Thierry Robin, known as “Titi”, the self-taught musician born at the end of the fifties in western France, has created a musical world for himself instinctively assimilating elements in response to his need to express himself. The two worlds in which he has navigated daily and that have both directly and deeply influenced him are the gipsy and oriental cultures.
Before the World Music trend was born, these communities were open and encouraging to him while French mainstream music struggled with his approach. Arab and gipsy community celebrations provided him with the opportunity to test his original musical sound against these rich traditions from which he took his inspiration while never imitating them, obstinately looking for the best way in which to express himself as a contemporary artist. The musicians accompanying him were almost all from these minority groups. The two artists of major importance to him were the flamenco cantaor Camaron de la Isla and the Iraqi master oud player Munir Bachir. At the beginning of the eighties he began to compose in an extremely personal style that has stayed with him since. In 1984 he produced himself (playing the guitar, the oud and the bouzouki) in a duet with Hameed Khan, the Indian tablas player from Jaipur, performing both on stage and in local festivities, clubs and oriental restaurants. His repertory (instrumental) grew little by little, just as the foundations of his improvisational style. An album : “Duo Luth et Tablâ”, that is no longer produced and has become a collectorʼs piece, bears witness to this original universe.
In 1987, a strange group entered the musical scene in Angers:
“Johnny Michto”, a mixture of Moroccan Berber rhythms, electric bouzouki, rock bass guitar, clarinets and bagpipes; an attempt to offer the public something other than the rock groups that proliferated, by bringing together the folk cultures of the groupʼs members. Once again, it would be the North African community that gave the band the warmest welcome, the “born and bred” French finding it hard to take on board this novel style.
While working on the instrumental duo with Hameed Khan, mixing melodic improvisations and light-hearted rhythmical duels, Thierry Robin met the Breton singer Erik Marchand, a representative of what he considered to be the richest folk and traditional culture to be found near his region of birth. Together they would develop a repertory of compositions using quarter tone modes and the marriage of the Taqsîm style of oriental modal improvisation and the Gwerz, the very ancient monophonic lament that the singer is one of the few to preserve alongside Yann Fanch Kemener. Ocora Radio-France sent them into the recording studio: “An Henchou Treuz” (1990) was awarded the Charles Cros Academy Grand Prize.
It was the beginning of the meeting of two duos that would turn into the “Erik Marchand Trio”, for which Thierry Robin composes and arranges the best part of its repertory. This highly original group composed of a Breton singer, Arab lute player and a specialist of the Indian tablas (as a matter of interest, a photo of the group illustrates the first article on “world music” in the Encyclopaedia Universalis), performed a great deal, from Womad festivals to stages presenting contemporary music, from the Paris Théâtre de la Ville to the Quartz in Brest, and the jazz scene
that greatly appreciates their innovative approach to improvisation. They also toured abroad, from Quebec to Houston, from Marrakech to Jerusalem. In 1991 the first “Erik Marchand Trio” work was released : “An Tri Breur” on the Silex record label.
With this group, Titi Robin had become known above all as an oud player. “Gitans”, released in January 1993, would better define the musicianʼs world, introducing the bouzouki and guitar player. It is a homage by the artist to the gipsy community that taught him so much. A mosaic of encounters between artists dear to Titi Robin, representing the various branches of this great family, from Northern India to Andalusia, via the Balkans, from which he draws his personal musical vision. Guest musicians : Gulabi Sapera (vocals), Bruno el Gitano (vocals, palmas, guitar), Mambo Saadna (vocals, palmas, guitar), Paco el Lobo (vocals, palmas) François Castiello (accordion), Hameed Khan (tablas), Francis Moerman (guitar), Abdelkrim Sami (percussion), Bernard Subert (clarinet, bagpipes). This record, and the ensuing group, met with a large audience of both erudite music-lovers and amateurs of Mediterranean music. “Gitans” toured from Japan to the Hollywood Ball (USA), from South Africa to Europeʼs major World Music festivals.
At the beginning of 1996, “Le Regard Nu”, an instrumental record entirely improvised and the outcome of a year of experimental research was released, breaking away from this remarkable collective adventure. Thierry Robin took inspiration from the poses of women models, just as a painter or a sculptor, to fuel his solo musical improvisations on the oud and bouzouki. This unique album remains one of his great pride and joys with admirers from across the planet.
Gitansʼ tours continued, giving rise to “Payo Michto” in 1997, a live album with Francis Varis playing the accordion.
Titi Robin was looking for a path along which he could create ties with modern Western folk music. The result was a new group, whose orchestration included the saxophone, drums and bass. Itʼs name : “Kali Gadji ”. The ever-present gipsy and oriental influences mix with French rap and Western African polyrhythms. Guest musicians are Renaud Pion (saxophones), Abdelkrim Sami (vocals, percussion), Farid “Roberto” Saadna (vocals, guitar, palmas), Jorge “Negrito” Trasante (drums), Gabi Levasseur (accordion), Alain Genty (bass) and Bernard Subert (oboe, bagpipes). This orchestra toured for many years alongside “Gitans”.
