Artists You Should Know: Thierry "Titi" Robin

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Photo: titirobin.com
Photo: titirobin.com

Thierry “Titi” Robin is a French musician and composer. Mostly, however, he is an intrepid musical traveler. He plays guitar, Arabic oud, Turkish buzuq and other instruments of both European and Moorish origin. He has collaborated with Rajasthani gypsy, Indian, flamenco, and Pakistani musicians. He is a musical polymath equally at home in a variety of musical environments and cultures.

I discovered his work years ago on a 1993 album called Gitans (flamenco gypsies). Then in 1996, he released a gorgeous and transfixing CD called Le Regard Nu (The Naked Eye). The music was recorded live with artists painting live models, hence the title. I included one of the songs on the fifth and last of my Trance Planet compilations. One of the tracks on Le Regard Nu features a Persian woman saying she is hungry and thirsty. He plays the oud, buzuq, and more on this intimate and personal recording.

I like his music so much that, during my tenure as Program Director of World Music for the Hollywood Bowl, we brought him to the celebrated venue during the summer of 2000. His group included a cadre of flamenco musicians and the music was wonderful, even though many (if not most) in the audience had probably never heard of him. Robin is simply an amazingly versatile musician and sonic traveler, and he deserves to be better known here.

Robin fuses flamenco with Rajasthani folk music and other Indian forms. It’s a natural pairing since the gitano (flamenco) culture can be traced to the music of Rajasthan, the desert province of northwest India. The Rajasthani musicians left India and went to ancient Persia a thousand years ago to work as court musicians; when they lost their jobs and livelihood, they headed for Andalusian Spain, eventually giving birth to what became flamenco.

FIP radio. It was called Jaadu Magic and had never been released in the U.S. Fortunately, I found and snapped-up a copy at discogs.com (and it is available as a full CD or individual downloads on Amazon as well). This 2012 recording showcased Robin in yet another context — this time with Pakistani Sufi singer Faíz Alí Faíz, who sings in the qawwali tradition made famous by the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Robin has worked with both Indian folkloric (Rajasthani) and classical (Hindustani) musicians, and I know that he is at home with fiery flamenco. But this collaboration with a qawwali singer was a new musical outing, one that surprised me at first. After listening to it, however, I began to understand that passionate flamenco and qawwali have much in common — the vocal urgency, the intensity, the spiritual longing and displacement are found in both musics. Just as flamenco musicians and the roma gypsies in other parts of Europe have been ostracized and repressed by mainstream European cultures, the qawwali have been similarly persecuted for belonging to what hardline Islamists consider a heretical sect, the sufis. Witness the recent murder of one of the Sabri Brothers.

Let’s check out one of my favorite songs from Jaadu Magic:

And here is the song from Le Regard Nu that I included on Trance Planet Vol. 5:

Finally, a clip of Robin performing with a Moroccan guimbri (box guitar used in Moroccan gnawa trance ceremonies) in Arles, France:

I also want to remind you flamenco fans out there that flamenco guitar giant Tomatito is currently on a tour of the U.S. and performs in Los Angeles this Friday, October 21. It will be his first performance ever in L.A., and the show will feature a small group with a dancer, which is always exciting both musically and visually as well.

Click here for info and tickets on the Los Angeles show. And here for information on Tomatito’s world tour.

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