A 25-year-old young artist who feds on the gospel and gives it a voice that reminds us of the names of the great spirit, small Unveiled on October 14 “horizons”. This 7-track EP offers rare music and richness of voices, demonstrating the strong cultural heritage of the young Belgian. After passing through Paris to perform at La Cigale as part of the MaMA Festival, Smahlo gave us a special moment to talk about his music and his first project.
Last year she was named “Best Promising Artist of 2021” at the Red Bull Elektropedia Awards. How did you feel when the award was announced?
You have done me a lot of good. It was so much fun because it happened at an important moment in my career when my audience was growing. This award allowed me to take a step forward, and made me want to keep going. Having such a title also puts a certain pressure on, but above all, we must do our job and do it with love for what we do, with joy and sound motivation.
You are from the Ixelles district of Brussels. You seem very attached to this city. Belgium today is a figure in its own right in French-speaking rap. Is it important to be the representative of this city through your music?
Yes it is necessary. I’ve been listening to rap in Brussels since I was young, with artists like Scylla, Psmaker (Esha’s former artistic name) and B-lel. It is good to testify in my songs that I come from this city to bridge the gap between this generation I was listening to and the generations to come after us. It’s kind of a transition into the future, transmission is a really important thing in music.
It seems that you, too, are overwhelmed by your Congolese ancestry. It is also through Congolese music and, more precisely, through the Gospel, that you discover singing. Does it still have an important influence on your music?
My Congolese influences bring me a lot of sounds, and influence my singing as well. The basis of my music comes from the Congolese Bible. Through my mother the choir director, I joined the church choir at the age of five. There she also learned to sing and percussion. Thanks to my mother who made me return to God’s way, I discovered this music which today forms a very important part of my art. I have been influenced by great artists like Mattu Samuel, Mike Calambay or Charles Mumbai. I couldn’t listen to anything else, and I had no right. My mother forbade me from listening to what she called “world music”. So I was forbidden to watch TV in the evenings and from time to time tried, discreetly, to watch channels such as MCM, without my mother’s knowledge. In the end, it wasn’t until a long time later that I discovered this “world music”. From the age of 5 to 12, I was conditioned only by the Congolese gospel, Sunday church and choir rehearsals.
You master rapping and singing, with supermodels like Gims or Blacko. What do you think you could present differently? Do you feel more comfortable singing or rapping?
I realize that my voice releases something somewhat unique. I think I bring some freshness into my music, in my senses, with a truly unique and powerful message. The best way to get this message across is by singing. I prefer singing to rap because it’s my first contact with music, my first school. Rap came in long after that and I hesitated for a long time before backing off.
Prior to this first EP, she released 4 singles. What reception did you receive?
Her first single was “Horizon”. The feedback was good and positive. Some blamed me for the heterogeneity of my voices: I understood that for future projects it was necessary to provide listeners with a coherent color. But in general, my new artistic direction was really appreciated, so I take from it only positive things for the future.
Under what circumstances did you implement this first project? What do you want to present to the listeners in this first project?
It took me a year, and we recorded with Label Wave. To be honest, it was difficult because it was the first time that there were so many expectations about my music, especially from my record company. It’s good pressure, I have a great team around me. I put everything into this project, it was necessary to write new sounds, and to do things competently. Music, in my opinion, is instinctive. However, this project was thought of keeping in mind the desire to show everything I know about how to do it in terms of colors and patterns. I think in that sense, the contract was fulfilled.
The concept of combat appears a lot in your titles. You seem convinced of the need to transcend yourself and redouble your efforts to move forward in life.
I have been through a lot of difficult times in my life. My parents taught me to recover from both of these experiences. Their advice was necessary during a period when I had no definite direction, and did not know what I would become. It’s also thanks to the Wagram team that pushed me, who are there for me and give me strength every day. It’s a mindset you should have every day, and I’m now aware of it. I often wanted to give up and this entourage who depended on me was able to find the words to put me back in the saddle.
How did you choose the guests present in your project?
What is your style of working in the studio?
I always start from production, I’m not one of those artists with dozens of scripts aside. I need to feel the atmosphere of the title to be able to write on it, my inspiration comes from there. I start with four poetic beats before I find a good main line. If I analyze my sounds, every four beats I change the flow, that’s how I approach things in my music.
Music, specifically, is at the heart of your project, with so many instruments on board.
Yes, it’s a real desire on my part to surround myself with real musicians to make my music, and I don’t see it any other way. In “Qu’uneunique envie”, “Temps derain” and “Money Bag” we find guitar, piano and musicians accompanying me on stage. I grew up surrounded by musical instruments, so it’s only natural that I find it in my music. Regarding arrangements, I give my opinion sometimes because it’s my music, but I don’t really get involved.
Do you remember your first studio session?
I was 14, with a Minimalist, a producer working exclusively with Isha and Green Montana, in his studio in Brussels. I started with him, I had a band at the time, and we started creating together, doing some concerts. It brought me a lot and allowed me to develop in my art.
What are your best memories so far in the studio?
I think that while recording the title of “Horizon”. Because before that title, I was coming off a long break, a long transition with my old label. I’m tired of music, I don’t want anything anymore. However, I find myself, along with other artists, invited to a seminar at Studio Phoenix. On that day, I was really starting from scratch. I had nothing on my mind, and Ionic, a product I didn’t know, landed in the studio with me. The first prick he plays is not satisfying. Then he pulled three magic strings, revealed the melody of “Horizon” to me and there, the magic immediately returns. I’m writing the address the same night at home, we met up two days later to record the audio and from there I didn’t really stop. This studio moment is very special to me and has a lot of meaning.
Conversely, what is the moment in the studio that will remain the worst experience?
It was in order to record “rainy weather”. It was at a time when I struggled with not mixing my personal life with my music. I was sad and angry, I really had no mind for music. We went to Paris to write the song and when we got to the studio: Nothing! Everyone forces me but I have no inspiration. After a while, I said to myself that a lot of people are counting on me to finish this project, I came to my senses, put myself together and was able to complete the title. In the end, it ended well but it was still a painful moment for me.
What do you think of your main area of improvement in the studio?
In my opinion, I still lack consistency. Consistency is essential to working effectively in the studio. So I have to work on that and sharpen my mindset a bit to be more consistent in my work. I really want to be better every day in my music.
You are about to present this project on stage tomorrow at La Cigale, how do you perceive this moment? What will you offer to your audience? (Note: Smahlo played on 12/10)
Music is involved. This is done above all on stage, and not by releasing clips. We can see the audience and interact with them, it’s an intimate moment. For La Cigale, I will suggest a group surrounded by musicians. I came with a special energy, it is an opportunity given to me to be able to perform in this beautiful room, in front of an audience made up of many professionals. We’ll have to relax them, I think I’m good for that. I’m going there to have sex with everything!
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