C. Durandy


Brooklyn Bike Beat talks with Christelle Durandy...

BBB: How did you come to Brooklyn?

CD: I’ve been here for four years now. I came from France to continue to do what I do, music…Four years now it’s been great.

BBB: So you grew up in France?

CD: I was born and raised in France.

BBB: And you come from a family of musicians? This has been a jumping off point, some people I’ve talked to, their families discourage pursuing music and some come from very rich traditions, this is the case for you.

CD: This is the case for me. My father is a singer, he’s from Guadeloupe, a French Island in the West Indies. He went to France to work and decided to continue there, what he was doing forever, singing and playing percussion, the folk music from Guadeloupe. Which is called Gwo Ka, by the way, Gwo Ka. My sister and I grew up surrounded by music. My mother was a fan of soul music, jazz music and she was a part of the band too. So my sister and I, naturally, we joined the band. They didn’t have too much choice because when I was seeing those {people} drumming in the house, the singing, I was always finding an excuse to go to the rehearsal space!

So you were instantly attracted to it?

CD: Yes instantly attracted and brought to it by my parents too. We were always around rehearsal, we were always at the shows and everything. So we started playing naturally and singing, and then we started playing concerts.

BBB: So how old were you when you performed your first show?

CD: I think I was, six or seven. {laughing}

BBB: So you’re very comfortable on stage.

CD: I am comfortable. I mean, I sometimes freak out like other artists I have my moments. But this is where I belong to, you know, I belong to stage. I remember the first time I saw this microphone, I just wanted to grab it. And my mother was not… reluctant but she was telling that we wouldn’t do all the shows to start with because we needed to study and go to school. We did that but we always found a time to rehearse.
It was a great time.

BBB: I’m excited to interview you because you’re a singer first and the percussion naturally grows out of that.

CD: Yes it is completely intertwined. I couldn’t do any music without understanding what’s going on above my singing. I need to understand, I need to not only understand, but also practice and play [with this] too. Also because, it hasn’t been easy… I mean, we were talking about good times when I was a child, but it wasn’t easy to be a young Black girl trying to play music... And I had bad experiences too, I recovered from them but I’ve been to Guadalupe when I was young ‘86. So I was 12 years old and I didn’t play. I was playing in France with the band of my father for a long time. But [in Guadalupe] my sister and I, we were not allowed to play because we were girls. So I think those strengths to want to understand how it works. Yes, to make it a strength actually. To know what’s going on when you sing and when you play it’s maybe from those experiences.

BBB: I remembering reading in Tito Puente’s book, his advice to drummers, you need to know everything. You need to know what’s happening with the chord changes, you need to know everybody’s part if you really want to be in the song.

CD: Yeah, in the song, with the band... It’s not the singer and the band. It’s not the band with the singer… It’s the band all together. I was fortunate to travel to Cuba and this is what I learned there too. There was no way that I tried singing Rumba, or Son or Salsa without knowing what was going on. The teachers were like, “Whoa whoa take your time lady!” [laughing]

BBB: Were the male musicians in Cuba more open to you singing and playing the drum?

CD: They were. They were more open for Rumbas and all the more popular music. But trying to learn the Yoruban chant, here there is sometimes more difficulties for women to play. But you know, singing is okay …but not in sacred moments when they have religious things happening, you’re not going to play…

BBB: You studied the folk music of these specific genres… But now I know you also as a composer and arranger. Tell us a little of what you do in your own bands, how you bring these influences in…

CD: So I’m often asked what it that you do? What is the genre? And I don’t know what to answer. I know I come from Jazz. I know that I love Jazz music. But I also love soul music a lot. I’m mixing all those influences… also from Réunion Island where my mother’s from, where they have their own rhythms and their own Creole that is spoken…influences from the Gwo Ka, this folk music from Guadalupe...But also rhythms from my native Britainy. I’m trying to mix all of this and when I say trying to mix, I don’t even ask myself this question. I think It’s part of myself… It’s what comes out...

BBB: You have some music projects. One of them called, CoCo Momma, and a new project is a quartet?

CD: Yes this is actually my band… it’s actually now a quintet. The band is growing… With this band I’m trying to do my project. We’re going to be recording in early 2011.

BBB: And what’s this called?

CD: It’s Christelle Durandy Cinq TêteS. Which means five heads in French. And also CoCo Momma, which is an all female collective, Salsa band.

BBB: And in these projects what is your role, you’re writing, playing standards, composing?

CD: Well in CoCo Momma, everybody tries to bring some tunes to the table. It’s a very interesting band because we’re coming from different walks of life, different countries in the world. But for my band I’m composing arranging, some times I do take songs from other composers.

BBB: And do your parents still perform?

CD: My father is performing less these days, and my mother is not performing. I would love that actually, you just gave me a great idea.

BBB: Get the family together, that’d be exciting…Are they in the states?

CD: No they're in France.

BBB: How do they feel about you living in Brooklyn?

CD: On this beautiful path everybody’s been very encouraging. I took university to go to music school to follow up with music, everybody was encouraging. They’re always asking how a show went…

BBB: Do you get over to Europe to play at all?

Yes, I still have some projects going on in France. I have a tour coming in July 2011. I used to play with a big band there and they invited me to come celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Jazz Big Band. I took advantage of this to do a little tour with my band and celebrate the release of our upcoming album.

*This interview has been slightly edited for brevity and clarity.