Name: Monsieur MÂLÂ
Members: Balthazar Naturel, Robin Antunes, Nicholas Vella, Swaéli Mbappé, Mathieu Edward
Occupation: Composers, improvisers, instrumentalists
Current Release: Monsieur MÂLÂ's EP-002-MM is out via Bridge the Gap.
Recommendations: Swaéli: I would recommend the album JAMO by Jamisson Ross for the sound, the groove, the singing and brilliant song writing.
Robin: I’d recommend checking Joanie Lemercier’s works, especially his audio visual mapping masterpiece called Constellations.
If you enjoyed this interview with Monsieur MÂLÂ and would like to stay up to date with the band, visit their official website. They are also on Instagram, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
We all come from different backgrounds and it’s one of our strengths because each one of us brings his own colours and spices to the project with their different influences.
We all started learning and playing music as kids. Having Cameroonian origins from his father (Etienne Mbappé), Swaéli (bass) has a strong background in African and world music. He also has been influenced by fusion jazz bands like Sixun, Ultramarine, The Zawinul Syndicate and by funk bands like Earth Wind and Fire, Cameo, or Funkadelic as well.
Balthazar (saxophone) comes from a more «traditional» jazz background. He has been influenced by Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, Guillaume Naturel and also by French composers of the 20th century.
Son of a singer, Nicholas (keyboard) has been influenced by many singers / song writers such as Stevie Wonder or George Benson and being from Italy, Italian composers like Enio Moricone were a big influence too. He also improved his piano playing by listening to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.
Robin (violin) was born to a family of classical musicians. He grew up listening to classical music but also bands like Camel, Pink Floyd and System Of A Down which gives him a progressive rock background. During teenagehood he got introduced to a lot of different genres and artists such as Jamiroquai, Etienne Mbappé, Nick Murphy, Mac Miller and Erykah Badu to name a few.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Robin: It really depends on the kind of music or even the track itself but most of the time I’ll be feeling deep emotions that are really personal and intimate to me. They can be related to some past experiences, or something I’m going through in the present, whether it’s positive or negative.
This helps me create my own tools and vision to express myself as an artist: I listen to a very wide variety of genres and all the music that I listen to gets linked somehow to a specific moment or experience of my life. Thus, I have in my mind a kind of panel of textures, harmony, atmospheres, grooves and moods that I can refer to when I happen to write and play music and want to express feelings or specific emotions.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
Nicholas: We as a band are searching for our own identity.
Finding the crossroad between a personal voice and music that resonates with a large audience is a lifetime wonder. For me, the key is to start from a sincere place.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
Robin: For me, finding and affirming your own identity is crucial to grow and to open up. And I think music and the arts more generally are a really strong way to do all of this, as a listener AND as an artist. Music can show you a lot of different things about yourself when you listen to it, consciously or not. It’s a way to enhance the everyday. Same when you make it and get into a creative process.
For me music and arts imply a lot of other things such as thoughts, personal expression, vision, spirituality, feelings, fashion, community … And as we all are complex human beings, we do not necessarily have to identify with only one thing, one genre, etc. We are all many things.
So I think identity is essential as an artist or a band, it’s always on the move, reinforced by your experiences, fed by your sensitivity.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Gathering, optimism, connection, genuineness, openness and diversity.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Robin: I’d say that we’re in between this with Monsieur MÂLÂ. We all know where we come from and have a great respect for tradition but we aim to create our own thing and we never try to imitate or reproduce those traditions. Our goal is to make something that represents us and that we are happy to share with audiences in the most genuine way.
So by being authentic and trying to avoid redoing something that already exists, I think we can say we are in the process of this “music of the future” concept. But it’s only possible because we know the tradition, so we already know the paths we want or don’t want to take.
Nico: there is not future without the past, I think looking at the past allows you to see the future and it doesn't mean living in the past it means learning from it.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them? Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Swaéli: Beside all the music and creation that we couldn’t really do during the lockdown, we educated ourselves to be more independent on many things.
Robin educated himself in web marketing, Nico bought gear to improve his home studio and his skills in sound engineering and music production and I began to edit videos. All that made us improve the quality of content on our social media like a series of 3 videos that we did during lockdown.
