Musical immersion in Cameroon with Joué
Tanguy Lafond heads music composition projects with teenagers. This led him to taking his Joué to Cameroon to make music based on sounds of rural Africa. He tells us how the MIDI controller enables him to work from anywhere, with anyone.
First of all, can you tell us about your professional activity?
I’m a musician, a sound director and I work with the network of Maisons Familiales et Rurales (MFR), the organization that is at the heart of this project of music composition with youngsters. The MFR are originally a parents’ association that determines there is a lack in training in a given territory for certain types of jobs and activities. So the association creates a school to train kids according to the needs in that territory. There are 500 MFR around the world, most of which are in France. The network is linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, and it has many cooperation projects abroad.
“Our objective with this project was to create music very simply, to show kids that even without any formal training, you can compose music.”
How did your musical project with teenagers in Cameroon come to be?
I work with a music band that is in touch with the MFR network, and I went to Africa with them for a cultural exchange. After that trip, we got to talking with the MFR people I had traveled with, about the fact I’m an artist and that I like to record sounds anywhere and integrate them into my compositions. That method interested them and we decided to apply it to a new type of project we called “musical journeys”. So I went back to Cameroon late 2018 to meet 16 to 20 year old students in a school in a rural part of the country, and I worked with them for two weeks, making music. We set out together to record sounds in their surroundings, in the forest, by the rivers, etc. The idea was to transcribe exactly what they experience in their daily lives, how they perceive their own country.
And how did you use the Joué in that context?
Back at the school, we started working on the composition part, and that’s where the Joué came into play. I had my Mac with Ableton on it, but the idea wasn’t to bore them with technical aspects and programming, or with music theory. Our objective was to create music very simply, to show them that even without any formal training, you can compose music, that everyone can do it. So we used the Joué to make music with the sounds they had captured, to create rhythms with them, but also to let them play the piano and other instruments, as well as with other sounds that I had in store. At the same time, they also wrote lyrics to go with the compositions.
You already owned a Joué controller that you took with you. But how and when did you originally hear about it?
When it came out, via social media. I’m always on the lookout for every kind of innovation in music, so I looked into the Joué and found its interface really great, just how modular and polyvalent it is, and the fact you can emulate a wide range of instruments with just one controller, as well as the fact you can take it anywhere with you, because I’m quite mobile in the way I make music: I like to be able to create and produce outside of the studio – on a train for example.
“I chose to work with the Joué because of its fun and polyvalent aspect. Students can play guitar, piano and drums, all with just one instrument and with a really fun user interface.”
For all those reasons, you chose the Joué for the musical journey project?
Yes, mostly because of its fun and polyvalent aspect. With the Joué, I can make the students play guitar, piano, drums and integrate sounds on drum racks, all with just one instrument and with a really fun user interface, with its colors, its materials and the way it works.
And right now you’re doing a similar project, but in France this time…
Yes, with the MFR in Escurolles, near Clermont-Ferrand, in central France, which is the one that has been carrying the musical journey project since the beginning. We figured it would be interesting to do it in my own country too, with French kids. The principle is the same: we go out and record sounds in nature. I told them to go out and record by themselves, with their mobile phones, after having prepared the project by talking about the values and feelings they want to convey, the sounds that to them are evocative of their daily lives. Then I’ll go back to start the composition phase and they will write lyrics. I’m also going to be able to use the Large fretboard and Large piano pads of the Joué, which I didn’t have in Cameroon.
So one of the main purposes of the project is to make music with students who don’t have any formal training?
Exactly. I always try to work on the assumption that even without any musical training, we all have an ear. That being said, there’s always a few kids in the class that have studied music, taken piano or guitar lessons… As for the students in Cameroon, through their practice of traditional instruments and singing, they’re exposed to music since they’re little kids without even realizing it: they told me they didn’t know music, but they had more experience than most Western kids!
“The great advantage of the Joué is that you can bypass the technical aspect of making music entirely.”
After these successful initial experiences, you’re going to continue to use the Joué for these types of projects then?
Absolutely. I had wanted to buy the Joué for me initially anyway, because the playful and expressive aspect its creators sought to inject in the interface is really interesting to me, and it was something that was lacking. And for the musical journey projects, it’s the perfect tool, because the students don’t even need to look at the computer, the Joué is enough. And that’s actually exactly what happens: they immediately want to get their hands on it and completely ignore the computer, focusing instead on play and touch. It’s the great advantage of the Joué: you can bypass the technical aspect entirely. The kids can play with it unrestrained – after a short demo so they understand how it works – and try all the pads. The colors are appealing, and the fact you can remove a pad and replace it with another, that’s great, they love it.
Is your next “musical journey” already in the works?
Yes, the next project is scheduled, it will be in Bosnia early 2020 if all goes well, with Muslim women. So this time I’m going to work with adults, but with the Joué still, of course.
Is the MFR network conscious of the interest of using the Joué for this type of project?
Yes, absolutely. The Ministry of Agriculture asked them a few years back to add a socio-cultural dimension to the training provided by the MFR. One of the solutions they found was to work on musical training, and that’s where I came into play. They immediately embraced the project because they had never done anything like it before. So it was really well received, and the short film I made about my work in Cameroon interested a lot of people.
Finally, for your own musical projects, how do you use the Joué?
As a musician, I switched to digital quite recently. I use the Joué for composition, and to be able to work from anywhere. I use voice recorders quite a lot, I record sounds here and there, and the advantage with the Joué is that I can work on them really easily, as well as on effects, without having to bother to go into the software configuration. Right now I’m using it for my new drum’n’bass project, Straum.
Interview by Patrick Haour