France was represented by three bands at this year’s International Blues Challenge (IBC), held in Memphis, Tennessee, from 17-20 January 2024. France Blues presented Two Roots in the Solo/duo category and The SuperSoul Brothers Band in the group category, while the Toulouse Blues Society (TBS) presented Nico Wayne Toussaint in the Solo/duo category.
Three groups, three different backgrounds: for the SuperSoul Brothers, the experience was also a discovery; for Two Roots, made up of Sophia Tahi and Ronan OneManBand, it was a half-discovery, since Ronan had been a solo finalist in 2019. Finally, Nico Wayne Toussaint was taking part for the fourth time.
Traditionally, on the eve of the official start of the competition, non-American bands perform a showcase in a club, and this was the case on Tuesday 17 January for our Frenchies at Club 152. But the weather conditions made it all the more difficult, as a snowstorm had swept through the region a few days earlier, accompanied by a polar cold, making it difficult to get around. This was the case, for example, for Sophia, the singer from Two Roots, who only arrived in Memphis a few hours before the start of the showcase.
While the showcase is an opportunity for the bands to show themselves off, it’s also a way for them to take the temperature on a Beal Street stage and test their show without any consequences for the rest of the competition. The three bands took to the stage in succession, starting with Two Roots, followed by Nico Wayne Toussaint and finally The SuperSoul Brothers, who set the Club alight.
On Wednesday, the day of the first quarter-final, the SuperSoul Brothers set the Rum Boogie Cafe alight, just before Two Roots, who were playing in the club next door, the Blues City Hall. The Supersoul Brothers put on a show that was perfected to perfection, with the charismatic Nono the lead singer engaging the audience, who loved it. Two Roots changed their set from the day before, opting for a simpler, which highlighted their authenticity and sincerity. Nico Wayne Toussaint, playing Jerry Lee Lewis, puts on a show that showcases his talents as a storyteller, with great success.
The following day, the second quarter-finals took place in the same clubs at different times. Once again, while the SuperSoul Brothers put in a highly effective, almost identical performance, Two Roots changed things up a notch, raising the level even further and putting in what was to be their best performance of the IBC, full of sensitivity and emotion. Ronan, on backing vocals and guitar, even took over the drums, despite a particularly debilitating knee injury. Nico Wayne Toussaint also modified his show, even allowing himself a dazzling end to his set, a cappella in front of the jury. The results of the quarter-finals were announced during the night, and while Nico Wayne Toussaint and the SuperSoul Brothers made it through, Sophia and Ronan’s participation in IBC 2024 came to an unfortunate end. They have no regrets, however, as the level was particularly high and they performed brilliantly.
The semi-finals took place in two another clubs: Alfred’s for the SuperSoul Brothers and the Kings Palace for Nico. The SuperSoul Brothers, true to form, once again set the club alight, even if the layout of the club meant that the interaction seemed to work a little less well. The level is also very high here, with the groups being fairly close to each other, so it’s going to come down to the details. If the atmosphere is boiling at Alfred’s, it’s a completely different story at the Kings Palace. In a hushed setting, the solo/duo semi-final went as smoothly as possible for Nico Wayne Toussaint, who subtly developed his show to showcase his musical talents – harmonica, of course, but also guitar and vocals, with yet another humorous a cappella performance. Once again, the results were in: The SuperSoul Brothers ended their superb run, while Nico qualified for the final at the Orpheum Theater. We have a Frenchman in the final! A fine, well-deserved performance, even if, in our eyes, all our candidates would have deserved their place.
Finally, the big day arrived, and the magnificent setting of the Orpheum Theater welcomed the 12 finalists of this IBC 2024, 6 groups and 6 solo/duos. It’s a particularly long show, 6 hours long, with Nico as the penultimate act, defending his chance with his own weapons. His set has been modified yet again, a sort of medley of what he has offered us over the previous days, always with the good humour and sincerity that are his trademark. But that wasn’t enough, as first place went to Joe Waters and second place to Drum and Dye. It’s easy to imagine Nico, a finalist for the third time, being disappointed, but looking back on his career, he can be proud of what he put on show for an audience of connoisseurs.
Our three French teams did better than defend themselves, each with their own weapons and qualities. None of them failed to live up to their billing, and while the success of each group varied, they are proof of the quality of our Blues musicians in France, recognised here in the USA, and for all our artists this recognition is precious. And they can be justifiably proud of themselves, because we are.