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Interview: Elom 20ce

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Cover artwork for Indigo

 

To say it’s been a while would be an understatement. *removes cobwebs* However, instead of revisiting once again the reasons why I haven’t updated this blog in so long, I’ll simply move right along and present an amazing interview. How’s that for a come back?

Here’s the kicker though: it’s in French. Now, while I would encourage anyone willing to learn my beautiful language to give it a try, I know it’s no easy feat and I don’t expect you all to understand it. So, what I will do is offer you a transcript, so that you all know how awesome my guest is. Elom 20ce is a Togolese MC I mentioned on the blog before, and whose music I played on my radio show a few times, but I finally had an opportunity to meet him face-to-face last week, after knowing him and communicating with him online for over a decade (!!). What was so wonderful about this encounter, besides the fact that I could enjoy his live show and the infamous “Marseille by night”, is that it felt super natural, as if we had indeed been friends in real life for all those years. I just love those moments and I’m really grateful to have experienced them several times over the years. Personal notes aside, Elom 20ce was in Marseille for a few days for his live show and some interviews as part of his international “INDIGO tour”, to promote the album of the same name. After kicking off with two festivals in Ghana, the tour stopped in my beautiful city, before continuing in Berlin, Germany (30th September), coming back to France for a show in Paris (1st October), and finally returning to Elom’s hometown of Lomé, Togo (7th and 22nd October), before ending in Dakar, Senegal (12th November). Phew! With all that said, let me now present the actual interview in French below, followed by the transcript. Enjoy!
 

 
WWOC: Hello and welcome to this special edition of The Wonderful World of Carminelitta, with an interview, something I haven’t done in quite a while. I have the great pleasure of welcoming Elom 20ce, who is hailing from Togo. Hello and thank you.

Elom 20ce: Hello Carminelitta and thanks to all your followers.

WWOC: Thanks to them indeed. So, I met you for the first time yesterday, after knowing you for about a decade, so I’m really happy to do this interview. To begin with, I have a question about Marseille. It was the first time you had a show here, so tell us how it went and what you think about the city.

Elom 20ce: I’ll start with the end. Marseille is a city I really like, it’s a vibrant city, with a great melting pot so that’s interesting. It was not my first concert in Marseille, I did a quick show 2 years ago, in a small library called Manifesten. And yesterday we did Dar Lamifa, which was even bigger, there were not many people, but we are building things and compared to what we did 2 years ago, the audience was reactive and I’m really happy about that. We hope that when we come back there will be even more people.

WWOC: It’s true that the audience was not really present, but it was a great pleasure to discover you on stage. Speaking of this “INDIGO tour”, you started it in Ghana and there are a few upcoming dates, so could you tell us more about it?

Elom 20ce: The INDIGO tour started in Africa and will end in Africa. We started in Ghana, mainly with two festivals, Nkabom Festival and Chale Wote Festival. Yesterday we were in Marseille, we are still in Marseille, on September 30th we’ll be in Berlin, on October 1st in Paris, and then we’re back in Lomé on October 22nd, finishing in Dakar on November 12th.

WWOC: I will normally be able to see you in Paris on the 1st so I really look forward to that. I will ask more in-depth questions later, but we’ll take a quick musical break for now. I’ll play some of the tracks of the album, my favourites, so we’ll start with “Comme un poison dans l’eau”. Could you tell us a bit about this track?

Elom 20ce: “Comme un poison dans l’eau” is a track dedicated to anyone within the system who is working to make the system collapse. Today there are lots of rappers who chose to talk about things that don’t represent the people, it’s their choice. And then there are others who continue to rap about realities, about things indigenous people can relate to, and for me, these are the “poison in the water”. So it’s a track dedicated to all the outcasts.

WWOC: My next question is about the fact that you’re doing hip-hop from Africa (I have another related question coming later). But I was talking about that with someone recently and he told me he couldn’t really appreciate it because for him it wasn’t the type of hip-hop he was used to listening to, because he’s from Paris. Do you think the way you rap and what you talk about are really different from Parisians for instance?

Elom 20ce: I rap about my reality, I talk mainly about Africa in my lyrics and I think Africa is a continent that is everywhere. There are Africans in Paris, there are Africans everywhere in the world. I talk about the facts of life too, my album deals a lot about death for instance. I don’t think you need to be in Lomé or Conakry to talk about these things. They affect everyone. I think my message can touch people everywhere. Oxmo [Puccino] is on my album, he’s from Paris, there’s Le Bavar, who’s also from Paris, and the track was mixed in Paris. So I think maybe the person didn’t take the time to listen.

