Reminiscent of the sample-driven beats à la J Dilla and Madlib, Parisian beatmaker, Onra (Arnaud Bernard), explores the sounds of the Orient in his third full-length entitled Chinoiseries. Bernard traveled to Vietnam (his father's country of origin) a year prior to the release of the album where he collected old Chinese and Vietnamese vinyl records. Bringing the records back to France, he then fused the sampled sounds with Dilla-esque hip-hop beats, creating a tapestry of innovative sounds that encapsulates both Western and Eastern cultures. Inspired by the desire to create a meaningful soundtrack to his trip, Bernard states that he felt the urge to "do something" after meeting with a Vietnamese orphanage director . Since he felt most comfortable with the medium of music, he created Chinoiseries as a tribute to the children in the orphanage as well as his own heritage.
The album starts off rather simple with a playful piano riff that eventually builds momentum and gets coupled with lush hip-hop beats and signatures. Entitled "Introduction," the opening track really eases us into the dusty world of an eclectic vinyl collection. The omnipresent dust crackle establishes the record's "found" aesthetic, which really brings to mind Madlib's Beat Konducta series and J Dilla's Donuts (2006), seminal records that epitomize the innovative pastiche genre of collected vintage vinyl samples. Onra creates a definite sense of collage and pastiche within Chinoisieries with 32 tracks that last for approximately one to two minutes. Although I really enjoy the music, I might have to say that the track titles are my favorite aspect of the record because they are incredibly witty and simply hilarious (e.g. "Phuoc Dat" and "Where's my Longan"). The tracks provide glimpses into a bygone era of Chinese and Vietnamese music that Bernard rediscovers whilst rummaging through old vinyl crates. There is a certain intricateness that pervades the album that is fabricated by the mélange of old and new sounds, which proves to be a very pleasurable and rewarding listening experience. The concluding track "Hope" is the most saccharine of them all, evoking a sentiment of mawkish nostalgia that reminds us that we can only hope to "relive" Onra's trip by listening to the record once again.
"The Anthem" was used in a Coca-Cola commercial to promote the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Although there were some legal issues involved with the original 1970s Chinese sample, Coca-Cola hired a musicologist to "recreate" the original track in order to get it cleared for commercial use. Nevertheless, the use of "The Anthem" in the Coca-Cola adverts (albeit in an exploitive manner...Onra claims that he was only credited as a "co-writer" ) really reflects the hybrid nature of Chinoiseries as a record that effortlessly blends contrasting cultures and sounds. Chinoiseries presents a refreshing Eastern twist to hip-hop, manifesting the genre's flexible ability to continually reinvent itself. In this sense, Chinoiseries follows the Dada principle of "ready-made," creating something entirely new out of preexisting sounds and objects.