At 82, Karl Brasse has lost none of his dexterity on banjo, mandolin or guitar. It is difficult to establish his exhaustive discography. He himself does not remember all the 45 rpm records in which he took part… and for which he is not always credited. We can mention “Vive le séga” with Serge Lebrasse, “Alouda lemonade” with Cyril Labonne but also obscure recordings such as the forgotten “Séga dans camp créole” by Jean Aufray. The best is to search on Discogs and on the site of the former sound engineer Philippe de Magnée: Filoumoris.com.
Karl grew up in Grand-Gaube, in the northeast of Mauritius. In the early 1950s, he was only six years old when, with his older brother, he made their first banjos… with tin cans and wire. “With pliers, we squeezed the wires until we got a sound. My father realized that we were managing to do something. He didn’t have much money, but one day he jumped at an opportunity. He bought a thirty-five rupee banjo for my older brother. I got his tin can. » With their little sister who plays on a semblance of a drum kit, they form a trio that plays polka in the surrounding sugar estates owned by white Mauritians like the Lagesse family.
At fourteen, Karl’s father wanted him to join the Police band, the police orchestra in Rose-Hill. “It wasn’t a big band but there were almost fifteen musicians, with a brass section, three saxophones, a clarinet, two trumpets. The problem is that I don’t read music at all. I have always played by ear. I listen to a piece two or three times and I’m able to pick it up. I had to admit to conductor Philippe Ohsan that I couldn’t read a score. He wanted to test my ear since everyone said I was strong and learned fast. » At the end Ohsan will conclude: “It’s true, you have a golden ear, but I can’t take you!” Karl is almost relieved because the discipline of a police band where you have to wear a uniform does not suit him.
Five Chinese brothers and five Creole brothers
Four years later, in 1958, thanks to a friend, he joined a variety orchestra made up of five Sino-Mauritian brothers, the Typhoon band in Port-Louis. The group will perform at the Cabane Bambou in Port-Louis. In 1960, Karl was ready to strike out on his own and formed his group, the Golden Moon Dance Band, which played in Pointe-aux-Sables. “We performed every Saturday with Alain Permal, who was a very well-known, funny singer, he made us laugh all the time, Yvon Emile, nicknamed the “Mauritian Nat King Cole” because he really had a beautiful crooner’s voice and another very gifted singer Sylvaine Ramen. They were crowded evenings. People were refused. »
Three years later, the adventure of the Corsairs began at Vattel, a posh restaurant in Cure-Pipe. After the five Chinese brothers of the Typhoon Band, Karl plays this time with five Creole brothers the Pouzet whose leader is Lucien. The group will be part of a tour in Southern Rhodesia (became independent in 1965 and renamed Zimbabwe in 1980 Editor’s note) “We had a six-week contract but we were extended for two weeks because the people there were happy to have us. » The repertoire is retro Victor Silvester, Billy Vaughn, the Shadows…” Everyone was dancing, the floor was full all the time. We even played sega to show the Rhodesians how it’s danced. We also appeared on national television. » Another residence in a large hotel in Lusaka, Zambia will leave him with the chilling memory of having had a snake put on his shoulder! On April 28, 1965, the day of his birthday, Lucien “Lulu” Pouzet surprised Karl Brasse by introducing him… Jacques Brel who had just performed at the “Plaza”: “He wished me happy birthday at the restaurant. His costume, his nose, his ears pissed with perspiration, he had given himself so much on stage! »
Karl Brasse quickly carved out a reputation as a guitar virtuoso, in competition with Marclaine Antoine. ” We were like Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley Karl smiled. Karl will also play with the son of Roger Augustin, the very prolific Jean-Claude Gaspard, with Georges Marchand, Jeanine Lebout on “Qui ti balié la”, Cyril Ramdoo or Roger Clency, from whom he will take over “Ti Joseph Galant” in a beautiful instrumental version. Above all, Karl signed the most famous instrumental sega, undoubtedly from Mauritius “Sega stacato”: “Lucien Pouzet told me: ” Why don’t you make a sega you? and two hours later it was composed! »
But Karl’s finest collaboration is the one that associates him with the pianist Gérard Cimiotti, conductor and arranger: ” We recorded in his studio in Quatre Bornes with great pleasure. With Gérard we were a bit the same. We learned quickly, we could play in any key. We were always together. When people talk about us they always say: “Gérard Cimiotti and Karl Brasse” “.
In the studio, continues the guitarist, there were always one or two singers. I was told: ” Can you accompany me on this sega? It was going fast. » Among the most beautiful (frenzied) sessions of the time « Montagne zacot » or « Soul Séga » by Coulouce:« I found a distortion effect on my guitar. I improvised and it worked well. It was quite modern for the time. »
For a long time Karl “ate a lot of margozes” (bitter vegetable), that is to say that he was poorly paid to play in hotels on the island such as Le Paradis or Le Touessrock… in all weathers: “I even had to play at Le Morne one cyclone evening on alert three. My wife yelled at me but I was engaged, I had to go despite the danger. » This period will stop in 1988 because of a paralysis of his right hand. The disappointment did not stop the guitarist who signed a beautifully crafted instrumental album “Séga dantan” in 2006. He is regularly accompanied by solid musicians such as jazz trumpeter Philippe Thomas or accordionist Jocelyn Cartier. Recently, on the initiative of his son Patrice, also a musician in the band the Firehawks, Karl took part in a jam session in San Mateo, California. He distinguished himself by resuming standards like “I’m in the mood for love” at short notice. But for him, there was no question of leaving his island! Last year, Karl was decorated with the title of Commander by his government for his contribution to Mauritian music. It’s only justice!
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Karl Brasse’s instrumental sega (Sega Maurice 4/5)
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