You might not know Beatrice “Betty” Bonifassi’s name, but you've likely heard her big soulful voice, on Django Reinhardt-inspired French cabaret (as one of the voices on the Grammy and Oscar-nominated Les Triplettes de Belleville soundtrack), ‘trip rock’ projects (DJ Champion, Beast) and her recent solo exploration of black protest songs. Half of the pulsating electronic blues rock duo Beast, she also provided lead vocals to DJ Champion’s album Chill ’em All and toured with him for five years.
Her recent solo album Lomax is an homage to African-American 19th and early 20th century songs — mostly recorded by musical anthropologist Alan Lomax in prisons or fields with chain gangs — reimagined with fresh lyrical touches and a distinctive 21st-century treatment. A francophone artist, she was schooled on pronunciation, slang and expressions by Willie West.
The provocative result respects the soul of the songs and captures the suffering and strength of African people, while connecting to her mother’s Balkan heritage and their subjugation in Europe. The songs are deeply rooted in tradition, but the sound — thanks to the electronic and synth-oriented, brass and drum heavy contributions of her backing musicians and her powerful contralto voice — is completely contemporary. Her live show is a seductive, sweaty, give-no-quarter workout.