St Germain on Malian hunting music, African instruments & being nocturnal
February 19th 2016
Mysterious, hard-working and well-respected, French producer St Germain has remained quiet for over a decade, leaving a noticeable gap in new electronic music.
Finally, at the end of last year, he made his return with St Germain. Different to Navarre’s previously offerings, the Malian inspired sounds bring complicated layers of beats and tones mixed with modern influences, in true St Germain style.
For the first time in fifteen years, St Germain, aka. Ludovic Navarre, returns to Australia, playing a series of shows this March to celebrate the new release. Rachel Sibley picked his brain ahead of his arrival.
Interview translated from French.
Rachel Sibley: This is the first time in fifteen years that you’ll be playing to an Australian audience, so what have you been up to in the meantime?
St Germain: After Tourist’s release I did around 250 shows around the world during two and a half years. After that I needed to take a break from music. I produced an album for Soel, the trumpeter who plays on Tourist and on tour.
The preparation of this album started in 2006, with the same European musicians. I wiped everything and started again with root musicians from Mali in 2011.
This new album, St Germain, has a very different sound to your earlier work. Was this a challenge for you to utilise different instruments and sounds?
My favourite music is Blues for a long time. I think there are two kinds of Blues. One is coming from Africa and the other comes from the US. I tried to mix the two in the song ‘How Dare You’.
‘Real Blues’ is incorporating the vocals of blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins and the participation of African musicians with a deep sound that I always did since Boulevard, but with traditional instruments from Mali.
Have you been to Africa? How did these traditional African instruments and sounds come into your mind?
I discovered the hunters, their songs and instruments from Mali on the Internet. I really wanted the more traditional sounds and these musicians are playing traditional instruments. I was looking for a roots sound.
Two singers of the record come from this traditional music: Adama Coulibaly on ‘Family Tree’ and Zoumana Tereta on ‘How Dare You’.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go to Mali. We found a studio in Bamako to record the voices and did the recording of musicians and other voices in Paris.
Who will be on stage with you for the Australian shows?
We are eight people on stage, with instruments like Kora, N’Goni, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, flute+Saxophone and Drums+ Percussions.
My role is between composer and conductor, helping the musicians to adapt themselves to an electronic framework. We’re playing, of course, songs from the Tourist album like ‘Rose Rouge’, ‘So Flute’, ‘Sure Thing’ and also from the new album. The mix between different instrumentation is really amazing. Come and enjoy!!
What music are you listening to right now? Any artists in particular?
House Music is still there after more than 20 years. New sounds are coming from everywhere. I’m listening to a lot of Afro House music from South Africa. I love the sound and when you hear it, you know the production is coming from South Africa just from the sonority.
My favourites are Black Coffee, Boddhi Satva, Black Owl, Culoe De Song. You could discover some of them on the Mixmag mix on Mixcloud that I did in September:
What does African music, particularly that from Mali, and electronic music have in common?
For me, Malian Hunters are singing with a soft voice in hypnotic loops which feats well with electronic music. For this album it was difficult to match the Malian musicians’ approach with my electronic rhythms. I had to adapt to them.
Would you call yourself a perfectionist? Are you ever 100% happy with the sounds you produce?
When I start to work on a new song, I know already what I want. I’ve got a global vision and then I start to record musician one by one. The music is continuously evolving, each musician with their own way of playing. After that I work alone with a new pattern and incorporate all the elements. It could take one month doing my way on the same song. No, I’m not easily satisfied. I do my best in not repeating the same as I did before. I try to find a new attractive sound and colour that excites me. This time it’s Africa and especially Mali.
Your music is often played across the world in many different contexts. How do you feel when you hear your music in every day life?
I don’t listen to my music when it’s done. I’m always more into new searching for new sounds, new instruments. I don’t go out by day, sleeping and my Home Studio is essential for me. I’m working by night since a long time and I like this sound of silence in the city to concentrate.
WHO: St Germain
WHERE: Enmore Theatre
WHEN: Tuesday 15 March
HOW MUCH: $79.90 through Enmore Theatre