The band Suarez is an unlikely combination of members and global music influences. The lead singer was born to an Italian mother and a Spanish father and raised in Belgium, while three of the other musicians are former members of a renowned World Music band from Madagascar.
The group takes its name from the 16th century Portuguese explorer, Diego Suarez. What they play is a distinctive melange of American and British-inspired Pop and Rock, traditional Malagasy (Madagascar) music, Cape Verdean folk, and Soul -- all sung in French. It's a worldly blend that reminds me very much of the way Vampire Weekend incorporated Afro Pop and Nigerian pedal steel guitars into its first two records.
The members of Suarez are vocalist and guitarist Marc Pinilla, brothers Max and Pata Randriamanjava (bass and drums, respectively), their nephew Donnat David (drums, added in 2011), and their cousin Dada Ravalison (guitar). After their Folk band N'Java won a Radio France International award in 1992, Max, Pata, and Dada moved to Belgium to record.
The band was formed when Marc Pinilla met Dada at a music studio in the Belgian town where he grew up and attended college. He was an amateur musician who actually sang in English in those days, until Dada convinced him that there was a thriving market for modern, French-language Pop.
The magic of Suarez lies the juxtaposition of Pinilla's hushed, even-keeled vocals over a backdrop of vibrant, ethnic music. Their frequent use of the so-called "train beat" infuses their songs a sense of travel and adventure.
Their 2008 debut album, On Attend features peppy acoustic Folk Pop and a unique, intimate interpretation of the French classic, "La Vie En Rose." They scored a radio hit with the title track, "On Attend," among other singles. The duet "Juste pour voir" with Belgian singer/actress Stéphanie Crayencour appeared on the special edition version of the album.
Download: "On Attend," "Aie, Aie, Aie," "Juste pour Voir," "Je Mens," and "Je T'ai Toi"
In 2010, the band released its decidedly more upbeat sophomore album L'indécideur. It went gold and produced the singles "Qu'est-ce que j'aime ça," "On s'en Fout" "La Fin Du Monde" and "Le Temps De Voir," along with the title track. They also continued their tradition of including an unusual remake among the tracks. This time it was the 70's hit "Porque Te Vas" by Jeanette.
Download: "Ta Difference," "Comme T'es Belle," "L'indécideur," "Qu'est-ce que j'aime ça"
Though title track was a certified hit, I couldn't figure out why at first listen. (Sometimes the French have odd taste in music. I present "Bebe Lilly" as Exhibit A.) But once the chorus came around with its shout-outs to cities around the world, I got the appeal. Plus, the end has a tribal feel that's really cool.
And no, your ears are not deceiving you. If you listen closely, Pinilla does indeed namecheck "Charlie Chaplin, De Niro, James Dean et Rambo":
Here's the single I liked best, "Qu'est-ce que j'aime ça."
Now a quintet, Suarez returned in 2014 with their third album En Équilibre in 2014. It still has a World Music feel to it in places, but much we also get a piano ballad, some Pop, and other types of songs from the guys.
The band's remake tradition continues on this album with "Besame Mucho," which they give a bit of a Surf Rock makeover. "Le Temps de Voir" features an enchanting appearance by Leonie, a contestant from Belgium's version of "The Voice." (Marc Pinilla is a celebrity coach on Season 2 of the show.) "Si Tu Veux" is kind of Jack Johnson-ish, while "Envoyez Valser" is kind of Coldplay-esque. "Faux Pas" is acoustic, intimate and perfect.
Download: "Souffle de délire," "Au bord du gouffre, "Si Tu Veux," and "Faux Pas"
Check out the single "Au bord du gouffre:"
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