Meet Guadeloupean singer, songwriter & musician, Erik Pédurand
I remember when I first set foot in Jamaica in 2008. Amidst raging sound systems, ardent tropical moisture, languid clamor and familiarity, I felt strangely at home and foreign all at once. But the feeling of being lost in translation did not come from the newness or the loudness of the call to be there but rather from the odd and uncanny linguistic experience that took place then. Around (and to) me, people spoke a language that I neither fully comprehended nor felt totally foreign to. I could understand some of it if I stopped, paused, reflected, made educated guesses or just paid more attention but I was also clearly no longer in a position to understand all of it: its patterns, nuances, inflections, cadence, expressions, … Jamaican Creole or Patois has never been perceived as broken English to me but rather as a coded and much more rhythmical vessel of strength, humor and perhaps, most importantly, solidarity. Something that pulled me in and made me feel wanted but not yet worthy of the good loving it promised…
Music is language and in that lies the implication of how language brings people together and what kind of a bond is created? When singer, songwriter and musician, Erik Pédurand speaks of Creole (all Creoles but even more so the creole from his native Guadeloupe), his words are imbued with the history of the language itself. A language whose very existence was borne out of the erection of a multi-continental and socioeconomic institution that sought to gain and conquer whilst and by oppressing, diminishing, exterminating any forms of culture that in essence would both discredit and resist it. A language that the Whites or Békés now casually speak, content with their claiming of our blood, our tears, our fears and our buoyancy. So for the Black man that he is, to write and sing in Creole can be both natural and revolutionary. As is often the case today, standing in your true self, unabashedly, unapologetically, simply is cause for much talk, debate, dissension and even discord.
The Caribbean has a very unique converging of cultural histories, which makes communication at the very core of any attempt to awaken, share, and then transcend the overpowering and constantly lingering doom of Capital. Yes, capital not just capitalism. Erik says it best in his creative reflections on the basis of past and modern slavery and the consequences of profit over culture. With renowned Jazz pianist from the sister island of Martinique, Mario Canonge, he has taken on a new musical journey that seeks to interrogate the very notion of commodification from our bodies to our language, be it artistic or political (notwithstanding the ambiguity that even in its most entertaining forms, it may have always been both). But it feels as though the journey that Erik has always been on is one of creative resistance. At first timidly and now with the resolution that comes with age, there is a sense that it no longer is just possible for creatives of color irrespective of their base, geographies or audience to produce content that only seeks to further the status quo, that is limited in its form and purpose. Erik traveled. He had to. Paris, Washington D.C., Detroit and (back to) Guadeloupe. He recently headed on to Colombia and the Afro-Latin territories that share space with their mighty North American neighbours. He believes that there is a common ground from which the Caribbean can finally hold a stance that is both yearned and decidedly necessary. A sort of creative commonwealth that aims at speaking its truth, its glory, its loss, its success with no political partitions, no social subtitles, no economic restrictions, no Western dictates.
In our many and riveting conversations, we talked about healthy bodies and brown skins, language and purpose, nostalgia turned into creative energy, geo-localized resistance, but also how classism and institutional racism eerily coalesce in urban spaces and why fashion has been a prime focus of his (!). Erik is a generous and enlivened talker. His mind seems to be racing at 200 miles per hour doomed by a self-inflicted sense of urgency but his tone and narrative style are pitch perfect: impeccably precise and thoughtful. I watched him in concert and listened to his first opus, Chaye Kow too many times to share (smoothly blazing in the afternoon breeze… driving down to the pulsating Kingston from the hilly pastures from which you can glimpse the shape of Cuba in the distance). Talking to a Caribbean man, a “neg doubout”, the contemporary expression of his predecessors like Eugène Mona, whom he invoked so powerfully in the magnificent Tribute to Mona album feels like this coalescence rings true. It is timely.
Such a soulful reconnection is rare and must be cherished because in actual fact, the Caribbean that is embodied in this man’s artistry by far exceeds any solely intellectual discourse on freeing ourselves from the pre, post and current structurally engineered dominant gaze. It shatters the discursive back and forth that many still wrestle with in order to position themselves as adequate or legitimate. It is conscious in action but free in form and thought. There is just so much brilliance that I am in a state of frantic eagerness to find out what lies ahead, what new and deemed subversive content will be produced, what shape will the music embrace.
Eugene Mona’s AGOULOU CÉ LANMÒ interpreted by Erik Pédurand as the soundtrack of the short film directed by Fabienne Orain Chomaud “NIGHTMARE BEFORE WEDDING”
More questions keep pressing on in this curious and impatient brain of mine and many more conversations will have to be had to nurture the sketched theory and reality of creative resistance and although our times call for quick fixes yet lasting impact, Erik’s artivism calls for wisdom and knowledge, for delicate craftsmanship and political sustainability, for creative capital (or kapital). Eugène Mona once said “Je suis un enfant du Marigot qui veut toucher à l’universel… C’est possible, non?” * To the rhetorical, our answer would be: “But you already have.” And in my mind, so has Erik.
“I am black; I am in total fusion with the world, in sympathetic affinity with the earth, losing my id in the heart of the cosmos — and the white man, however intelligent he may be, is incapable of understanding Louis Armstrong or songs from the Congo. I am black, not because of a curse, but because my skin has been able to capture all the cosmic effluvia. I am truly a drop of sun under the earth.”
― Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks
*Translated as “I am a child of the swamp who wows to touch the universal… Possible, right?”
A few great links to delve into Erik’s musical universe (chronologically that is! :-):
–Live au Cabaret Sauvage, Paris (in 4 parts)
–Bel Pasaj with Martinique-based music producer and artist, Joël Jaccoulet
–Erik’s Chaye Kow, Ecole Créole and Tribute to Mona albums are available on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer and Soundcloud