As I walked into Whats Up! Café on Southern Avenue, I bumped into a charming young face, glistening with a smile and little did I know what an ethereal experience was in store for me there. Paris-based artiste Awori is a nomadic musician who turned to songwriting as a tool to adapt to ever-changing environments. Her performances of hip-hop and R&B blended with electronic and jazz music that evoked strong expressions. She has been a prominent figure in the Swiss music scene for decades and has collaborated with artistes across borders. Her performance at What’s Up! Cafe on September 19 was followed by a musical extravaganza by her friend and DJ Paul Boutique.
Currently studying jazz at the Paris College of Music (IMEP), Awori dropped her album Ranavalona in 2021 and has been touring with it. The tour supported by the French Institut in Paris and the Embassy of Switzerland in India and Bhutan under their initiative “SwitzerlandIndia 75: Success Stories to be Continued”, is a colourful and upbeat production. She proudly represents her roots in pieces she performs — famously described as an “airy hip-hop electronic universe”. She performed in Chandigarh, Calcutta (organised by Alliance Française du Bengale), Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and Manali (in collaboration with the Gaïa Festival). She performed songs from her album Ranavalona, the 2022 singles from it called Mindful, (a remix released in collaboration with artiste Twani), Hold Me and she also left us in awe with her cover of Wizkid’s Essence. t2 was hooked to her melodious voice, powerful rapping, and impactful aura and got into a chat with her. Excerpts:
The music you create has a very unique texture to it. How’d you like to define it?
My music is a blend of a myriad of elements. It majorly has elements of hip-hop as it’s my favourite genre, a bit of R&B and electronic. It also depends on the kind of beat makers and producers I work with. So there’s African influences and you’ll hear a lot of percussions. Then there’s the UK, plus UK garage influences as well. So, my music is mainly hip-hop with mixed surprises and elements in it (laughs).
You’re studying jazz at the moment. So what interested you?
I always listened to jazz but I think I started to appreciate jazz more as I grew up than when I was younger. What I really like about jazz is the improvisational elements in it, which means no two concerts sound the same. Because you never know how it’s going to go. Say when you’re playing a guitar solo or a piano solo, you know where you’re going in terms of chords and stuff but it’s a new sound each time and a new experience altogether. I love that about jazz. Some old school jazz artistes I really look up to are Nina Simone, Alice Coltrane and I also like Miles Davis. Even new artistes have inspired me and there are a great many like there’s a vibrant young scene of jazz nowadays. Nubya Garcia, Ezra Collective and Kokoroko are some of the artistes who’ve really inspired me because they actually try to blend in hip-hop with jazz and thereby bring in a fresh new set of audience. I used to think jazz was more like an older person’s thing, but they’ve really rejuvenated it.
"I like to play multiple genres like house music, dubstep, rap, plus originals. I had a great time in Calcutta, we saw Tagore's house, and with Durga Puja festivities going on, the city feels and looks great. Hoping to come back," said DJ Paul Boutique
How do you see yourself bringing in the jazzy element to your music?
My goal is to have a band with me when I do shows or travel and bring in live instruments to my electronic productions. I play the bass myself, so my current line-up has only one number where the chords and feel of jazz can be felt.
You released the album Ranavalona. Could you tell us more about it?
I released the album in 2021 and ever since I’ve been touring with it. It’s the album I’m also presenting in India. I’ve released two singles and they’re both remixes and electronic pieces.
What was the concept?
It was interesting and made during the very first lockdown that happened during the outbreak of the pandemic. I think it was a very introspective time. If you listen to it you’ll understand that it talks about a lot of things that go on in the mind. There’s obviously some relationship and love stuff, vulnerability and thoughts shared collectively by people, communities and nations. Covid was a time that saw a lot of evident inequality. A lot of people were on the streets and didn’t have access to healthcare and housing. It’s conceptualised from my reflections of a time which I had never seen in my lifetime. An evil that grew in the world and was relatively new, and the havoc it wreaked. It talks about migration and was deeply inspired by the story of two Malagasy queens, Ranavalona I and III.
Nicolas Facino, the director at Alliance Française du Bengale
Which part of the story inspired you the most?
I think it’s just the part where a woman faced so many difficulties, was at the receiving end of cruelties and saw the evils of colonisation. She was sentenced to exile and intentionally erased from the history of her own country. That was something which really touched me because you know, we hear a lot about male freedom fighters... a “man” doing something. So when I heard her story of a woman participating in a fight, I wanted to bring it to the forefront. It’s there in plenty of history books and pages, but it seems lost on people. So, I wanted to focus on it and highlight the same.
How was it performing in India?
Lisa, Alice and Lea
I really enjoyed it! I was nervous at first because I wasn’t sure of how my music would be perceived in this country and whether or not people would like it as I wasn’t very exposed to the taste and culture prevalent here. I was wondering if they’d find the mix of electro and hip-hop interesting. But the response was a sweet surprise to me. They were welcoming and the shows were packed. I kept talking to people even after the show was over. And it really made me want to come back to this country in the future. I hope that’ll be possible.
Apart from music, what else interests you?
Almost everything I do is associated with music (laughs out loud). It’s because I study music, so I do music every day in school, on weekends I have my shows and concerts, and on my holidays I record music. I pretty much do music from the moment I wake up to go to sleep (laughs). Ummmm... I love dancing. I really enjoy whacking, it’s so dramatic and simply perfect for stage and performance. I incorporate it a little bit into my show and it’s one of my goals to have a big show where I can have a big group of dancers with me on stage. Paris has a very large community of whackers, so maybe a few of them.
"What’s Up! Cafe has always taken pride in hosting diverse musical talents from classical musicians to folk. International artistes have been the icing on the cake, be it DJ Moscoda from Russia, the Flamenco dancers from Spain, Chilean Ser o Duo, French DJ Jean Du Voyage or The Bluegrass Journeymen from the USA. Tonight it was extremely special, all thanks to Alliance Française du Bengale, that we could present before the Calcutta audience the immensely talented Awori. Her performance was mesmerising with her signature dance and trivia on each song before she bowled the audience over. We look forward to presenting in Calcutta many more such events," said Debraj Dey, partner at What's Up! Cafe.