FRANCE: Bastringue - Opa Tsupa
Charmingly eclectic, these French gypsy swing musicians have created an album with an irresistibly fun atmosphere
Combining light guitar music with gypsy violins and rhythms, Opa Tsupa were one of the pioneers of the so-called ‘gypsy swing revival’, achieving some success in that genre. Bastringue, their third album shows the band attempting to combine more genres and styles, specifically 1930s’ swing music. Opa Tsupa take their name from an old Romani tune, and as such, their gypsy music roots always remain close to the surface, but here you can hear them having fun playing around with as many genres as they can get their hands on. As such, this is not the frenetic Balkan brass of a band like Fanfare Ciocarlia, rather this is more in the vein of legendary Belgian-French Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt, but with a modern twist. There is excellent guitar playing on display here and it’s an incredibly fun album as a whole, but Opa Tsupa impress the most when they combine the complicated and technically brilliant guitar jazz of pioneers like Reinhardt with other genres, like swing, but also rock music, waltzes, Hawaiian hula, and much more. What comes across so well in this album is their passion and love for music, and their excitement at trying new things and experimenting as much as they can.
“...even if you don’t focus on the music and notice how clever it is, it’s still good music.”
The vibrant fun of this album is not to be underestimated. You can put this on in the background and it is lovely background music, but it also stands up to a closer listen. Le Menage En Grand is possibly the best expression of their style. It mixes gypsy jazz guitar, swing music, bluegrass guitar, and even elements of Hawaiian hula all in one glorious mix of styles that probably should not work but somehow does. At their best, they’re very impressive. What’s even better is that even if you don’t focus on the music and notice how clever it is, it’s still good music. Sometimes music that blends genres together calls attention to itself, but here it just gets on with the job of being entertaining first and foremost. Ma Betty Boop A Moi is their most overtly swing song, with the title referencing the Betty Boop cartoon character that was popular in the 1930s, and there is also a very nice instrumental cover of Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks, which is good fun. They even try their hand at a Mexican-Hawaiian gypsy jazz fusion piece in Mexico Hula, which while maybe stretching the conceit a bit far, is still entertaining and comic, featuring their typical energetic style. There are also songs such as Mamma Mia (Swing Version) and the title track Bastringue that are more straightforwardly in the gypsy jazz style, and as it is their home turf so to speak, it’s incredibly impressive and enjoyable.
This album seems to me to be a white wine album. You can just imagine yourself sitting in the sun on a summer’s day, listening to these guys live and for it to be a fantastic experience. Opa Tsupa honour their musical roots in the gypsy jazz tradition, while also seeing just how inventive they can be by mixing and matching it with whatever they felt would work. And by and large it does work. While songs like Mexico Hula are slightly over-the-top in their construction, I can forgive them these excesses because they are clearly having an absolute ball creating these sorts of fusion songs, and as such, that energy does translate onto the record itself. It is very endearing to hear music that is played with complete joy, and that’s the fun of the album, and also why I imagine they were a spectacular live act until their split in 2019. Moreover, as an entry point into the world of gypsy jazz, you could do worse than to start here, as their vast range of influences can ease you in to a very rewarding world of music. It just helps that the album itself is of top quality in and of itself.