Martin Meissonnier:Interview &Works
At the end of the last year, 30/Dec/2002, Martin Meissonnier visited my site, and sent me a mail. I asked him some questions, and he answered to them. He also sent me the list of his works. The exchange of the mails became a kind of interview. I was very much excited to know his overwhelmingly wide-range career.
With the kind permission of Martin Meissonnier, I gathered and edited the mails to look like an interview, and put it on this page. The list of his works are in the below of the interview.
(Go to Works)
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Interview (31/Dec/2002 - 16/Jan/2003)
Q.According to your biography that I checked in the WEB, you were a guitar and keyboards player for rock bands, a promoter of jazz concerts and French tours, and a manager of jazz artists including Don Cherry. And according to your list of the works, you were a journalist, too. You worked in many projects in 70s!
A. I was a music journalist at French Daily Liberation and National French Radio France Musique. In fact, at the time I was promoting jazz bands in Paris and France, and so I was one of the few contacts for all these bands (I had the chance to meet and promote artists like Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Bill Evans, Dizzy, Cedar Walton, Pharoah Sanders, Mac Coy Tyner, Gil Evans etc...) to perform France, which was a very good market at the time for jazz. I initiated many tours as well for bands like the Lounge Lizards, Albert Collins, Old & New Dreams, Art Ensemble, Carla Bley, Human Arts Ensemble, Han Bennink& Peter Brotzmann...and many others.. But as a friend and artist, Don Cherry had certainly the biggest influence on me. AS I was traveling with him and touring he taught me so much about life and music . As French journalist Francis Marmande wrote ," he was living world music"
Q. When I first heard King Sunny Ade's "Juju Music"(1982), I was very surprised by its modern sound, seemingly different from the stereotype image of African music. Considering that it is your major debut production, I think the sound production of "Juju Music" is very sophisticated. How did you learn the studio techniques?
A. Before then, around 1977-78 I executive co- produced (with Pierre Lattes) a Don Cherry+ Latif Khan album called "Sangam" (Europa records 1978). This album was recorded in Paris. Another was for Okay Temiz and Oriental Wind "Zikr" (Sun Records - distribution King records in Japan) and I worked on 2 Masahiko Togashi's records as coordinator (for King records Japan) One with Don Cherry and Charlie Haden, and one with Albert Mengelsdorf. I also helped on many other recordings records . I also coordinated and was around for for jazz musicians like Don Cherry, Charlie Haden, and various French musicians etc... You can maybe find "Zikr" in Japan I am sure, it was a sophisticated Turkish jazz album and my production debut. This is how I learned the techniques that were very basic at the time. In fact at the time what you needed was a pair of good ears and a good sense of music. The digital technics only came after 1980 and changed a lot of this. For good? I am not sure, but I started buying everything as the new techno machines came out: TR 808, Prophet V,Linn, Macintosh, Atari, EMU, the whole set of technology...and I started enjoying working with it.
Q. You mean you came to Japan to make records of Masahiko Togashi?
A. I didn't come to Japan at that time. Few stays in the 80 th and 90 th. I came on different tours with King Sunny Ade, Papa Wemba and Amina. It was a great pleasure to meet Japanese giants like Saburo Kitajima, Haruomi Hosono, or Yasuaki Shimizu. This ended up in cooperation: Most of the time the Japanese artists were coming to Paris and so I had the chance to work on "Subliminal" from Yazuaki Shimizu, and "Omnisightseeing" of Hosono among other projects.
Q. Whose original idea was it to make Ade's international record? You? Chris Blackwell? Or Ade?
A. It was me. As I was working for Fela, I heard Sunny Ade's music in Nigeria as I was stopped in a traffic jam in a taxi. It was hear this incredible pedal steel guitar solos screaming out from a big sound system. I went down to ask who was performing that music and I went to meet him right away. Chris Blackwell offered me a label deal around the same time. So I suggested Sunny as our first artist. We also recorded a great Afrobeat album with Tony Allen and Sandra Isidore (from "Upside Down"), but Chris Blackwell, for reasons I didn't understand didn't release the album. I really loved Sunny's music. I never imagined the record would have such a tremendous success at that time. But Sunny was also a fantastic performer. The records don't catch that but they bring something else.
Q. Fela Kuti's "Black President" (1981), which you worked with him, happens to be my first African LP I bought. How was the work with Fela?
A. My primary job was to be the promoter and manager in 1981. On top of that I was booking studios and engineers and working with the record company Arista for record covers and all kind of details. Fela did not allow anybody to interfere with his music. I was very lucky to be there. I could write a book about that experience because it was so dense and phenomenal.
Q. So, how did you produce "Juju Music"? Did you make the demo-production or something?
A. Sunny had already recorded about 50 albums in Nigeria, so there was no need to demo anything. So we decided to rerecord some of the greatest hits tunes of Sunny that could suit a world audience. I was the manager and producer. I wanted to get Wally Badarou that I really loved to produce the album, but he was too busy with Grace Jones and Joe Cocker. So I started doing the job by myself. It just happened like that. "Juju Music" was not a very sophisticated production. It was recorded in 2 days only, live in Lomé (Togo). I just added synth sounds on top of it in London with Godwin Logie and he did a nice mix. But the preparation took a long time (about a year) in order to choose and shorten the tunes cause Sunny had so many to choose from.
