Princess Erika, music heroin
Flashmag in its issue of December receives as "Guest Star" a grand dame of contemporary music. European from birth and African in the bowels, Princess Erika is the Queen of French reggae. She’s not afraid to speak up her mind. In what follows she answers the questions of the editor, soberly and without restraint, talking about her life and career, while giving her opinion freely on some current topics.
Flashmag: Hello Princess Erika! We would like to say at first that we are happy and the readers with us to have you as a guest star this month. For those who do not know you yet, can you tell us more about yourself, origins, academics, and your background in short?
Princess Erika: Hello! I was born in Paris in the fourteenth district from Cameroonian parents’ intellectuals and musicians in passion. I started studying music at the age of 5 at Paris conservatory… then I attended some very good schools and colleges. I have a degree in modern literature and American literature.I formed several bands with my sisters’ very reggae inspired; and then I started a solo career. My first song "Trop de bla bla " (too much non sense) was released in 1988. And I will say that I have always lived in a musical ambiance.
Flashmag: Where do you take this passion for music, whilst it is known that at the age of 5 you were admitted at the Paris Conservatory? A not so common fact, we have to admit that you were a gifted kid?
Princess Erika: This passion comes from my family. When I went back to Cameroon for holidays I saw that my family from my father side is musician. My paternal grandfather was an outstanding banjo player! And I was rather in the average seen the level of the family!
Flashmag: at the conservatory you learned to play the piano and worked your vocals, one would have expected to see you, perform a more conventional kind of music such as opera, what was the trigger why have you chose the reggae music, what influenced you? And as a young artist, who were your models?
Princess Erika: Reggae is the music of rebellion perfect for delivering messages. It's also the music from exile, which was my case, even if I am an exile from the second generation. My early influences are Bob Marley and David Bowie because they are real songs singers. And Billie Holiday for the drama of his life ...
Flashmag: can you give us a feedback on your feelings when you took the scene for the first
time and on what occasion it was?
Princess Erika: My first scene was in a radio hook during vacation camp. I was barely 7 years old; I sang Adam & Eve, from Sheila and I won! I was very proud.
Flashmag: very soon you have created groups associated either with your classmates from high school, or later with your sisters (The Black Heart sisters). Born into a family of four sisters you are practically all musicians. After you’ll move on to "the Sound and the Princess Royal" and work with Jamaican musicians including Dennis Brown, in the early 80s’ can you tell us more about this period of your life? What lessons did you draw and how it influenced your future?
Princess Erika: The meetings have always stimulated my creation. With my sisters at home we used to sing and work our voices together. I have always enjoyed working in groups; in this environment, I have meet many musicians and participated in many projects. All this gave me an opening to a lot of different musical worlds.
Flashmag: the second half of the 80s’ are a milestone for you because, you give birth to your son Julian in 1985, the year after, in London you record your first album produced by yourself. The title track, "trop de bla bla bla,"(too much nonsense) single of this album is put on the market in 1988, finishing in a modest 39th place in the top 50, this title will experience a success later when used for an advertising logo. Can we learn more about the genesis of this album where did you find the inspiration to realize it? And with whom did you work to produce it? So true is it that this album is considered the turning point in your career, having been a launching pad of sorts?
Princess Erika: “Trop de bla bla ” is a title that I recorded with the band Aswad in London and produced by Dennis Bowell (of LKJ). It is not recorded on any album!!! I recorded several tracks with Aswad and Dennis Bowell but I released only that one back then. I had to invest my own money on it…since have cooked for the music legend Fela when he came to Paris with his band he was looking for African cooks ...When I wrote this song I wanted to speak with sincerity and humor of the environment, a little bit macho among Rastafarians and other relations of domination, and I realized that it spoke to many women ...And success came alone ...
Flashmag: then follow the album "I must work in 1990" "Princess Erika" in 1992, "D’origine" in 1995 "tant qu’iI y aura" in 1999 that will establish you as a true diva of music reggae in France and in the Francophone world, the success will be great, what is your secret we are still in awe by what you have accomplished? Wasn’t it hard to be black and have a breakthrough in the show business in Europe, an environment sometimes a little bit too square? Did you ever felt undervalued because of your color?
Princess Erika: The first album was released in 1992 and called “Princess Erika” one can find the titles like: Calomnie (slander) or “a la derive de mes maux” (drifting of my ailments). It's on the album "D’origine" that “il faut je travaille” (I have to work) was released in 1996.Yes it is very difficult to succeed as a black in France because there is not that much room for blacks. There is always at some point this bottleneck ... We must always fight more to get less results.But I am not defined in the eyes of others and I feel underestimated only by myself sometimes... And as Frantz Fanon said "It's the white that creates the dark."
Flashmag: thank you for the correction ...in between you’ll also collaborate with many artists including Marc Lavoine, Rita Mitsouko, Catherine Ringer, Pierpoljak, Sally Nyolo, les enfoires (the bastards), and many others at the same time you will write for artists such as the Nubians “embrasse moi” ( kiss me) or Jane Fostin. If it is clear that you have mastered your art, what did it brought you artistically? The Human experience you have lived with these people of the arts like you?
