The La Cite hall in the northern streets of Rennes is the spiritual home of the festival. Lloyd Gedye was there for one mesmerising night.
The heart and soul of the Trans Musicales festival is the La Cité hall, which can be found on Rue Saint-Louis, in the north of Rennes.
The street is named after the canonised King Louis IX of France, who ruled from 1226 until his death in 1270.
The Trans Musicales festival, on the other hand, has been around since 1979, the year that Jean-Louis Brossard launched the first edition.
Thirty-four editions later, Brossard is still at the helm of Trans Musicales, actively making decisions about what’s hot and what’s not in the emerging global music market.
In those early days, La Cité was the venue where the entire Trans Musicales festival was held and this association is still clearly dear to Brossard’s heart. It has become known as the place where the best music at the festival can be found.
La Cité, which used to be a hall where a French workers' party used to hold meetings in the 60s, is now a functioning live music venue. During Trans Musicales, it’s the place where Brossard curates intimate shows featuring some of the best emerging acts from around the world.
Unlike the main Trans Musicales gigs, which happen in massive warehouses to an audience of 30 000 people, La Cité offers two lineups of three bands per night to a total audience of about 300 punters.
As one can imagine, tickets for these more intimate showcases are hot property, and this year I was lucky enough to secure one for the Saturday night showcase.
The lineup on Saturday night included Nick Zammuto, a new project from the former guitarist of now-defunct New York band, The Books,.
Second on the bill was Kwes, aka Kwesy Sea, a young London technician who has worked on albums by Jack Peñate, Dels, Speech Debelle and Bobby Womack, before stepping out on his own with a series of EPs. His debut album will bereleased on the Warp label next year.
The final part of the three-piece bill was Zamrock, a special project that brought together two legends of Zambian music, Rikki Ililonga and Jaggari Chanda, to perform music on a stage that they last performed on 35 years ago.
The lineup was mouthwatering, and I counted myself lucky to have a ticket.
After all, La Cité was the venue where, in 2009, I saw French avant garde act GaBle’ and Californian singer/songwriter Cass McCombs, both of whom have gone on to become firm favourites.
I arrived with time to kill, determined to make the most of the night.
Zammuto hit the stage at 5.30pm on the dot and declared that this would be their last show for 2012, closing a European schedule that had seen them hit England, Holland, Belgium, Germany and France in the past month.
Not knowing the band’s work, but familiar with the work of The Books, I was intrigued.
Zammuto didn’t disappoint. Their music, which a French colleague described as “art-fusion”, was very experimental and had a looseness to it that was rather revealing. As my French colleague put it, “so much of this art-fusion music doesn’t have a sense of humour”. But Zammuto clearly did.
The band, which also features Mikey Zammuto, Nick’s kid brother, on bass, the magnificent Sean Dixon on drums and multi-instrumentalist Gene Back on keys, guitar and other instruments, were tight, and delivered a set that the audience was clearly fell in love with.
As each song drew to a close, the band was met with roars of approval. Sometimes the band even seemed unsure if the applause would die down, so they could launch into the next song.
Highlights were a fantastic take on Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave you Lover and the great original Zebra Butt (an interesting way of saying “don’t be a horse's ass”). The live performance included a slideshow of photographs of zebras' rear ends, which really did make me chuckle.
Next up, Kwes, was a little disappointing.
The young musician has a great voice and his compositions are interesting, but his music was not essential listening to my ears.
It reminded me of the work of electronic IT-Boy James Blake, whom many fell in love with last year.
His music, described in the program as “hip-hop fog, stubborn pop melodies, highly profound rhythms and lush arrangements”, just didn’t rock my world, nor that of my French colleague, who raised his eyebrows at me every time I looked at him during the gig.
However, I have since spent a bit of time listening to his work online, and I think the problem with the show may have been that young Kwes has not figured out yet to translate his intimate music into an engaging live performance.
Finally, it was time for Zamrock.
Ililonga and Chandra were backed onstage by members of the German-based band Karl Hector & the Malcouns, whose take on Afro-funk has been earning them a healthy reputation.
With the band only having three days to rehearse the material in Germany before jetting over to Trans Musicales, the gig was a little rough and ready, but the enthusiasm that Ililonga and Chandra brought to the stage, playing their music for the first time in 35 years, was infectious.
Their music dates back to the mid-70s in Zambia, a period when the influence of James Brown and Jimi Hendrix, heard on Western radio stations, inspired a new generation of Zambian musicians to adapt the music to their own context, a form of writing back, if you will.
The joy that these two musicians felt, playing this music to a new audience all these years, was evident on their faces, and, as Chandra would later tell me, “it was like being reborn again”.
The audience responded in kind and by the end of the show La Cité was a heaving throng of punters, shaking their asses like there was no tomorrow.
Audience members declared their love for the band at the top of their voices and the band responded with song after scorching song.
After the show I popped backstage to catch up with the two Zambians, and found them popping champagne, faces beaming with the exhilaration of what had just occurred.
It was a touching moment that reminded me of the joys that music brings to the world and the importance of festivals like Trans Musicales.