Q. The unique use of rhythm machine in Ade's "Aura" (1984) really surprised me. Whose idea was it? Where its idea came from? It reminds me of Bob Marley's "Natty Dread", which is coincidentally the third album in Island records.
A. The first Linn drum was out. Sunny and myself were thrilled and excited and found out we could do fake talking drum sounds and mix them with real ones. It was great fun. We really experimented a lot. On some of the tracks on "Aura" there are 15 guitars. I was a bit disappointed with that album "Aura". I think we should have spent a little more time on it but we had a tour deadline to rush it out... too bad.
Q. I'd like to ask you something about another important work of you, "Kutche"(1989). I heard somewhere that Cheb Khaled didn't like "Kutche", and Khaled said that Safy Boutella's role was limited, and he was there mainly because of political reasons. What was the contribution of Safy Boutella in "Kutche"?
A. Huge. He organized the whole thing for a whole year, selected the tunes and arranged them. I helped him to put that all together in the studio in order to make it sound good and modern. Khaled told me recently it was his favorite album.
Q. What is your most favorite work?
A. I like them all. Every time is a new experience. There are some of them I don't like as much because they were not as well finished as I wanted (generally for end of budget or time)
Q. Your wide range of musical interests and works surprises me. How do you communicate with the people in different cultures? Some "purist" people tend to criticize the cultural mixture work as "cultural imperialism". What do you think about it?
A. I always try to produce artists as they wanted to be produced and often I worked for them. If they wanted to sound modern, we went together that way. If they wanted to stay acoustic, then we did. I always spend lots of time studying the music too in order to keep the essence of the music. I do understand that a lot of people are angry to see their music sampled or copied with other people's name on it. That makes me angry too. I have never stolen peoples music to put my name on it. So the cultural imperialism doesn't apply. Certain critics want the artists to sound traditional and blame the producers. But I have to argue in the studio sometimes to make the music more traditional. Many young artists in the world want to be on MTV and in the charts. So it is cultural Imperialism to force them to sound like their grandads. Should all Japanese musicians sing Minyo and play Shamisen? Should every French singer play hurdy gurdy and bagpipe ? Lets ask some kids what they think about that.
Q. What is your basic approach in producing music? What is your main part when producing music?
A. It really depends on the project, what the artist wants and what is needed. sometimes I just help to bring out the project and only lend my ears and ideas. sometimes I arrange the music sometimes I arrange and compose like in "Bigmen: Rai meets reggae". It is very different every time. But anyway, I don't produce much albums anymore, I do documentary films.
Q. Would you explain about your recent musical work, "Bigmen: Rai meets Reggae" (2001)?
A. It was a bit of a rest. I was offered by this record label Tabou1 to do this challenge. Produce 12 songs with 12 reggae singers duetting with 12 Algerian Rai singers. The main studio was set in my flat where we recorded Khaled, Tarik, Miana, Anouar, Djelloul etc... and I flew to Jamaica to record Horace Handy, Sly &Robbie, Leroy Sibbles, Gregory Isaacs, U Roy, Anthony Ray and the others... You can listen to the result on the album. The only bad news is that this record came out just after September 11, and it has been very difficult to play Arabic music on the radio since. But I am very proud of that record. I think it will not die. It has been a massive hit in Arabic countries, so at least people enjoyed it there.
Q. Why did your major interest move to films?
A. I started to be tired of the life in the studio. In 1987, I almost didn't see the light of the day. So I decided to get a healthier and more interesting life. Make Documentary films was a good job for that. And I started to produce a weekly global music program called "Megamix" broadcasted for 6 years in France and Germany and some other countries.
Q. Would you explain about your film works? As I see your list of film works, your interest lays in many fields and many countries. And where can I see your film?
A. My films are produced usually for European cultural television ARTE or for Canal +. They are unequally distributed worldwide. I like discovering new countries. So the documentary films are a good way to learn and travel around the world in focus. I sometimes do investigation work like " Invisible War: Depleted uranium and the politics of radiation" about the use of radioactive weapons within the Gulf War. But I also do philosophical films like the "Time guardians" about the various calendars in the world and the astrologers or scientists that control them. I like mythological films like " In the footsteps of the Queen of Sheba" and I am currently doing a "Walking with Buddha"documentary.
Q. Is there anything similar in making films and making music?
A. Very similar. It is always about telling stories and sharing new ideas and I always compose my soundtracks myself.
Q. It may be impolite to ask someone a political question unless he is a politician. But I cannot help asking you, because you worked as a kind of bridge between Western and Arabic musical world, and because you successfully worked among the different cultures, and because your themes in documentary films sometimes seem to be in international politics. What do you think about recent international political situation after 9.11? It seems that cultural pluralism is decreasing its power in front of the simple nationalism.