Princess Erika: As I told you earlier, I love meeting people and music. With each of these artists have lived strong moments that I will never forget. Then you meet new people and live new emotions. That's what keeps me going in life so it gave me a lot!And I continue to be open to all.Flashmag:what is your opinion on the current state of contemporary music? We have the feeling that there is no more room for innovators while the music is being formatted by the majors production company. It seems like we are hearing the same thing all the time? Everything seems to be commercial, is there still room for purists like you, people who can make the music the way they like and have success?
Princess Erika: Definitely agree with this analysis: the music of today is formatted to be consumed quickly and en masse. We are programmed to be consumers and not lovers or music lovers ... must always be confident and sincere is the only way I know to do the music we love and of course the work.
Flashmag: In 2000 you put your music career on hold to give birth to your second child Oudima
in 2003, and especially touching other arts such as theater and film, were you will play alongside Smain " charity bizness " les Jardin de Papa (Dad gardens) "of Zeka Laplaine in 2003, or the stage of the theater in the play like " le costume "(dress)by Peter Brooks in 2000 and" The Vagina Monologue "French version of Eve Ensler's play, why This foray into comedy, what artistic experience did you draw? Another way for you, to get the message across? Also how being a mother influenced your career?
Princess Erika: I love when art is plural and being able to practice it in this way is a luxury. I was lucky enough to be called for acting and to be given the confidence, I learned a lot of these new expressions, especially in theater with Peter Brook. Every day before the play we were making some practical exercises to stay alert!Being a mother brought me to push myself and stay put on any situation because I knew therefor that I was not alone, I had to provide for my children.
Flashmag: in 2005 you will move back to the music scene with the album “a l’epreuve du temps” (the test of time) an album of maturity the title is significant, this opus was completely produced by you. You have arranged and wrote all the lyrics what message did you want to give with this album? Was it a way for you to assert your freedom as an artist? Taking into account what we have discussed above regarding freedom in artistic creation and the influence of the majors companies in music production?
Princess Erika: Yes it is for this independence of artist that I decided to produce my album. But I had some surprises with the producer who came in late to resume the project and left with the master tapes! When you exit the secure circuit of majors you run the risk of hitting small crooks!
Flashmag: You are one of the iconic figures of the black music of the 80 and 90 which in the opinion of many observers was the most fastidious with the tide of Rap, Funk, R & B Hip Hop Ragga hitting the four corners of the world. Today what do you think of this cultural phenomenon that has lost its breath? About you what are the reasons of this shortness of breath? Do you think that the music called Black is heading in the right direction? What should be done to improve its image?
Princess Erika: I think hip hop is not dead ... yet. But like all contemporary music as we said earlier, hip hop and R & B are formatted. I will not say the same of the dance hall and reggae that are still urban music underground. And I think that for a musical movement to last, there must be “headliners”. Perhaps we didn’t get it right in France for this type music ...
Flashmag: In 2011 you pull out your 5th album "Just Erika" can you tell us more about the topics that are treated who produced this album? With whom you have collaborated to work it out? Where was it recorded? Is the album available in the U.S.?
Princess Erika: "Just Erika" was first recorded with the collaboration of Mariano Beuve a major producer of Hip Hop. We worked for two years and he died suddenly when we had just finished the mixes ... since I wasn’t able to find an agreement with his successor in title, I had to start over with a new producer Maouène Khalil's the brother of the singer Assia . We recorded at Studio Davout. It is an album done with musicians we casted Khalil and me.
Flashmag: is Princess Erika a committed artist? What are her ideals of society? So true it said that life is a life without cause is a life without effect? How would you contribute to building a better world? What do you think of this period of social movements that shook the world today, Africa, Europe, Asia and America?
Princess Erika: I think that building a better world as to be through its own improvement, and the raise of right question towards ourselves first. I practice this all the time and I hope I have somewhat enhanced over time.What is happening in Africa right now is instructive… also I notice that there, in the ICC (international criminal court) you can see only African heads of states ... it’s hard To believe that there are crimes only in Africa ... it gives the opportunity to think about what Africa must reclaim to the West: a fair justice!
Flashmag: Are you satisfied with the progress made until now? If it was to start all over again what would you change?
Princess Erika: Yes, I'm happy because I always seem to evolve and address unknown territories. Today for example I regularly participates in “les grosses Tetes” (Big Heads) with Philippe Bouvard on RTL!
Flashmag: before closing the debate is there another question another topic you would have liked us to discuss but unfortunately we would have omitted?
Princess Erika: The DSK Case? No just kidding! Everything is fine, the talk was good!Flashmag: a conclusion word in towards your many fans and readers of Flashmag? And what is your agenda for the coming months?
Princess Erika: I enjoy life every day and try to honor it ! I want everyone to have a passion, an ideal; it helps greatly to stay up.My agenda for this coming year is mostly made of concert dates, a book certainly ... we're working on it !Flashmag: Princess Erika, Flashmag and all its readers thank you for answering the questions posed to you with openness and sincerity.
interview realized by Hubert Marlin Elingui Jr.