"It's not the first time I come to this world"

The last decade has rocked the music scene with an enigmatic aura, an introspective poetics and an unclassifiable sound that draws as much from Satie as from its African forebears.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
15 September 2023 Friday 11:17
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"It's not the first time I come to this world"

The last decade has rocked the music scene with an enigmatic aura, an introspective poetics and an unclassifiable sound that draws as much from Satie as from its African forebears. And this despite the fact that the enlightened Benjamin Clementine (London, 1988) is an artist of slow maceration: in a decade he has released three albums. And if the first was the result of his homeless adolescence as a musician in the Paris metro, this And I have been (2022) with which he is now on tour (on the 19th at Sala Apolo, 9 p.m., and on the 20th in Madrid) is witness to his vertiginous consolidation as a cult artist and fashion icon of the London scene. Married to fellow London singer-songwriter Flo Morrisey, daughter of a powerful financier, Clementine seems to lead a free existence (this interview was attempted in February) and creative honesty.

Do you feel that you have defined yourself more on this third album?

I'm getting older and I like to think I'm also wiser... I've come to accept myself as the man who will always be an outsider and who never acts like most. I cannot function without doing my own thing and in my own way.

And what was the hardest thing for him to accept about himself?

The fact that I'm not that affectionate. I wanted to believe I was that loving, tender guy, but when I became a father, my son brought out all my shit. Everything I didn't know was there became apparent and I became this son of an empath, you know? It's obviously a childhood trauma. But I think I'm in a better place now with my wife and son. I have to do some inner work. Once accepted, I have become a better person.

Is he closer to completing the creative task, his special blend of prose and poetry?

Nothing is complete in the mind of a perfectionist. It is life that will complete it. I allow others to take what they want but nothing is finished.

How do you remember your childhood in the Chrystal Palace neighborhood, when you rang the bell to go to the library to study?

It was a lonely path, I didn't know any other paths apart from going my own way. I left the house when it was still night, long before my parents went to work. I took the bus to school and I was such a loner... My brothers had friends, I didn't. I wasn't a nice boy, I didn't want to talk to anyone, I was scared of bullying. It was the childhood of someone contained, introverted. In the end, life is about having experiences that open you up.

Do you think you would have learned the same way in class?

There are many ways to learn and we should not be judged by a single learning. I love to know, to read on my own and to come up with my own theories about other theories. For me it was a game. And there was commotion in class, one got up, another spoke, it seemed like a zoo. I just wanted a quiet place to read, watch a movie. I wish I had a small group of friends, but the library changed my life: I studied music and read literature.

And philosophy, isn't it? What idea did you get from reading John Locke about politics?

At that time I thought I was going to be a lawyer. It's what my parents wanted. So, in case I don't become one, I thought I should at least read this and that. I was guided by my brother. Locke's idea of ​​government is fundamental, it is a universal principle: the government has a duty to limit its power over the citizenry. And this idea of ​​freedom and state interested me. His essay on the understanding to comply with democracy was always in his hands and he opened it to any page... in that old, beautiful English. I also read Kant and Lord Denning, the judge, who was my intellectual hero. If I was going to be a lawyer, I wanted to be that man.

Pursue an awakening of the people with music and poetry?

I want them to be helpful. Music has never failed me, just like literature. The arts don't fail you, they will always be there. I feel lucky: I am doing something that has been a part of humanity since the beginning of time.

Being still unknown, Paul McCartney told him in a dressing room to never stop doing what he does; David Byrne wanted him as an opening act and interviewed him for The New York Times ... Why do you think he is a beacon for generations of colossal musicians?

Yes, it's a crazy world: I came to England to perform on the same stage as McCartney and Alex Turner, and the next day I went back to Paris to continue playing on the train. It's flattering for great musicians to tell you this, because they have no need to invite you to play with them. But in reality I feel that I have been here for a long time, that this is not my first life. If they want to make me believe that this is my only life, I will think they are joking. I have been here many times. I don't know when, but I know.

How does it go from a street musician to a coveted model for big fashion firms?

This is not in my hands. You see, I hated living on the streets. I didn't do drugs and I didn't smoke at that time either. She was healthy and dressed well. Half of the money he earned was saved and the other was to be presentable. With good presence, my music would go further. And I was wearing Fred Perry style clothes, but I don't like the brand thing, the brand shouldn't be seen. Clean teeth, shaved face, always smelled good... It's my natural. So when the brands came looking for me I took it as a support. It allows me to create, what I do is not cheap. I don't record with a computer, mine is analog and done in expensive studios. And I'm not one of those people with two billion streams on Spotify.

Could you tell me about the ancestors? Where is your family from?

I am Akan. We come from Kenya, then we moved to West Africa and my family moved to Europe. You're from Barcelona, ​​aren't you? Well, the Catalans are like the Akan, who are neither from Ghana nor the Ivory Coast nor Togo... No, no, we are Ashanti.

And how is the artistic link?

My European influence was noticeable, but when I got older and my father died I thought about my ancestors and saw that there is something not at all European about my playing. And I attributed it to my origins. It makes my music so unique. I don't do soul or afrobeat. What I do is a mixture of European classical and pure African music. It is a return to the tribal.