With their mix of nationalities, languages and musical styles, a Watchaclan concert takes you on a journey that can lead anywhere and nowhere at the same time. With her multi-ethnic background - she's part Sephardic, part Ashkenazi and even has some Berber blood running through her veins - front woman Sista K (vocals) seem the epitome of everything the band stands for. Watchaclan very generously invited us to dinner at Festival Mundial and just before tucking in we had the following conversation:
The different members of Watchaclan have very diverse roots. How and when did the clan take shape?
Sista K: "About ten years ago I met Soupa Ju (voice, guitar, red.), who now acts as our manager, for the first time at a festival where we were both performing. We sat down together, discussed music for hours and finally decided we were going to focus on our own unique and personal take on music. Everything really started from there."
How did you come up with "Watchaclan"?
Sista K: ""Watcha" is short for "watch me" or "watch us". We chose that to focus attention on the band. When you see Jamaican toasters grab the mic, you will often hear them shout something like: "Watch dis now!" just before they start rapping. The "clan" part of the name symbolizes the fact we're always together. It's not a clan in the restrictive sense of the word, though, but we're very close and we pass most of our time together, a bit like members of a tribe."
I heard fragments of the Abyssinians' 'Satta Massagana' in one of your songs, what are your real musical roots?
Sista K: "I really grew up with reggae, groove and soul and my parents listened to gospel a lot. When we started with Watchaclan, I didn't really want to do reggae music anymore. It's already been done over and over and I've got too much respect for the original music from the sixties and seventies to go and taint it with my own cheap copy version. I then asked myself what music Bob Marley would have been doing were he still alive today. (laughs) Maybe he would have experimented with dub or electronic music. Sound-wise, taking that route has created enormous creative possibilities for us. Clément (Suprême Clem: keyboards, melodica, accordion, samplers, rhythm box, red.) can really make a machine groove and he's made us experiment even more, but the basis of our sound is still reggae. Even drum&bass is derived from reggae. In my opinion our music is a natural progression of that music, but you have to have quite an open mind to catch on to that."
Watchaclan's music also gives the impression it belongs everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Sista K: "Yeah, that's right! I'm from a very mixed background and I'm really open to influences from other cultures, be it musically or otherwise. Of course there's good and bad music, but the music I do like can just as easy be a hip hop track as an afrobeat song or a piece of classical music. When we're working on new tracks, there are really no limits or restrictions whatsoever and an open mind is key. In consequence the result is often a kind of fusion music. Personally, I'm not all that fond of that term and I prefer to call it world&bass."
Freedom seems to be of great importance to you guys.
Sista K: "Yes, absolutely! We even talk about that in 'Les Hommes Libres' ("The Free Men", red.), one of the songs on our latest album ('Diaspora Hi-Fi', red.). The lyrics read: "Les nomades sont des hommes libres." ("nomads are free men", red.). Nomadic people don't really have a fixed address or nationality, so they form a kind of unsolvable obstacle for governments wanting to regulate and classify everything. Musically speaking, the same can be said of Watchaclan."
You're based in Marseille, one of the big ports in France, and therefore a crossroads of different nationalities and cultures. Was it just by chance you guys ended up there?
Sista K: "(laughs) Clem was born in the Alps, Matt (aka. Matt la Basse: bass, contrabass, guitar, red.) is a Corsican and Nassim (Nassim Kouti: voice, guitar, red.) is from Oran in Algeria. We are now all based in Marseille and I have to admit it's a very inspiring city... a very poor one too and one where it's not always easy to work, but for us it's like our own personal cocoon."
I just stated your music seems to belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time, but if I would have to name one place it suits perfectly it has to be Israel or Palestine.
Sista K: "Israel or Palestine? Great! We'd really love to play there. We really love those two countries and performing there would be an excellent statement for peace, love and something we're already exploring in the band: open-mindedness towards other cultures. If you take a look at the band members of Watchaclan, you will find quite a selection of different cultures represented. Not that that is something we intentionally set out to do, but it's a nice example of the way we think and act. We want to continue on that path, but without getting political - there are already plenty of people doing that for us - but by using Hebrew and Arabic and mixing different styles of music, we're sending out our unique message of open-mindedness and peace."