St Germain's Self-Titled Album Melds Deep House With Malian Music

19 February 2016 | 2:54 pm | Kate Kingsmill

"I wasn't satisfied, so I wiped everything."

There were a few albums that defined the '90s. Along with Moby's Play, The Chemical Brothers' Surrender, Fatboy Slim's You've Come A Long Way, Baby and Morcheeba's Big Calm, St Germain's Boulevard was the soundtrack to the decade.

The Parisian producer's smooth, down-tempo, so-called nu-jazz was the definition of the 'chill-out' trend, heard in every cafe, recovery club, wannabe bar and 'chill-out' compilation. He did it again in 2000 with Tourist, but then St Germain (real name Ludovic Navarre) disappeared. "After Tourist release I did about 250 shows around the world during two-and-a-half years. After that I needed to take a break from music," Navarre explains. It wasn't until 2014 that we heard a peep from him again, when he delivered a remix of Gregory Porter's Musical Genocide for Blue Note. By then, he declared, he was finally working on a new album. Released in October 2015, the self-titled album took Navarre six years to produce — his method is precise and time-consuming. "The elaboration of my album started in 2006 with the same musicians," says Navarre. "I wasn't satisfied, so I wiped everything. I started researches, taking a musical journey in my studio, from Nigeria, Ghana and Mali."

"I started researches, taking a musical journey in my studio, from Nigeria, Ghana and Mali."

Navarre decided it was Malian music he wanted to work with. "Blues is my favourite music since a long time. Malian music is blues' closest music for me. I really wanted traditional sounds." He fell in love with Malian band The Hunters: "They are like preachers singing in hypnotically loops." Unfortunately, says Navarre, he never made it to Mali. "The Malian musicians were easy to find in Paris; there is a big Malian population in the neighbourhood."

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Before starting work on each track, Navarre says he already has a global vision for the recording. He records each of the artists individually, "then once I have musicians' and singers' recordings, I start to work alone, sometimes for one month again and again until I'm satisfied... and I'm not easily satisfied. I took a few holidays on the Corsica island by the sea, but my home studio is essential for me. I'm working by night since a long time and I like this sound of silence in the city to concentrate.

"I could say that I'm more in deep house style mixing with jazz or blues or reggae and now with African instruments. For this album it was difficult to match the Malian musicians' approach with my electronic rhythms — I had to adapt to them."

Touring this album has been another undertaking altogether. "We are eight on stage," says Navarre. "Traditional instruments from Africa like kora n'goni, kamele n'goni guitar and balafon have been played in studio and now on stage by the same musicians. Now with the rehearsals for the live tour, the musicians understand more easily how to mix their traditional sounds with my loops, effects and rhythms deep house. My role is helping the musicians to adapt their way of playing to an electronic framework. Of course, I'm also playing songs from Tourist like Rose Rouge, So Flute. I'm the conductor without stick."