Christiane Obydol - Zouk Machine
Muse of the female trio Zouk Machine Christiane Obydol with Dominique Zorobabel and Jane Fostin who will replace Joelle Ursull, touched the tops of world music in the 80s and 90s with the title Maldon which holds the record of sales in the Afro Caribbean genre to this day. Zouk Machine contributed to the history of contemporary black music and it is with a certain nostalgia that we welcome this month Christiane Obydol who is somehow the soul of Zouk Machine. In a rich and open interview, she returns to the epic of Zouk Machine and vicissitudes of artists, her current projects and her feeling about the evolution of Afro Caribbean music.
Flashmag: Hello Christiane, we are pleased to have you as a guest star of Flashmag this month a tribune that has received a lot of illustrious Caribbean, African, and American artists, like Jacob Desvarieux, Marie Jose Gibon or Ray Lema or Tweet. So, thank you for receiving us. A question that has probably been already asked to you a million times what brought you to music?
Christiane Obydol: Hello I am delighted to be yours.
The music came to me despite myself, because it was everywhere in the house my father was above all a great self-taught musician who sang, whistled like a finch, played guitar, piano, and played flutes he crafted himself. It was he, who gave us the taste for music. Music was everywhere at home. A grand piano in the living room, trumpet, guitars, flutes. My 4 brothers, and one of my sisters have been involved. I bathed in it.
How was born Zouk Machine if we have a history of the group on the internet we would like to have the original version from the best authorized mouth?
Christiane Obydol: The group was born under the idea of my elder brother Guy Houllier, who initially had the vision of a group of women (singers and musicians) but failing to find a group of female musicians, he fell on 3 singers at the front of the stage. And with the invaluable collaboration of my brother-in-law Yves Honoré, we put together the Zouk Machine group. So, they called on Joelle Ursull, Dominique Zorobabel and myself. We went to Paris all together to get to know each other better, and to work our voices and sing different Caribbean standards 3 times a week and for 3 months, in an establishment called at the time « la maison des Antilles ». (the house of the West Indies). Then we returned to Guadeloupe to form the group and sang our first Album in 1986. On our first tour, abroad: Africa (Burkina Faso), in 1987, Tanya St Val joined our formation, and it was at the time an innovative and astute concept (3 in 1) because in fact Experience 7 accompanied Zouk Machine who made choruses for Tanya St Val and vice versa. Hence the 3 in 1. Experience 7 Zouk Machine Tanya St Val.
Zouk Machine begins in 1986 and barely a year later a first setback, with the departure of Joelle Ursull why she left the group when it was barely taking root in the hearts of music lovers?
Christiane Obydol: Well, unfortunately, a year and a half after we realized that Joelle Ursull was not made to be in groups but she was rather a leader, since it was not the spirit of Zouk Machine we had to part ways in common agreement.
After Henri Debs production, you go to a major, BMG, success will follow, with your title Maldon which will hit the apex of the top 50 charts. The single was released by BMG / Ariola on May 18, 1990, the song will remain 9 weeks No. 1 of the Top 50, Of the best sales of singles in France, 6 weeks in number 2 from June to October 1990 and will be certified platinum disk with more than a million copies sold in record time. At that time, you said “we have made it”? How did you manage this huge notoriety that overnight fell on you?
Christiane Obydol: I think we were not aware of it at all. Things went so fast and we were not prepared for such success, but we quickly adapted to it, because we were mentally prepared to make efforts and concessions at that time and decided to live all three in France to make it easy for the record label. We were constantly in a promotional whirlwind that really delighted us! We came from our little Guadeloupe, and were simply proud.
You really become aware of things when you receive money on your account that you do not even assume; This is where everything changes. Because your banker speaks to you in a different way, people recognize you, point fingers at you, call you, FINALLY YOU EXIST! After that it is a question of temper, either you grow your ego, or you remain who you have always been.
But it’s important to be vigilant and distrust advisers and so-called friends at such times.
Have there been any mistakes you made that influenced the serenity of the group?
