Ben l’Oncle Soul, a soulman in the Fenua

© Ed Lefkowicz : Alamy Stock Photo
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In just over eight years and three albums, Ben l’Oncle Soul and his sunny voice have brought a breath of fresh air and soulful rhythm to the French music scene. When we met him, the artist, who is preparing a new album planned to be released in 2019, had just got off the plane to give a unique concert in Tahiti. He let us into his world of musicality full of humor, elegance and joie de vivre.

What were your first impressions of Tahiti?

Ben l’Oncle Soul: I’m already sensitive to the vibes, so I found the place very peaceful, very calm, very cool. We were also lucky to be greeted at the airport by a group of dancers; it immediately invites you to the heart of a universe anchored in a culture, something strong.

You do not know Polynesia, but you are used to touring the islands … What do the islands mean for you?

It’s true that i don’t know much about Polynesian culture but i’m particularly sensitive to it because I come from the islands, with a father from Martinique. And the islands are a culture in their own right. Moreover each island has its own culture, its energy, its fruits, its flowers, its light, its sand … It is also a slightly different system: I often say that, on an island, we bump into each other all the time, while in Europe it happens less, so it’s not necessarily the same way to speak, to face the problems … because they must not last for too long! In any case, I do not know how it manifests itself exactly (it would actually makes more sense for others to tell me), I’m not completely aware of it, but the islands are a part of me, that’s for sure !

© Ed Lefkowicz : Alamy Stock Photo

Your tour was over since February, but you still accepted this unique concert in our Fenua, your only summer trip. Why?

At the moment, I’m working on a new album so we’re really on vacation there. So, we declined all the summer concerts … or rather we said we were not available for this period (Ben l’Oncle Soul came with seven musicians for this exceptional event in Tahiti, ED.). But hey ! Tahiti, it’s a destination we did not expect, that really offers something: it’s heaven, it must be said. It is a dream setting, which cannot be declined, for our only summer trip.

For you, does Polynesia evoke pretty vahines, deserted islands, beaches located at the end of the world, ukulele? What are your impressions?

For me, the first came to mind is the island of surf, of the wind. Nature is lush, and the elements are compelling. In fact, I do not know surfing very well, although I think that I share many common values with surfers, in any case that’s how it appears to me. I feel close to the ecology, the elements and the sea as they do.

I am now part of the Surfrider foundation, trying to be active in preserving and safeguarding the oceans from becoming too dirty and deteriorating…so that the oceans are in good condition. The sea, the Mother, for me it’s sacred. So I am longing to see this famous wave of Teahupoo…even that I don’t know how to surf! I’ve never learned it, yet I found it fascinating and I know it’s gaining momentum right now… For the rest, we often use the expression “end of the world” when speaking of Polynesia, because we are in France and shockingly it takes 22 hours by flight, in other words the radically opposite side. However it’s not the end of the world to me, it’s instead, the beginning of the world in a certain way. It is much more “natural” here than in Europe: for me, the end of the world would have been rather the city, and on the other end the nature is the origins. To my eye, that is what Polynesia represents fundamentally.

Can  we expect a Polynesian inspiration on a next song, an upcoming album?

Perhaps, who knows. As a matter of fact, it could be the continuation of things that I have been doing with ukulele. Before I actually came here, I already bought one in Australia several years ago, and since then I’ve used it in several songs. On the next album, we will find its use again in a song named Call Me. I find this instrument creates a harmony that resonates and opens the chakras. And I like its user-friendly side; it’s small, it fits in a bag, and it can be played by the seaside, outdoors, at various places around a good time … So yes, we could definitely find a little of all that in the next compositions again.

What are your major musical influences? Did you have the opportunity to listen to some local music?

Frankly speaking quite a few. I admit that I am deeply ingrained in my African-American culture, black music in a general manner. And then, it’s true that I much admire and have always been deeply touched by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, who reinterpreted and also played standard American black music- of songs that were sung by Nat King Cole and associates- with the ukulele and many Polynesian sounds in his angelic voice …There it is, despite having my universe of predilection, I remain open-minded and above all, I work to my heart’s content. For instance, there is also Malian music that I love immensely. In fact, there is a bit of music that I like everywhere: I met Gnawas, I adore their music and their rhythm. Music is an exchange, and we are not obliged to take everything. I keep an open mind to culture and sharing first.

The very idea about traveling, what does it represent to you?

To begin with, I am a big traveler by my profession, because we travel all the time to give concerts and to play music. And it’s something that truly nourishes me. Traveling opens the minds and awakens me to many curiosities, moments that we sometime miss a little bit in our daily life. We learn to know a little more about who we are by rubbing against different perceptions of things and life. Traveling has taught me to become a conscious man of what I know, and what I do not know yet … There is always the surprise, it sets a lot in motion … in fact, it awakens, in every sense of the term.

Would you eventually live in a place like fenua?

For now I’m a guy who’s always on the move, I’m not necessarily trying to settle my bags somewhere. I spend much time in the Caribbean for a few years, however up to now I hardly crave for buying real estate or having a place to myself. In fact I go where my heart tells me to, but certainly we have to dig when we have a crush for an unusual place or that awakens profound feelings, thus we have to stay a bit longer there, have to talk to people … to try to understand why it speaks to us, because I imagine that there are not only idyllic sides on this island. For now, it resonates with me because it’s full of positive vibes, which is related to human contact, there is a certain form of tranquility that appeases me greatly. And then, it’s the Pacific Ocean and not for nothing it’s called “pacific”. I guess there’s a sort of harmony … .

What would you like to pack in your luggage when you leave us?

First, I will definitely leave with pearls because thanks to them Polynesia is known all over the world. It can be a nice gift offer for a woman … Albeit I would love to leave also with beautiful conversations, a nice exchange with people here and maybe with a sunset or two. I know that the concert will also be an important moment for me, and for the public also, I hope.

Interviewed by  Virginie Gillet

Ben l'Oncle Soul, a soulman in the Fenua
Ben l'Oncle Soul, a soulman in the Fenua
In just over eight years and three albums, Ben l'Oncle Soul and his sunny voice have brought a breath of fresh air and soulful rhythm to the French music scene. He let us into his world of musicality full of humor, elegance and joie de vivre.
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