Interview with Ray Lema, Emeritus Musician
Flashmag in its edition of this month meet with one of the most important personalities of the black music of the past 30 years, the musician Ray Lema is our guest in the following lines he discusses some highlights of his quarry, while giving us his opinion on matters relating to the music as he conceives and perceives it. He also tells us a little about his designs and future projects...
Flashmag: Hello Ray Lema, it is a great honor for our Magazine to have you as guest, our tribune is yours the time of this interview.
We will immediately go to the heart of the matter, while starting at the beginning. You were born in 1946 in Congo Kinshasa Leopoldville at the time, there very early as seminarian, you are in constant touch with the music, that passion will overcome you as you will hang the cassock to adopt the keyboard, you will prefer the treble key over the key of St Pierre, what was the catalyst for this decision which would probably have created controversy in your family?
Ray Lema: I did not "hook" the cassock because I was still a teenager when I left the seminary, and I first went to college and the University before becoming a professional musician, also I became guitarist, not a keyboardist. In the group of Gerard Kazembe. So I was already a "young adult" and the controversy with my family was mainly on the fact, of abandoning university for music in nightclub...
Flashmag: in 1974 only 28 years old, you become musical director of the Conservatory of Kinshasa function severe enough for a young man of your age then, especially if one is in the context of Congo Zaire at the time, with a number of talented artists the country has, like Papa Wemba, Rochereau and many others, how have you managed to accomplish this task, and what was your relationship with congeners such as those mentioned above?
Ray Lema: You were misinformed. I was music director of the National Ballet, and not the "National Conservatory" which never existed as such, because in the DRC, the public body is called the INA (National Institute of Arts) which includes music, dance and theater, which I have never been the director.
Flashmag: the precision clear up the ambiguity thank you...
Ray Lema: I have also never had a problem with the colleagues you mentioned who are all singers and not instrumentalists, and to this day sometimes they call me, and invite me as a guest on their albums. My task in the National Ballet was to bring together representatives and the best musicians of all ethnic groups of our great country. So I traveled the Congo, Kinshasa and selected about 70 musicians, and we worked together for several months to assemble the show. I assumed this position for about two years. In music there is no secret, there is above all the work.
Flashmag: in 1979 it is the departure for the United States you have a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, you will discover the America of the late 70s and early 80s, how were you chosen as it true that you were already considered in Zaire as one of the most brilliant musician of his generation?
Ray Lema: I' never went as "Fellow" of the Rockefeller Foundation, I was chosen among other musicians from neighboring countries.
Flashmag: Secondly, what were your impressions traveling from Kin to New York, it was a shock probably how have you experienced this?
Ray Lema: I was in Washington DC, and the first thing that attracted me a lot is access to information, i.e. the musical books, records, concerts ... it's on what I first laid my hand. American studios, and the way they recorded, also changed the way I worked then; it's also where I recorded my first record under my name (Koteja).
Flashmag: how was your sojourn on American soil, whom American musicians did you, had the opportunity to work with?
Ray Lema: I worked with many jazz musicians especially; whom I do not even
remember the name, the one with whom I worked the most is Stewart Copeland from (The Police)
Flashmag: In the 80s you relocate to Europe, you will meet and work with big names of the African music such as Manu Dibango. What does this period represent in the genesis of your career? What memories do you have?
Ray Lema: Again you are wrong. I met Manu of course very quickly, and we did at the beginning of my move to Paris a few collaborations in the studio on fast disks, but it was not until much later, about 6 years ago, that we really collaborated and shared stages and toured for three years as a duo. I still live in France, so this period is still my current life. I have fond memories of my musical collaborations in general, because they are motivated by encounters, human and musical as well, otherwise I do not engage in the meeting.
Flashmag: our questions are based on your available biographies, those who wrote them didn't help us alas, a good thing you are there to correct it... so far you have put on the market a dozen album and collaborated in numerous musical projects. Mind you, if you cite your favorite album what would it be? And if you had to talk about your favorite Collaboration what would it be?
Ray Lema: When you have several children, can you really say that you have a preference? Each album has its particularity, its human stories and music and corresponds to a point in my life and my path in music.
Flashmag: they say without any euphemism, you are a musician hyper endowed, who managed to make a real chemistry between African music and Western classical music dealing with jazz and Negro spirituals with a familiarly easiness. Today if you had to define your musical style, what will you say? What influences do you have in the craft of your work? What are the topics that inspire you the most?