A. The whole idea was to share the music and present artists from everywhere- as they wanted to be presented- to the whole world. I believe that in Europe, broadcasting and sharing African and Arabic musics did a lot against racism and fear of the strangers. It did help a lot in building more understanding between people. Since 9.11 you can not hear any Arabic music anymore on the radio. It is too bad because we have abandoned Rai singers alone in their fight. Rai singers who are Muslims have always been at the forefront of the cultural fight against Islam extremists and they have paid their dues: singer Cheb Hasni and producer Rachid Baba have been slaughtered. But the road is opened, now artists all over the world can share their music globally and sing different languages .
Q. Finally, what is your "desert island record"? Or all-time-favorite record?
A. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (ANY LIVE recording). I had the chance to film Nusrat and spend a week on tour with him in La reunion Island.
SELECTED RECORD PRODUCTION (SINCE 1978)
"Bigmen - raï meets reggae" 2001
featuring Gregory Isaacs, Sly &Robbie,Sugar Minott, Chaka Demus & Pliers,
cheb Anouar, cheb Tarik ,Khaled, etc...Tabou1/Virgin
Robert Plant/Jimmy Page: « No quarter » " Yalla" " A wonderful One" 1996
"Artistes africain contre le Sida" For la revue Noire. Featuring Papa
Wemba, Lokua Kanza, Monique Seka, Omar Pene, Bonga, Ray Lema, Cheb Mami,
Cheik Tidiane Seck , etc...
Alan Stivell : " Brian Boru" 1995 (Dreyfus Musique)
Musiques d'Ouverture et de clotûres des Jeux Olympiques d'hiver -
Albertville 1992 - XIIIbis records
1991 "Arizona Dream" Iggy Pop/Goran Bregovic as co-producer with Goran
Amina : " Le Dernier qui a parlé" 1990 , "Yalil", Wadiye" 1992 Mercury
Haruomi Hosono « Omni sight Seeing' Sony Japan 1990 as coordinator
Papa Wemba: " Esclave" Melody 1989
Carmel : " Sally remix" London records 1988
Wasis Diop : " Soweto Dal" Nova Scratch 1988
Shan Shan Typhoon 1989 Sony
Yasuaki Shimizu : "Subliminal" 1988 JVC
Cheb Khaled / Safy Boutella: "Kutche" 1987 Sony/Pomme Music
Afrika Bambaataa : "U don't have to be a star" Nova Scratch 1987
Tony Allen : " Too Many prisoners" 1987 Barclay
Ray Lema : " Medecine" 1985 Celluloid
1985 Sountrack "Black Mic Mac" with Ray Lema -Barclay records
Manu Dibango : " Abele Dance" "Manu Seventies " 1984
King Sunny Ade : 3 albums "Synchro System" "Juju Music" " Aura" 1982/84 on
Fela Anikulapo Kuti : "Black President" "Original Suffer Head"
Perambulator" 1980/81 (3 albums as executive producer) on Arista
Okay Temiz : " Zikir" (Sun Records) 1979
Don Cherry : "Music" (Europa Records) 1979
DOCUMENTARIES AS AUTHOR/DIRECTOR/COMPOSER
"Mac World-Magic World" 75 minutes for ARTE on Brand Culture. ARTE 2002
« Une Europe sans Loi »
52 minutes for la Cinquième 2000 with judges Eva Joly, Renaud Van
Ruymbecke, Gerardo Colombo ... etc...
"Paroles de Juges"
90 minutes for Arte 2000 with judges Eva Joly, Renaud Van Ruymbecke,
Gerardo Colombo ... etc...
"Invisible War, depleted Uranium and the politics of radiation"
64 minutes for Canal + /2000
"In the Footsteps of the Queen of Sheba"
2x 52 minutes for Arte/ Gaumont television 1999
Shot in Yemen/Ethiopia/ Israel
110 mn for Arte 1998
with JM Messier, Serge Tchuruk, Michael Bloomberg
about the Net Economy and banking
"The Wheel of Destiny"
2x 52 minutes for Arte on Astrology around the world
film shot in India, Hong Kong, Guatemala, Mali...
60 mn for Canal + 1997
a film about the different calendars
"Music is my Drug"/Psychedelic Trance
52 mn for Canal+ 1996
"Internet-Un monde Digital"
120 mn for Arte 1996
with Alvin Toffler, Louis Rosetto
DOCUMENTARIES (AS PRODUCER)
« Rock et Fascisme de Valérie Lumbroso (Arte)
« Rap & Islam » de Bernard Zekri (Arte)
featuring Louis Farrakhan,Public Enemy
« Avis de Tempête : rap » d'Antoine Laguerre et Bernard Zekri
featuring NTM, MC Solaar, IAM, Secteur A...
1974: Afro Music, Free Sons, Jazz Hot
1975-1977 Libération weekly page
2001 Book «Depleted Uranium - La guerre Invisible » published by Robert
Laffont. A book about depleted Uranium.
"L'Oeil du Cyclone": on Spike Jones:Canal +
1x 26mn/ 1995
"Megamix": musical program - La Sept/Arte-1989-1994
producer/director.of 220 programs
"Club Sans Nom ":cultural TV program for la Sept
8 x 52 mn /1990 as producer
"Big World Café ": musical program - Channel4 (UK),1988/89
2x 10 shows as associate producer
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