WWOC: That was my next question actually. I think your message really is universal and it’s true that there’s the Afro-centric element, because you’re from Togo and you live on that continent, so of course that’s your experience, but as a French person, I can still find things in your music that I can relate to, and I think that’s interesting. So, since you already answered that question, and that you mentioned the featured artists… You talked about Oxmo, Le Bavar, who are really well-known in France and who’ve been doing music for a long time. But there are also other MCs who are much less prominent, from other countries, like Germany, and who are also younger. So, was it important for you to bring together several generations and nationalities on the album?

Elom 20ce: Of course. Look at the name of the album, “INDIGO”, that’s the blending of colours, the seventh colour of the rainbow that is not visible to the naked eye. For me it was important to showcase all those talents that are not well-known. There’s Avénon, Prince Mo, Zalem, Sitou Koudadjé, who are not famous but nonetheless very talented. At the same time, it was important for me, when I talked about “indigo”, i.e. the blending of colours, that there were MCs from all over the world. There’s Sir Okoss from Gabon, Amewu from Germany, BLITZ the AMBASSADOR from Ghana/US. So that was done on purpose, because the album is “INDIGO”, so I needed different colours.

WWOC: You just talked about BLITZ the AMBASSADOR, and for this next track I’ll play “Aveugles, bavards et sourds”, which is also one of my favourites. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Elom 20ce: “Aveugles, bavards et sourds” [Blind, talkative and deaf] because I think Africans do not read history. When I say Africans, I mean mostly African leaders who don’t want to read history. They are blind, talkative and deaf, they talk a lot but they should read history and listen. At the same time, it’s also showing 3 Africans rapping in the language of their former colons: German, French and English. At the same time, it’s as if we couldn’t understand each other, because the languages that were imported, or imposed, became barriers between us when we are supposed to understand each other. So it’s the themes I developed: showing people that our leaders are people who are blind, talkative and deaf, and how important it is for us, even if we adopted or were made to adopt those languages, not to allow them to be hindrances to integration and to use them as tools to build bridges.

WWOC: My next question is about your music videos, which are very interesting, and that’s something I really appreciate because I often see rappers making a music video just so that they can say they have a video on YouTube, and they’re just there in front of the camera doing things that are not original at all. So I already appreciate that, and there’s also a very particular theme. Could you tell us a bit about those videos?

Elom 20ce: Thanks for the compliment. For me, the videos are follow-ups to the tracks. I don’t want to do videos that are like a background to the tracks. The videos are a complement to the tracks, because in a hip-hop track, there’s about 4, 5 or 6 minutes at most, and you have a lot to say. So when a video is released, it must support the track. When I write, I like projecting images in the mind of people and when I create the videos I want to imprint those images in their mind so that they are clear. Also, when I create tracks like “Dead Man Walking”, it’s interesting for me to add exclusives. An exclusive could be an intro that I thought was too long in audio form, to include in the album. So I keep the intro and use it in the video. When you discover the video, you realise there’s an intro that wasn’t on the album. So that makes it even more appealing. For me, images are really powerful and it plays a lot in people’s psyche. So for me creating videos means complementing the tracks I already recorded.

WWOC: I encourage you all to go and watch all the music videos available on YouTube. My last question for today is about the fact that you use a lot of references in your music, to African leaders and others. Among those other famous people, you mention a lot of American Civil Rights activists. I think there really is a connection, which makes me think of Malcom X who said that it was not only a civil rights issue, but also a human rights issue. Do you think it’s important to make people realise that the history of American people is linked to the history of African people and other people around the world?

Elom 20ce: I didn’t really tally the number of Black Americans I mentioned, but I think that it’s because they are more well-known. Because I think if you listen to the album closely, I talk more about African leaders, a lot of people who are not necessarily well-known. There’s a question of reference, which is very important in the rap music I create. It’s important to remind people that in Africa, and more specifically in West Africa, historians are kind of MCs. They are the keepers of memory, they pass on the memory, everything is done orally. So they are the ones who will tell you who your grandfather was, who his father was, etc. They are the keepers of this information. When I rap, it’s important for me to follow in the footsteps of this caste of people, the griots, to refer to men who had a positive influence on our history. There’s an esoteric element to it for me. If we forget the work those people have done, it’s as if we were building a house and starting from the foundation all over again. We have a saying: “it’s at the end of the old rope that you weave the new one”. So when we talk about the States, about the African-American leaders, there’s something to connect with Africa. There’s already an existing link to begin with, but also because these are brothers and sisters who went through extremely complicated things but, for 50 or 100 years, fought to achieve rights, even if these are not really effective. If you think about it, 100 years ago Black people were lynched in Mississippi, even if today they are still shot on the streets. But they organised, and used violence and non violence. You had the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King. From moderates to radicals. They never ceased to renew the organisation to face injustice, and I think Africa could get some inspiration from them and vice versa. When I talk about Cabral for instance, he thought culture was important in the struggle. I think influences go both way. Hip-hop is a culture of protest, of militant action. You can’t talk about militant actions in hip-hop without referencing those who are actually out there and who fought in peril of their lives against injustice. In other words, references are very important.