Christiane Obydol: We were interpreter at that time and not decision-makers. We gave our views, did what we wanted onstage (movements, outfits, choreographies) but did not make final decisions so ... Nevertheless, it is a sequel of disagreements that have caused the break-up of the group in the long run! As far as I am concerned I have always been present to the call, and have always taken my work seriously, while respecting others. Always ready to give more to advance. In 1992, I tore the ligaments of my right foot; The second day of a 2-month tour but I still went on the tour and that day I sang until the end of the show, feeling my foot swell more and more until I was no more able to put my foot on the ground, at the end they called an ambulance to evacuate me. They had to cut out the boots because my foot had swollen, I had to undergo surgery urgently.
Despite everything, I went on the whole tour sitting on a stool for 2 months, it was a real torment!
In what way, the morose sales of Zouk Machine's third opus or personal reasons contributed to What some have called discomfort within the group. Was it difficult for you to manage this slight setback after being the tube of the summer of 1990?
Christiane Obydol: One cannot be a winner every time, music is a quite random business. Yet “clin d’oeil” (wink) is, in my opinion, a very nice album, the promotion was different probably, and the choice of titles by the record company to launch this album was not good (probably) but We had set our hearts as usual despite certain frictions. Obviously, we were disappointed, but we hoped to get better by making the next album better.
In 1995 Jane Fostin leaves Zouk machine how badly that departure harmed the group?
Christiane Obydol: More than a prejudice, it was the blow of Club for Dominique and me much more, than for Guy and Yves. We did not understand Dominique and I, the reasons why she wanted to leave the group? But we found out Jane was ahead of us because she knew we would not be signed again at BMG, then helped by a friend who was also working in a record company, she was offered a solo album, which worked.
Zouk Machine becomes a Duo as after the departure of Joëlle in 1987 and this, until 2006 when Dominique Zorobabel decides to leave, she reconverts to Christianity and engages in the gospel music at that moment, what did you say to yourself? That, this was the end of an era?
Christiane Obydol: Absolutely! "The end of the beans" to use this French expression! The sky fell on my head. I had already felt for some time the beginnings of her disengagement as the shows went on, she used to be so focused, but I was far from thinking that she wanted to stop everything like that, overnight and yet ... To resume one of These phrases " only the stupid does not change! "...
Since you have revived the flame recomposing the group with new singers, last year you celebrated the 30 years of zouk machine. In 30 years of stage if you had to do the same thing what would you change?
Christiane Obydol: I could not have changed anything, because we would have had to change all our meetings, all those that took us there? It would have been necessary to change certain ways of thinking of certain people, certain behaviors, certain visions, certain objectives, etc.
For a group to hold it is necessary to continue to live the same passion with the same enthusiasm, to have the same objectives, know your role and stick to it. With time sometimes, everything goes away .... And the groups are distorted or broken. I nevertheless tried to start again with singers but it was too complicated to share 20 to 25 years with singers who were not part of this past; and which would inevitably never had have the same enthusiasm as myself. So, I decided to surround myself with chorus singers since 2008, to be able to lead my boat alone, because the name belongs to me today. So, I'm the "lead singer" or the muse of this group to resume your term, accompanied by 2 singers or a whole band live. I became Zouk Machine.
If you had to talk about the happiest moment of your career which one will you choose?
Christiane Obydol: The first time we played out of the Caribbean (Martinique / Guadeloupe): Africa and more precisely as I mentioned earlier, Burkina Faso. Where we had been greeted by the late President Thomas Sankara who was an impressive man of charm and class. Without forgetting that on the way out of the plane, a breath of warm air invaded us and reminded us where we came from, and then the red dirt that recolored the houses and the children's clothes. Kindness of people, and unfortunately the misery hidden by their magnificent smiles, of which I retain humility, and hospitality.
And the saddest moment, which one would you choose?
Christiane Obydol: Still Africa This time it is Ivory Coast where grandeur and decadence was visible. The presidential palace with its immensity and its gilding, and the incalculable number of handicapped who give alms, the children who work or beg, ready to follow you to the end of the world. This deep distress.
It was very moving and very evocative for us to set foot on the land of our ancestors. Besides, I wrote a song called "Africa" which will be released in 2018. It tells the day when for the first time we set foot on African soil. and that as soon as you walk out the plane, this first puff of air makes you feel something: "Africa salt of the earth, part of my heart". Mama Africa, grew up without you, without knowing you, setting foot on you; As an orphan, I often dreamed about you ...
Speaking from the personal point of view, does your private life influence your art?
