By Thom Dent
“Go back to your country where you belong.”
It’s not a phrase you would usually hear in a pop chorus. But for Charlotte Adigéry, an artist whose music is as lyrically challenging as it is danceable, it’s nothing unusual.
Born in Narbonne, France and raised in Ghent, Belgium, with parents hailing from Martinique and Guadeloupe, Adigéry’s identity is one she foregrounds in a lot of her music. ‘Blenda’, her latest single, tackles the topic head-on, with lyrics that oppose ignorant conceptions others have of Adigéry’s race, compared to the image she has of herself.
Much of Adigéry’s music is inspired by the experiences of growing up Belgian with a Caribbean heritage. Ghent, for example, has a rich musical and cultural scene, but a population that is more or less exclusively white. According to Adigéry, many people assume that she is African and, specifically, from DR Congo – an old colony of Belgium. Of course, she hasn’t any ties to Belgium’s colonies. Her family roots are in Nigeria.
Through her music, Adigéry fights against these archaic ideas, which are woven into basically all of Europe’s post-imperialist societies. What’s more, although she is never afraid to address challenging issues, Adigéry always does so with a wry smile and the electrifying pulse of a dance beat.
Adigéry creates her music with Bolis Pupul, a producer whose family also have roots in Martinique. Typically, he will create a beat which Adigéry will improvise over the top of, forging a song as she goes along, as delved upon in an interview with Huck. The resulting music is at once enigmatic and genre-defying, as well as presenting a very specific sense of humour.
Nowhere is Adigéry’s sense of humour more obvious than on ‘Thank You’, a single from her upcoming debut album. “I couldn’t have done this without you and your opinion,” she sings during a sardonic takedown of internet critics who impose their ‘advice’ on what Adigéry should do, say, and create.
‘1,618’ also captures this dry, tongue-in-cheek confidence, with Adigéry asking us to “admire my asymmetrical gaze” on its sparse anti-chorus. Musically, this song sums up everything that Charlotte Adigéry is capable of. A curious melody bounces around the skull, flitting from major to minor without ever resolving itself. This is the sound of 4 am on a dancefloor: hypnotic, sleazy and dark while remaining triumphant and completely beautiful.
While Adigéry usually sings in English, her first language is Dutch. She was also brought up speaking French and utilises this, as well as Creole, to give her music a chameleonic feel befitting of her identity. On her 2019 EP Zandoli, Adigéry has said she wanted to use language to “explore all the elements that make me who I am.”
The word “zandoli” is the Creole name of a lizard that lives in the Caribbean. The mnemonic “zandoli paténipat”, which translates to “the lizard has no legs”, describes a rhythm often used in Gwo Ka, a Guadeloupean dance music. Adigéry uses this phrase as the building block for ‘Paténipat’, layering the repeating phrase in an intense close harmony that spirals upwards above the pulsating drumbeat. The result is a house song that takes control of your senses, the sort of late-night whump you hear oozing from distant nightclubs in the dark corners of Berlin.
‘High Lights’, from the same record, celebrates black women’s self-expression and Adigéry’s love for synthetic wigs and makeup. On its irresistibly groovy backbeat, we hear the Caribbean influence of steel drums layer on top of a ricocheting bass synthesiser. Across all of her music, you can hear Adigéry lending from the sounds that span her cultural heritage and identity, weaving a rich tapestry that celebrates the border-defying euphoria of dance music.
For so many reasons, Charlotte Adigéry is vital to Europe’s music scene. In September 2020, Adigéry toured with Pupul as part of 12 promising European artists for the Liveurope Online Festival and was just at Village Underground this November for the Pitchfork Music Festival. Her music is fearless, mysterious, endlessly catchy and utterly fascinating. Adigéry’s songs laugh in the face of the close-mindedness and casual racism that she endures as a European black woman, demanding our attention while also insisting that we dance as we do so. Although politically the continent is a turbulent place right now, artists such as Adigéry give us hope that, at the very least, our music remains enlightened, innovative, and incredibly fun. This is not the music of Zwart Piet, Brexit, or Marine Le Pen. It is the music of new ideas, new attitudes, and a new European generation who are ready to talk about its sordid past.
This article was published with the support of Liveurope.