Ray Lema: But the answers are in your question, you have very well defined, and my gender and my influences!
Flashmag: the artist is a true witness of the society, even if your musical work is vast; in general what is its philosophical implication? What message do you tend to pass in general?
Ray Lema: I'm just a musician, poet, politician, philosopher; all that they are other businesses where there are already many Masters. I simply advance on my way in music, and to please those who hear me, make them dance, and dream is already a great reward. I have no other claim.
Flashmag: a true musicologist somehow, in 2009 you were seen in Brazil working with the Symphony Orchestra of Sao Paulo, on what was this musical collaboration? What would you say to critics who feel that your music is too intellectual for the mass consumption?
Ray Lema: What do you mean by musicologist?
Flashmag: a kind of emeritus professor in music regarding your achievements and experience ...
Ray Lema: I'm not a musicologist even i have been there for a while now, I am a musician! I was invited by the Orquestra Jazz Sinfonica in Sao Paulo as a musician. The Maestro chose 13 pieces from my compositions and arranged them for his orchestra. Then I was invited to play in concert with the orchestra, as soloist. There is nothing mysterious about that, every month, the orchestra invites an artist whose works he reworked and presented in concert.
As for the music of "mass" as you say, I would say it takes all sorts to make a world, listen to my music those who want.
Flashmag: Speaking of the contemporary popular music and the newer generation of musicians who are flooding the market, what do you think of the fact that one has the impression of listening to the same thing every time, also what about the trend, which pour into the vulgarity of language and yet continue to perform well in the charts anyway? Is there a crisis of creativity in the music world?
Ray Lema: on the market , there is music for all tastes and all ages, what you are referring to, is the music that is conveyed by the big media, what the Americans called "Mainstream", but to have a grand river, it takes a lot of small rivers and tributaries, if you are looking outside of these media, and businesses related to it, then you will find a host of artists who are very creative, which play perhaps not in stadium, but who exist despite the fact that people do not talk about to them. There is a vast public contented with this mainstream only, but there is also a public, perhaps less visible who seeks and finds something else.
Flashmag: with the phenomenon raised above, including the lack of real ingenuity some blame, the excessive formatting of the major’s production companies, what do you think? What about the fact that the artistic genius and creative freedom are lockdown by the strict rules of mass consumption?
Ray Lema: The majors are no longer interested in creativity ,and it's been like that for awhile now. And for some years now, what happen to be more creative is no longer produced in the majors. Artists, and especially musicians (who are not, or rarely, “stars") have since found ways to produce their own music and are no longer signed in the majors. You must look beyond the charts and forget a little about MTV if you want to have a real vision of what is happening in the world of music, true creativity and freedom are of course outside this system.
Flashmag: if, the black music with artists of the northern hemisphere has gained acclaim what do you think of the original African music? In your opinion what is its place in the world stage? What should African musicians do, to better sell their art?
Ray Lema: we should agree at first on what you call "original African music" to understand? What are you talking about? In a scale of a continent like Africa? With all the differences between, south, north east and west? Within our Nations, which are not even Nations, composed mostly of hundreds of ethnic groups with different languages and music? Are you talking about what is happening in large urban centers, or are you talking about traditional music? You see, before thinking to market something, we must first agree on what?
Flashmag: we are mostly talking about any African music in a support that can be economically exploited... "a life without cause is a life without effect" is Ray Lema committed musician? What are his ideals of society? How would he like to contribute to a better world?
Ray Lema: My commitment is to education, only education can raise awareness. Provide opportunities for people to analyze their own situation and the societies in which they live. I try in my small way and in my field, which is the music to help as much as possible, around me.
Flashmag: while closing this interview do you have a special mention to the place of the public? What is to know about your latest project? a word about its composition? What is your agenda for the coming days?
Ray Lema: In response to public feedback on the Mainstream and my thoughts and answers, we have, with my team, set up a web site, which is not yet complete; we want to turn it, into an exchange platform, and data base information. As examples, by the end of August, the small shop will feature artists from different countries and trends, who have none or a reduced distribution, information on the facts and gesture of these artists, and some videos that I am preparing, for educational purpose on specific points of our traditional African music. This takes a long time already. Some new opus also in preparation, you have the surprise in the early months of 2013.
Flashmag: Ray Lema and its readership Flashmag thank you for this interview.
Interview realized by Hubert Marlin Jr.
Video Excerpts RAY LEMA & JAZZ SINÔNICA DE SÃO PAULO BRAZIL