any mistakes. The original is here.)

Vigon, Moroccan "soul man," emerges from obscurity 40 years later

AFP, Oct. 9, 2008

PARIS (AFP) - He was a vegetable vendor in Morocco before discovering soul at U.S. bases and then becoming a minor star in Paris in the '60s: thanks to a reissue, Vigon, the singer with an amazing voice, is experiencing a second youth [revival], 40 years later.

"What is happening now is what should have happened 40 years ago," marvels the affable sexagenarian, delighted that a new audience discovering his music.

The Barclay (Universal) label reissued in early September an album of his songs, "The End of Vigon," in its vinyl series "Back to Black" and its CD vintage series "Vinyl Replica."

Critics were quickly excited about his covers of great soul / rhythm 'n'blues songs of Bob & Earl, Ray Charles and Bo Diddley, discovering, amazed, that in the "sixties" France had a singer to rival African-American masters of the genre.

Critics highly praised the velvety voice of Vigon and the song arrangements, the strings and the hot sweet brass worthy of Motown or Stax, yet "made in France."

"Even when it came out 40 years ago, there was not this much enthusiasm!" smiled the Moroccan, in dark glasses, elegant clothes, and the mock [?] air of elegant black-American singer Sam Cooke.

Vigon took that nickname from his childhood, when he mispronounced the word "wagon" in school.

He was born Abdelghafour Mouhsine in Rabat in 1945. At first working as a greengrocer with his father, he fell madly in love with R & B at the U.S. military bases in Kenitra and Sidi Slimane and he learned the standards phonetically, since he does not speak English.

"I was going to the grunts' [troufions] dances every Saturday, and there, they bought the records that came from America on the week of their release," he recalls. "Twist and Shout" by the Isley Brothers, it was sung in Morocco before the Beatles covered it!"

In 1964, he was on vacation in Paris and went to the Golf Drouot, the Mecca of rock music. He went on stage, bluffing the public and then joined the Lemons, along with another young man named Michel Jonasz on keyboards.

The group scoured the [music] scenes, Golf Drouot or Bus Palladium, made [assied] its reputation and opened the first [concerts] [in France] of Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, the Who and the Rolling Stones.

"In late September, I went to see Stevie Wonder at Bercy: when I think of that time we spent in night clubs and how crazy it was!" exclaims Vigon, who will sing Saturday and Sunday a Cidisc (Convention of record collectors) in Paris and then on Oct. 15 at the Petit Journal Montparnasse.

One of his singles, "It's all over", was released in 1968 on the American label Atlantic. [check out "It's all over" here, on youtube] The previous year he released his only song in French, "Un petit ange noir"
[on youtube here].

He returned to Morocco in the mid 70's for two weeks. "I stayed 23 years!" he enjoys explaining that he was a singer in a hotel in Agadir.

In 2000, back in France, where 60's retro fashion was once again popular. Vigon the showman performed regularly at private parties, and his fans included other artists from Morocco, the comedians Gad Elmaleh and Jamel Debbouze, at whose wedding he sang.

"I'm sometimes asked if America did not tempt me. But I never imagined, coming from Morocco, so it's not bad!" he assures. "Kid, I slept on a sheepskin. Now, in hotels, they say: 'Do you like the room?' It makes me laugh!"

The entry on Vigon on the French wikipedia tells us that Vigon's recordings were a critical, but not a commercial, success. And that he and his group, opened for Otis Redding, Bo Diddley and Stevie Wonder, at their first performances in Paris, at the Olympia, in September 1966. The video of "It's all over" (link above) features a number of photos of Vigon with the acts he opened for, including this one, with Mick Jagger.

Please check out this scopatone of Vigon performing "Harlem Shuffle," originally recorded by Bob and Earl in 1963. It's a pretty divine cover, and the dancers are pure sixties go-go.

And here are the jackets for some of Vigon's releases. The EP with "Harlem Shuffle" and "Un Petit Ange Noir."

This single has a cover of The Righteous Brothers' "Unchained Melody." The hair is to die for.

The cover of Vigon's only single released in the US, on Atlantic. Quite remarkable, given that Aretha Franklin also recorded on Atlantic at the time. Not to mention Solomon Burke, Clarence Carter, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Percy Sledge, Joe Tex...

Here's a photo of Vigon with his soul review, at the Olympia. Looking very James Brown.

Here's Vigon (looking like Jimi Hendrix) with French pop star Claude François, known for, among other things, penning "Comme d'habitude," the original version of "My Way." What I wonder is, what language did these two speak when they met. Claude François, like Dalida, was born in Egypt, in Ismailiya. His mother was Italian, his father, who worked as a shipping traffic controller on the Suez Canal, was French. In 1951 the family moved to Port Tawfik. The family moved to Monaco when Egypt nationalized the canal in 1956. If I remember correctly from David McMurray's article "La France Arabe" (in A. Hargreaves and M. McKinney, eds., Post-Colonial Cultures in France), Claude used to speak Arabic when he got together with Dalida's brother Orlando, who also served as her manager. But perhaps the gap between Vigo's Moroccan dialect and Claude's Egyptian was too great.

This is what Vigon looks like today.

Many of the photos are from this informative blogpost.

While writing this up, I came across another article, from Jukebox, which I will summarize soon. In the meantime, it's here.


Brahim Benhim said...

I used to have a collection of some Vigon's recordings, including live ones in Agadir, Morocco, but on cassette-tape.

Among the songs was his version of "l'll Take Care of You".

Would you have a copy of this song?


Brahim Benhim.

Ted Swedenburg said...

No, Brahim, I wish I did!