WWOC: As I was saying that was my last question, I’ll play another track now, which is “Fourmis”. Could you tell us a bit about it?

Elom 20ce: “Fourmis” because ants do not make any noise. I think we are in a world where people like to be seen, taking selfies. At the same time, those who are actually doing the work are not seen, because they don’t have time to take selfies. I would like to be like ants, in the way they are organised, the way they work together, the way the help each other. When ants move, they are in a single line, each one has a specific role, they always touch. I think that’s what humans lack. Being humble and hard-working, unifying others. I think humans do not have those qualities nowadays. On this track, I wanted to invite a European who is like a brother to me, Zalem, as well as Sitou Koudadjé, a guy I’ve been rapping with for over 15 years. For me we are a good “ants” team because a lot of things happen behind the scenes that bring us together and allow us to move forward. “Fourmis” because ants do not make any noise.

WWOC: We are back for a quick conclusion. First of all, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview. As I was saying earlier, it was a great pleasure to finally meet you and to see you on stage. So, if you have any last words, do not hesitate. And the last track is gonna be “J’ne pleure pas, ce sont les Oignons…”, which may be my favourite on the album.

Elom 20ce: Thanks for the invitation, it’s a pleasure to meet you in the flesh as well. It’s a pleasure to be in Marseille, because I think it’s a thriving city, where people are welcoming. I really like this city. Go get the album, I think it’s my best project. Go listen and discover it. “J’ne pleure pas ce sont les Oignons…” is a track where we talk about what makes us suffer. What actually makes us suffer: is it the things we create ourselves, or things we have to endure? It’s also about masks people wear: “I’m not crying, it’s the onions…”, as a way to say “I’m not suffering”. I see a lot of people suffering but pretending they’re not crying. This theme was important. And I really wanted to talk about women. I think women in Africa… Before, in ancient societies, women had very important roles and today they are more and more deprecated. I tell the story of a widow. It’s almost a true story, or even a true story. It was important for me to invite Pépé Oleka, who is a Beninese-Nigerian-Togolese singer. It was also important to invite Oxmo Puccino, because we had a lot of conversations about Africa in the summer, during his Blue Note tour when his album “Hipopette Bar” was released. He came to Lomé, we met there, and we talked a lot about the atmosphere in Togo because he was touring several countries. We talked about suffering because he felt the situation was tense in the country. So we thought we would make a track on this topic. It’s also a track where I tell a story. Storytelling is something I’m really interested in for future projects, how to tell stories. I think sometimes the message is easier to understand, since people can relate to it. That’s what’s interesting about this track. It’s a track I really like because musically the African element I wanted to emphasise is perceptible.

WWOC: Thanks a lot. Yeah, was lucky enough to see it live yesterday, and it was also my favourite track from the concert. It was quite impressive. Listen to the track, enjoy, and go get the album!

Now that you know more about Elom 20ce and his music, go get “INDIGO” on his Bandcamp page, or simply by clicking on the link below.

Find out more about Elom 20ce on his website, Facebook and Twitter

African vibes: Analgézik, Elom20ce

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Cover artwork for Analgézik

I first told you about Elom 20ce in the very early days of the blog, with an African vibes article that introduced him and his music. I am now very happy to present to you his new album, Analgézik. One of the things I appreciate most when following artists for several years is seeing them evolve, grow and progress. With this album, Elom 20ce proves his versatility and maturity, as he explores more personal themes and uses more varied instrumentals as a background to his well-written rhymes. While he still deals with Africa and its social or political issues, he seems to open up a bit more and share his moments of doubt and darkness. Music is an “Analgézik” though, and allows both the artist and the listener to soothe their pain and heal. When I listened to the first half or so of the album, I immediately thought of some of the 90s French hip-hop classics and more precisely solo projects by Marseillais MCs Akhenaton and Shurik’n (part of the group IAM). The music, the themes, the delivery, everything was reminiscent of this “golden era” and brought me back in time, when I discovered hip-hop and fell in love with it. Despite this throwback element, there is not only nostalgia and you can find modern elements in the instrumentals and of course the lyrics. After this travel back in time, I continued the journey with more eclecticism and some jazzy or even soulful touches that are a change from what Elom 20ce did on previous projects, which is most appreciated. On tracks like Ya Foye or Analgéblues, more precisely, the horns emphasise the lyrics and Kézita’s beautiful voice on the second track makes it one of my favourites of the album.

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