Chant Du Monde
There are Magma fans who will go hungry to own this handsome boxed set that includes all nine studio albums, from Kobia in 1970 to KA in 2004, as well as a double disc set of unreleased material and out-takes. There are, of course, only a few Magma freaks in the world, but the fanaticism with which they love this intense celestial music more than makes up for their numeric scarcity.
Assembled from the cream of the late 60s French jazz scene by drummer Christian Vander, Magma were to develop from a reasonably conventional fusion outfit, often compared with Blood, Sweat And Tears singing in Serbo-Croat, to a stunning creative peak in the early 70s with their Wagnerian epics Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh and Köhntarkösz.
While their contemporaries would make concept albums, Magma’s concept embraced almost every aspect of their music right down to the words: French and English were inadequate tongues in which to express the cosmic vision. Vander invented his own umlaut-ridden language, Kobaian, a Germanic-sounding gutteral Esperanto of the future. The music drew on the later spiritually-inspired work of John Coltrane as well as the frenetic dance music of Igor Stravinsky. The story was of humanity’s future: during an ecological disaster, a small group escapes Earth to settle on the planet Kobia. They find a better way of life and after re-estebalishing contact, send missionaries to Earth. But the deluded earth people don’t want to know and send them packing. Years later the prophet Nebehr Güdahtt tells humanity that they must cleanse themselves from the universe, joining in a cosmic song. At the end, the Earth is destroyed by Kobia’s ultimate weapon, the Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh. Not king Arthur on ice, then.
In retrospect, what is quite amazing, is that Magma’s finest hour was released on Herb Alpert’s A&M label: they were stablemates of the Carpenters and the Captain and Tennille.
Later albums, notably Üdü Wüdü, veered away from the narrative, though retained the language and the sinister mandala symbol. Although it returned to a slightly more conventional jazz base, there are inspired track’s like bassist Jannick Top’s 18 minute De Futura, a brutal assault on the senses.
As Magma members left and formed their own bands, some aspects of the music or the concept went with them. There is a thriving underground of Zeuhl bands (Kobioan for celestial music) all over the world, some like with direct links to Magma, others like Japan’s Ruins and Koenjihyakkei inspired by them.
As an outsider to the strange and terrible world of Magma, you may not, in these credit-crunch times, be prepared to fork out a ton for this set. But if you have any interest in music that is genuinely and indisputably progressive, by whatever definition you have of the term, then you owe it to yourself to hear at least one of these albums, probably Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh.
But for those of us with the obsession, this is a must-have item, not least for the booklets which will raise as many questions as you have ever wanted answered,
And look: a review of Magma where we never once mention Steve Davies.