Christiane Obydol: Yes undeniably! I write what I live and feel. I sing my own emotions and convey them. I sing my joys, my sorrows, my desires, my hope.
Speaking of the Afro Caribbean music these days, do you think it is going in the right direction? Jocelyne Béroard, for example, felt that the Zouk to its detriment is no more sang in Creole what would you say about?
Christiane Obydol: I have another vision but understands the point of view of Jocelyn Béroard, which is quite defensible. The defense of the heritage and what says heritage means, authenticity the Creole. But a whole industry would have to be set up for that. It would take an industry like the one that was at the time of Mr. Henri Debs to produce, sell, and export our music. For now, the Caribbean Artists are left to themselves without any conclusive outlet for distribution, and without any official organization around that while it is a real industry.
Most Caribbean artists do not live from their craft properly, always running after their money that is paid in the downlow. It is a whole mechanism that should be put back to keep alive the music industry, that is dying and which is yet a huge heritage. The trade has become "underground" or almost non-existent. Caribbean music , which represents our islands (Martinique, Guadeloupe) remains the Zouk that differentiates us from the others. Apart from our "folkloric" music: Gwo ka or Bèlè, the Zouk is just beginning to be known in the world. Thanks to Kassav, and Zouk Machine, who helped it to cross boundaries in Creole. But in my opinion since we are French, the Zouk could also be sung in French. Because we speak, and think in French why not write lyrics? And some have a very beautiful pen in French, why deprive themselves.
The problem is elsewhere in this music industry that we no longer have and that we lack. Whether in Creole or French. The new generation is in the ragga or the dance hall, which does not belong to us and which we can hardly represent in the outside world but which our youth consumes at all costs.
With the advent of the new technology platforms, we feel that the Afro music has suffered a serious blow, instead of benefiting from the technology, it has experienced a setback in terms of sales, in your opinion why?
Christiane Obydol: It's very complicated, we are all suffering from this new era that is suffocating us, because we do not see any solutions, but this does not concern only Afro-Caribbean artists. The singers of French varieties also accuse the blow. After touring the top 50 (2016), I realized that it was a real chance to come back and make the biggest scenes of France today. The number of artists who stumbled and who have disappeared is amazing! Because they no longer have a record company, either as artist or as distributor. Filling the rooms remains and will always remain the same, an advertising and communication problem, but not only. Music tends to become Kleenex music, that one consumes quickly and throws just as quickly.
Record companies are doing the bare minimum and no longer build careers for artists they sign. So, I think we still have some concerns. Furthermore, as Caribbean, the fight is more difficult. (Internet is poorly installed or do not work very well and everywhere back home). What is left is the live. But not every artist can afford to support a live band, without any help to support the various expenses (clothes, rehearsals, musicians, movements, etc.) And without an industry that will govern our music to better sell it and make it known to our own audience, our music industry will die.
In Jamaica, they mainly consume Jamaican music (reggae, ragga, dance hall). In Cuba (salsa, meringue, soca) In Haiti the Kompa, and each of these music’s are in their original languages but are all governed by local industries, professionals who have the "ear", they are vanguard professionals who keep the schmilblick alive and well.
Last year our editorial in an article felt that African as Caribbean music, does not perform well because some play it now like other genres namely pop or American music and that necessarily it was losing in a ground where for decades American and Western artists have built an audience. Do you think it is important to keep its originality to continue to sell better?
Christiane Obydol: Nothing is predictable these days. You can see a stranger post images of a clip and make millions of views (in English, French, Creole, or other). So, everything is possible and everything is impossible at the same time. We do not know on what criteria to base ourselves, we do not know how to do. The only loophole remains the record company for TV and Radio promotion; And which nowadays is not even truly reliable anymore. To build an audience it’s very difficult because it must keep its loyalty, thus you have to produce titles more often that please, with the ability to be bombarded on the radios at a certain period like (Maître Gim’s) for example? But especially nowadays it is necessary to self-produce to put your own money. But it is also necessary to perform live to retain an increasingly demanding clientele (reality TV) that wants it concretely. The nerve of war remains and will remain money, for it requires means.
We complain that there are no longer TV shows on Afro Caribbean music, and at the same time the few medias pro afro that exist have difficulty surviving because Blacks support them very little. Don’t you think that there is more a crisis of identity that tends to pervert the work of both conscious media and conscious artists?