We’re now able to edit our own teasers and small videos, mix their sound and post it the right way at the right time on our own, which has been one of the most important tools throughout our development.
It’s complicated to spot a routine as all of our days are different. But when we work together, whether it’s music creation or anything else, what usually happens is that one of us comes with an idea that leads to a massive brainstorming between us where lots of other ideas come up and then we figure out something with the best ones.
Fluid communication is obviously the key.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Nicholas: Our last single, “Til daylight” is a song about love.
I wrote the melody one night in my Parisian apartment, trying to calm my wife so she would fall asleep. The production of the song and the video was also magical, we did it all in one single night in which so many surreal events happened. The rehearsal, the recording, the music video shooting, everything. The whole thing ended up at 6am in a church recording the voices.
Robin: That was really intense and exhausting but it’s such a great memory and this track is also filled with the energy of this specific moment.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Nicholas: We need both. Moments working together, moments with one of us leading the pack and moments when we are alone, exploring our own creativity.
Though working together isn't always easy, it is definitely what makes Monsieur MALA’s sound.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
Swaéli: That is a good question! Back in France, during this whole COVID and lockdowns craziness, we’ve been told that we, artists, weren’t essential in society.
Of course it was special circumstances, but I played many countries where you can find a lot of precarity. I know that Robin has been to Lebanon recently and we’ve both seen that at the end of the day all that remains and give people the will to keep on is art and culture. I personally think that these are the last safe havens before madness and that they can change and maybe save the world.
It make me think of this Nazi general that stoped the destruction of Paris back in the 40s because he liked the architecture too much. I’m not sure if it is a true story but I like the idea that art and culture could overcome an ideology such as this and to me music has this kind of strength.
We, as any other artist or musician, most definitely have a part to play in today's world
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Robin: Everyday in my life. Whether I’m watching or doing it, art is permanently present in my life and it’s crucial to me. It keeps me sane and helps me to think right. It’s something you know you can always rely on, art is a safe place where you can travel, feel strong or weak, that offers infinite possibilities to accompany your moments of joy or despair, it brings intensity and sense in everything. I’ve experienced something really intense about that recently.
I stayed for a month as an artist in residency in Tripoli (Lebanon) in September 2022, which is the poorest city in this country that is completely falling apart socially and economically. Every person we met there and every friend we made was going towards art and something creative despite all the struggles they face currently, in a completely self-taught and uncontrolled way. Their instinct brought them all into amateur art: photography, indie documentaries, music, writing, painting, poetry …
In this situation, art is the only way out to escape reality or at least make it a little better. After two years hearing the media and politics repeating to us during COVID that art wasn’t essential, it was to me the most powerful proof that art is actually the last bulwark before nothingness.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Swaéli: Music is an actual science. If you think about it, rhythm is just maths and the notes are frequencies that can be measured precisely. From that you can dig into so many different scientific facts, like the effect certain frequencies have on the human body for exemple. I believe they use this in music therapy.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Swaéli: The point of being an artist is to bring people different emotions, whether it’s joy, melancholy, laughter or whatever! So for me, whatever you do, if this is your goal and you put your heart into it, you are definitely creative and it becomes art.
If a coffee maker makes me a good flat white by drawing a christmas tree with the milk, first of all that is not ‘mundane’ at all, that would make me very happy and it would feel pretty creative to me.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Swaéli: It could be explained by many things. First of all music has always been a part of our life throughout history and ways of making music have been developed which gave us some codes that seem pretty obvious to everyone today. It’s easy to recognize when something is supposed to sound joyful, for example.
Then it could be explained scientifically like I said above with the effect that certain frequencies could have on us. But to me the best explanation is that it can’t be explained. It’s all about feelings: As a listener, it all depends on the mood that you’re in when you listen to music. One day it could take you to a place and the next day someplace else and that’s the beauty of it because you can rediscover a song over and over again.
As creators, like said above, the key is sincerity and the ability to reveal a little bit of yourself which is not always easy. We just try our best to put our thoughts,memories or whatever we want to express in music and it can be hard to deal with all the technical aspects of creation while focusing on feelings. Especially when the music is mostly instrumental like ours.