In 2000 “Un ciel de Cuivre” was released, an album that Titi Robin believes best represents his musical universe in all its diversity. Fifteen guest musicians include Farid “Roberto” Saadna, Gulabi Sapera, Keyvan Chemirani, François Laizeau, Renaud Pion, Negrito Trasante, Francis-Alfred Moerman,... Speaking of this album, Titi Robin said : “This new record is not performed by a precise orchestra, unlike PAYO MICHTO or KALI GADJI, that precede it. It bears witness to the diversity of my influences and, I hope, to the coherency of my aesthetic universe. Gipsy cultures, both Mediterranean and Balkan, are still very present, but this is above all a personal vision of the world that I want to express through these musical marriages that make up my everyday life. This album, just like the record GITANS released in 1993, is a voyage, each melody has a particular flavour, each rhythm a story, the geography of
its cultural origins is a mirror image of the travellerʼs inner landscape. There are intimist melodies and festive rumbas, grief-stricken chants and a gipsy lullaby, highly- orchestrated dance music and calm trios, snowy mountains and sunny shores, blood, spices and honey, and many other things that you may discover before I do...”.
From then on, a sextet toured continuously, presenting tracks from this record alongside older compositions.
An instrumental trio also began to perform (oud, guitar, bouzouki/accordion/percussion) with Francis Varis and Abdelkrim Sami, drawing from Titiʼs entire repertory. They played mostly abroad, especially in the Middle-East.
Since 1992, Thierry Robin has constantly worked with Gulabi Sapera (famous in India as "Gulabo") , about whom he has even written a book “Gulabi Sapera, Danseuse Gitane du Rajasthan” (2000, Naïve/Actes-Sud). She was a frequent guest performer at Titʼs shows and the songs “Pundela”, from the album “Gitans” and “La rose de Jaipur” from “Un ciel de Cuivre”, illustrate the extent to which the encounter between these two artists was an emotional one.
In 2002 a work by both artists was released : “Rakhî ” dedicated to the union of their respective worlds using songs from the cast of the Kalbeliyas, the snake charmers, of whom Gulabi is the emblematic and internationally renowned dancer. "JIVULA", a show uniting her choreography and Titi Robinʼs compositions, took form in September 2002 and was performed on numerous French and international stages. With lighting specially created by Pascale Paillard, this new scenic venture was given a very warm reception.
In the same year he composed the entire soundtrack for Manuel Boursinhacʼs film “The Code (La Mentale)”. The director wanted Titiʼs musical world to accompany his images, while the artist learnt much from this new adventure that he hopes will happen again.
2004: release of the anthology ALEZANE by Naïve. Presentation of “Alezane” by Thierry “Titi” Robin: “These two records are a selection of recordings made over a period of a dozen years, but draw from some twenty-five years of compositions. In my preceding albums, I have always tried to bring together dance and intimist tracks in the smoothest possible way. Here, on the contrary, we present a panorama by categorising the tracks as either rhythmic tunes (CD I) “Le Jour”) or calmer ones (CD II “La Nuit”).
The true challenge is to express, within an artistic system that has rather more imposed itself on me than been chosen by me, my path as a contemporary musician, all the colours and scents that envelop and go through me. I invited Eric Roux- Fontaine to work on the visual aspects of this project. Eric is a contemporary creator, painter, photographer, involved in gipsy cultures for the past dozen or so years. He agreed to undertake the entire graphic conception of this double album.”
The same year, Eric Roux-Fontaine asked Titi Robin for a series of poetic texts for his book "RAJASTHAN, un voyage aux sources gitanes”, published by Garde-Temps. Using writing as a tool, Titi continues his aesthetic research.
During the coming years he collaborâtes with Esma Redzepova, Danyel Waro, and Faiz Ali Faiz with who he has been recording « Jaadu ». In 2008 he presents his last creation : Kali Sultana.
Thierry “Titi” Robin is a fringe artist. He is placed within a “World Music” movement that he does not acknowledge, as it seems to him to be motivated by a profound ethnocentricity, creating a barrier between Western “ethnic” music (rock, jazz...) and others! For him, the crossing of music is not a value in itself, but quite simply a reality, his reality. The main thing is to find the right path between the feeling giving rise to the creation and the artistic form used to express it, whether it take a purely traditional form or one that explodes all established codes. Forging his own path, he has taken heed of the encouragement given by eminent artists such as flamenco singers Fosforito and Chano Lobato, as well as the virtuoso oud player Munir Bachir, who have seen in this atypical approach sincerity and authenticity that go well beyond any differences.