Christiane Obydol: Yes, I think there is a real identity crisis that results in a rejection of our own musical identity. Zouk music has made our islands known throughout the world and remains a true passport on the outside. But also by bad behavior (non-respect of the schedules, the importance of an 8:30 (prime time), due to our ignorance or our pride). On the one hand, which can be explained because the status of the intermittent workers in the West Indies is not at all in force since very few artists can work and have paychecks of 507 hours declared! For that you would have to work in a hotel and have a contract of 2 to 3 months and work 2 to 3 times a week? For each artist? Or else to be solicited by most of the events that happen on the territory and especially to be declared? And to top it all, the hotels are closing more and more at home, for lack of tourists. Event organizers to fill their stadiums or halls, call on foreign artists regularly, without thinking of our local artists who pick up only crumbs that do not help them to be professional. We go back to the lack I was talking about. A Caribbean music industry in which each artist would be trained. But as you said yourself, will the public follow? I think so if everyone works together in the same synergy and for the same purpose. We must change that. Defend our heritage much more and make it bear fruit with Caribbean influences necessarily in Creole, French, or even in English why not?
At the end of the interview, do you have a question you would have liked to see us ask?
Christiane Obydol: What has happened since then? So, I signed with Wagram in distribution to take over a good part of the catalog of titles of Zouk Machine as well as unpublished titles of Christiane Obydol for 5 years. The first album was released in 2016 and is called "double d'or" with A CD (audio) and a DVD (live) and a unique song by Christiane Obydol: "Go Blues" Yélé!
The second album is in full preparation. Meanwhile, I made the top 50 tour with Marc Toesca and I did all the Zeniths of France, and the biggest halls, it was 36 dates. It was a great experience, and since 2016 I have been building up a live band composed of 2 choristers and 4 talented musicians, and since then I've performed in New York at SOB'S in February 2017, I've celebrated the 30th anniversary of zouk Machine in Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana. I am currently touring France with my band, and intends to celebrate these 30 years in a large Parisian hall at the end of the year if all goes well.
The final word to your many fans around the world, and your agenda for days to come?
Christiane Obydol: Passionate about music from a young age, I gave a lot of my time to music, and more precisely to Zouk Machine that was my main leitmotiv. I went through difficult times but I hung on and never stopped working, and hoped to be recognized one day. The meeting with my manager Henri de Lepine has governed my job, the way of seeing things, working, projecting, and it allowed me to move forward correctly and in the right direction. There is music, and the spirit of music, as my mother used to say. The mind is all that revolves around (the most important in fact is to last). Manage the career of the artist to make it last in time. Because in this trade there are many ramifications which are indispensable for a good functioning and its duration. To use one of my manager's expressions, "we must plant, to be able to harvest later" ... We should eventually do training to educate, refer our artists and teach them about everything that revolves around their singing and / or composer craft. Through the production of records, shows, music platforms; The various contracts (artists, distribution, artists' commitments, royalties, SACEM,
Spédidam, Adami etc.). All these actors must meet in the same synergy to form a real Caribbean music industry; because it exists but it is not formalized as such, because it is a real job for some not just a hobby. Our artists are talented but idle, they are breathless, choking and dying in a system that does not allow them to exist. The real Artist in our islands, Is the foreign artist who comes from outside. Our music is not sufficiently emphasized on our own territory and has become either "retro", "nostalgic", or "folk". Place to the ragga, to the dance hall, to the Kompa of which we are enormously influenced (which does not represent us) but where the new generation is connected and unfortunately get accustomed to. Find the mistake! All this must change.
In Miami where Flashmag was created in 2011 you still benefit from an impressive wave of fans I have to tell you this if you did not know.
Christiane Obydol: No, I confess that I did not know for Miami, and for the United States in general. But I think that's why we were recently contacted to do an American tour. It seems that the music of Zouk Machine is known there and might be pleasing some. I am really surprised and will try the experience very soon. Lol! Thank you for this interview and hope to see you during my visit on the American territory. I kiss my fans of the first days and all those who want to discover the music of Zouk Machine, I say to them see you very soon! Cordially.
Christiane Obydol, thanks for this open talk, good continuation.
Interview by Hubert Marlin