Pitch-bent synths and electro beats colliding with the raw tones of analog Afrofunk – it’s a sound the French producer débruit has been refining over a series of recent EP releases. débruit has just released his first full length From The Horizon and the LP finds the synth wizard’s sound coming into full fruition. Okayafrica contributor Kyle Long spoke with débruit about his passion for African music and his unique musical alchemy, transforming historic tribal field recordings into 21st century bass music.
Okayafrica: What first attracted you to African music?
débruit: I get asked that often and it’s forced me to think about it. It might have been when I traveled to Senegal as a kid. I remember being amazed by the culture and the music, especially the percussion. Now, what I like about it is the natural approach. There is no calculation in terms of marketing. That means something in an age where the marketing is often ready before the sound. African music is pure emotion. Whether joyful or sad, the music represents pure emotion in all its complexity.
OKA: You were born and raised in Brittany in Northwest France, are you still based there? What’s the African music scene like in France?
débruit: I’ve been based in France and the United Kingdom, but I’m now in Brussels. I’m addicted to moving places. There are a couple of scenes in France. One is very mainstream. The music is tailor-made and digested for western ears. It doesn’t accentuate the rawness in the sound that I find essential. It’s too polished. For me, the interesting scene is what happens in the underground/illegal bars. Whether its Algerian or Congolese, you’ll hear real African music and experience a slice of Kinshasa or Algiers with the people.
OKA: A lot of your work is sample based. Can you tell us about the samples you use and where you find them?
débruit: I find samples through research and they appear to me naturally. The samples I use come out of a mass collection of sound and music I listen to. I find them while buying rare 70s psych-funk African records or on field recordings. Once the Museum of Civilizations in Paris called me for a special project. I was asked to compose music for a live performance based on field recordings and they allowed me to dig through their audio archives. For me it’s simple, it’s a question of taste. I imagine what I can play on top of a tribal drum roll or how I can cut up an incredible voice and incorporate some modern funk. Although I use samples, I’m actually playing a lot of what you hear in my music.
OKA: One aspect of your music that impresses me is your ability to incorporate African rhythmic concepts in your work. So many electronic/hip-hop producers just utilize African music samples for texture and they alter or reconstruct the rhythm to conform to the rhythmic structures of house music or hip-hop. Is this intentional or just a natural product of your creative process?
débruit: I think it’s because that’s what I’m interested in – creating a groove that a machine isn’t meant to have. I bend the technology to get that natural joy out. I don’t pretend to make African rhythms like an African person would. I have to put a bit of thought into reaching the desired result. lately, that has been changing. Some poly-rhythmic patterns are now very friendly to me and the groove comes more and more naturally.
OKA: Can you name some African artists who have had a profound influence on you?
débruit: That’s difficult as I’ll never know the artist names on some of the tribal field recordings I listen to. But in more modern 70’s African music there are a lot of artists that I admire, like Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou, The Sweet Talks and Bembeya Jazz National.
OKA: What about the current scene, are you listening to Azonto or Kuduro?
débruit: I hear a lot of good things. I like what’s happening in Congo, South Africa and Angola of course. The music is really surprising, pushing the traditional into more modern territory. It’s really motivating to see that positive energy coming out.
OKA: Do you have any plans to record in Africa?
débruit: Yes, that’s a project I’ve thought a lot about. It will happen, I just need to do some more preparation and research. Learning some social and historical information about the countries I want to visit and finding contacts that can introduce me to people who would be interested in working with me.
To hear more from débruit, download From the Horizon here