By Nicolas Payne-Baader
Mafou is a Swiss artist making a name for himself and his collective Somatic Rituals. With parents hailing from Senegal and a rich musical history in his family, Mafou’s wide array of influences from UK Drill to Mbalax and beyond creates a new and unique sound. As clubs reopen across Europe and gigs resume, we sat down to talk about lockdowns, musical influences and how he balances diverse genres to create his sound.
How is Basel, what’s the Swiss scene like at the moment?
A little small maybe! Nah we have quite a small scene but all of the other cities in Switzerland are like 1 hour away so it’s kind of mixed up. This weekend I played in Zurich. It’s all kind of connected.
What’s the scene in Switzerland like more broadly?
It’s interesting at the moment. There are a lot of young crews, producers, DJs and then collectives that are coming up and bringing a new wave. For a long time, it was kind of stuck – a lot of old heads used to run the towns. With the feminist and POC movements happening over these past few years, there was a lot of change, which had to happen. I think now there are a lot of crews and a lot of music that could change Switzerland in another way, making it more recognised internationally.
What was the kind of music that was dominating the scene?
Techno, tech house, dub… not bad music – not at all – but I think it needed to have a bit more diversity and some outside influence. Now people are more oriented to go outside of Switzerland. One of the problems with the Swiss scene is that we don’t have much of an infrastructure, especially for young people that want to make it as a musician. To have a vision is not totally impossible but the lack of infrastructure makes it super difficult to stick to it and really make it. You don’t have big studios or big houses where they support artists, you only have that for Classical music.
In Mafou’s mixes, we hear a lot of different genres from some West African, to UK drill, to techno and French rap. What have been some of your big influences musically?
When I started listening to electronic music, my friend Kombe who I run the label with and who’s one year older introduced me to the label from (Paris based DJ and Producer) Bambounou. Since he introduced me to them I was stuck with their sound and journey; electronic-wise that was my biggest influence, to this day still. For me Bambounou was also an inspiration: he looked like me, a light-skinned dude, and there weren’t many back then to orientate to so he was a role model, my main inspiration.
Maybe to add to that, in Basel and Switzerland in general you didn’t even have guys that had made it and were still living in your city to meet up in a café or talk to. It took us a bit more time to find our sound and figure out what we were doing as we were doing everything from scratch.
In some of your music as Mafou there’s a syncopation and a sound that feels very reminiscent of a West African sound, is that something that’s quite conscious?
It’s not necessarily something that I really think about when I sit down to make music but yes I guess there is a connection: my father is a percussionist and I always grew up with it and went to his classes. That was a heavy influence. Because my only real musical training was in percussion, I often feel like I put that first which is maybe not the “correct” way of doing it but that’s how I like to build my sound.
Electronic music has, of course, always had this endpoint of the club and collective listening. How has the loss of that over the last couple of years affected you?
I think in the beginning I was kind of happy. Not for the club scene, but for my life. I was happy that I had not really started a career yet and wasn’t depending on DJ money. I still had to leave my job in a restaurant, get a new orientation. Now I work in a retirement home which is kind of cool. Musically, I had so much time to do music and finish my EP which I have been trying to do for several years now. It made time for me to really finish it and now I’m really happy that it happened. I’m not sure if it would have happened without the pandemic. I’m kind of grateful, but now I‘m happy that I’m back and the EP has come out. I think the release was perfect timing to get a start for the new club season. I have residency with EOS Radio in Frankfurt and some gigs and things lined up so I’m happy that things are returning to normal and I get to play music again for people and have that experience.
This article was published with the support of Liveurope.