Project 99 is the result of the collaboration between poet and rapper, Marc Nammour, and music composer, Lorenzo Bianchi. Created as part of the research and creation process of transcultural music at the Royaumont Foundation, the performance takes place in a great Cartesian momentum, where the French administration puts all French residents and nationals born abroad under a ‘99’ number for identification purposes.
With D-CAF just around the corner, Nammour and Bianchi shed light on the fascinating mashup…
How did Project 99 come to be?
Nammour: 99 was the first project that I wanted to create after coming to France. It was borne out of my relationship with Lorenzo after we had worked together in an earlier project. We wanted to do something very different between acoustic and electronic music and, in a way, just define our identity. The name “99” is derived from the fact that the French government places that number at the end of your identification card when you’re not born in France. So for me, this was just a great opportunity to talk about my identity and to just say to everybody that my identity isn’t just one, but multiple. It is not defined by country or borders. It’s much more than that.
What would you say is the best definer for identity then? Is it music for you?
Nammour: My identity can only be defined from a social perspective. If I have one identity that could be understood by everyone, it would be that. I have lots in common with people from Egypt. I could have so many different identities and points of similarities with different people really.
How fluid do you consider music genres?
Bianchi: That was a main thing that we needed to confront from the get-go. When Marc asked me to compose music with him, it was very difficult for me at first as I’m an electronic musician for the most part; and in this project, we’re mostly playing ethnic music from various local traditions. It was a very weird question that we had to face. Our answer was that we didn’t just want to patch some instruments together. Our idea was to make electronic music the glue for everything. We did research and experimented based on that. Our acoustic instruments are plugged to computers, thereby producing music that is very experimental in nature. I don’t think it’s about the type of music as much as it’s about the attitude towards it.
Do you always try to incorporate an international flavor into your music?
Bianchi: We always try. The thing is we didn’t really know each other all that well in the beginning. Every one of us is a great instrumentalist, and then you have me as composer. It was difficult at first to write a score for everyone without knowing their styles really well. We did a lot of improvisations at the beginning to get to know ourselves a bit better. I think that throughout time, everyone managed to find their way and incorporate their background into the music naturally.
How do you feel like your music has progressed since you first came together?
Bianchi: Musically, there’s a unique relationship between acoustic and electronic. So for example, if you have a flute solo, it’s not really a solo, it’s more like a duet between me and the flutist. In the beginning, it was really hard to find that balance, to really find a way to play together because it’s new and very unique. You have to listen very carefully at what comes out of all of your band mates in that sense. Not everyone is used to that. The formation of the songs hasn’t really changed all that much, but the ease of improvisation has increased exponentially over the past year.
Nammour: That is really getting better and better and better.
Do you always rely on improvisations in your performances?
Nammour: That’s really the idea because we have lots of free parts that we feel links well with us liking to exude our multiple identities. Thus, we have to be free and really play like the moment dictates. It’s like a very exciting and mysterious dangerous. We’re very excited to see how this type of project is translated and pieced together for this performance. It’s a very exciting project and this will be the very first time that we play in a country that mainly doesn’t understand French.
Bianchi: We’re thankfully blessed to have skilled improvisators. It is really about the skill that they have. Egypt isn’t very far for the concepts and music that we play.
What could D-CAF expect from you?
Nammour: That we’re going to do our best just to talk to strangers! That’s the purpose: even if we don’t talk the same language, we have loads of common points.