By Keith Sharp
Thursday April 20th at Toronto’s Rivoli Theatre. As part of the annual Canadian Music Week Festivities, a delegation from France (along with a similar delegation from Italy) were showcasing a lineup of domestic artists at the venue. Public Relations person extraordinaire, Joanne Smale had convinced yours truly to write about the delegation and to check out the talent that night at the Rivoli.
Arriving at the venue with an ulterior motive to try to make some French touring connections for a Montreal-based band I represent, The Box, this writer was impervious to that night’s talent lineup. And then it happened, first artist of the night, Tètè.
Standing alone in the spotlight, just him and his guitar. I could barely understand a word he was singing, but it didn’t matter. His charismatic presence alone was hypnotizing. He could speak fluent English, reflected a charming personality and his songs were both anthemic and melodic, no matter whether you understood his lyrics or not. My first reaction was; he would be a brilliant opening act for The Box.
Of course his set received a rapturous response, but since a large percentage of the audience were from the French delegation, it was kind of like singing in front of a home crowd. But the following night, he repeated his set for an entirely different crowd, about 40 initially disinterested patrons at Toronto’s downtown Paddock Tavern. And when, Tètè received a standing ovation after his first song, from an audience who were clearly not French, it was clear Niang Mahmoud Tètè is a very special artist.
So with a handshake agreement in place to represent Tètè for Canada (and possibly North America) Music Express is honoured to showcase Tètè; Wednesday July 12th at Toronto’s Adelaide Hall, tickets $20 available at the venue or online via ticketfly.
Tètè, who is squeezing the July 12th Toronto gig in between performing July 10th at the prestigious Festival D’Ete du Quebec in Quebec City and the Nuit Afrique festival in Montreal July 13th, acknowledged that his recent CMW appearance had opened new doors for him.
“I hadn’t played Canada in more than 10 years, which was something I was looking forward to since at one point in my career I even considered relocating to Montreal before dwelling in Paris,” Tètè explained. “Everybody warned me the CMW was a big event with hundreds of bands but I went there to do my best and the outcome exceeded everything I could have wished for. I got to meet some great people and it has opened the doors to more concerts in Canada…and Germany!
Born in Dakar Senegal July 25th 1975 to a Senegalese father and a Martinique native mother, Tètè moved to St Dizier in Northern France at the age of two when his parents divorced. Totally self-taught as a guitarist, he admits he was a later starter (around 16 years old). “For the first 20 years, I had no idea what I was playing which can actually be great because it makes you less self-conscious. Then for the past five years, I’ve started watching you tube guitar tutorials to try and learn more riffs and phasing.
Encouraged to join a band in high school, a young Tètè was initially influenced by Keziah Jones as a song writer, “Then it was Ben Harper who turned me on to acoustic guitar, Jimi Hendrix made me like riffs that much and sort of paved the way to blues,” he explained. “The Beatles’ records my mum played us as kids long converted me to melodies but it’s the jazz legends she played for herself (Coltrane, Miles Davis, Archie Shepp and Tom Waits} made me like the warmth I try to convey in my music.”
Busking in the streets and bars of Paris, sharpened Tètè’s performance chops and one year, later, he had his first recording contract with Sony/Epic. L’Air de rien, released in 2001. He has since released five more studio albums, two live albums and one compilation release, has toured major theatres and festivals throughout Europe, Asia and even his native Africa, building a boisterous following of fans who call themselves “Tètèphiles”
“A la faveur de l’automne” (released 2014) was a major breaking point in my career”, noted Tètè. “Getting that much airplay put me on the map in France before opening up the doors to Japan, I sort of owe this song a great deal each time I get to do my thing.”
Described as “the French Bob Dylan” or more likely, “the French Jeff Buckley”, Tètè is comfortable singing delta folk, delta blues or Chanson as it’s known in France. Although he speaks fluent English, he prefers to write and sing in French. “I think my following in France really wants to get the stories behind the lyrics. It feels like I’d break that special bond by delivering stories they cannot get because of a language barrier,” he noted. “But having said this, I am working on English material to record in the future.”
Although Tètè’s exposure to Canada has been limited, he has played twice around Francofolies in Montrea and has executed tours down the East and West Coast of the USA, performing at Library Of Congress in Washington as well as a prime concert in New Orleans.
Tètè is hoping that his first major showcase in Toronto, Wednesday July 12th at the Adelaide Hall will set the stage for many more Canadian appearances.
For more information on Tètè’s Adelaide Hall showcase CLICK HERE .