The distortion and noise in Kinshasa have been mentioned as important in making the album. Would you be able to talk about that a bit?
The sound environment in the city has got that touch, everything’s saturated. In Europe, because of our equipment everything sounds clean. Here, for whatever reason, everything [sounds] a bit fucked up. But that’s the charm of it all, you know – everything’s broken but it’s been mended.
People had good instruments, over from Europe, up until the 80s when everything broke down. The whole city became a mess so there were no more new instruments. But people still had TV and a connection with the rest of the world, so they started to imitate [what they heard]. They imitated hip hop and things like that. I remember hearing this guy scratching with tapes and making things that reminded you of all kinds of other music you’d heard.
So you’ve got that element of survival, which I’m sure exists in other countries. It probably exists in Brazil. It’s in poor countries where they don’t have the instruments so they go to dustbins and improvise with things like that.
So where they’re re-creating that music they’ve heard from elsewhere, in some ways you’re taking it back to Europe. In bringing the recordings back to your studio in Paris you’re giving it the kind of production it might not have otherwise had.
But for me that’s not all I’m interested in. I’d say [my role is] more like a moviemaker – you meet artists and you work with them. I knew what I’d first recorded was too local and wouldn’t have touched Europe. To me, music means bridges. I produced it in the direction of the people that I met, so it’s been created from my point of view but for them.
And I’ve gotta say, the album’s cool but we’ve done so many incredible shows. I think the live show is even more exciting than the album, which is nice as that’s often not the case with a lot of these studio projects. It’s turning into a real rock-y band like they used to have in the 70s. To get to the position we’re in, we’d usually have needed to have lots more rehearsals and lots more money. We’ve started from scratch but everything has picked up really quickly.
That seems to be characteristic of the band. Like the drummer, for example, who’s only been playing the kit for a year right?
Yeah, he was a percussionist before that. But for me it’s not just about musicianship, it’s about an idea. It’s about opening our minds to the way we think about the music that comes from Africa. As a project it’s different to most of the things that we import from there – it’s not about showcasing the super singer or the super player. This is more like The Sex Pistols.
I can see echoes of that punk ethos in the band, but to me the production of the record still sounds a lot more polished than that.
It’s more about the energy than the style of the music itself. When I say it’s rock-y, I don’t mean that it’s rock ‘n’ roll, I just mean that these guys are more freaky. It’s about the character of the band. That’s what this project is about, I didn’t want it to be a lie like most projects from Africa are. This project is about reality – the whole thing’s been a big accident. I never knew what I was gonna do, they never knew what was gonna happen, there’s been no preconceptions.
When I took back the tapes, I probably took out 70% of what I’d recorded in each song to get it to the way I thought it should sound. I stripped it back a lot. In Kinshasa, one of the problems is that they sing a lot and you don’t have any space for an instrumental part. It’s very vocal. So that makes it a bit boring sometimes, it takes the groove away. I wanted to strip it back to hear the groove, as that’s the culture I’m from. We’re all kids of James Brown, or something like that!