Ghana-based Benjamin Lebrave speaks fluent French and English, and can schmooze in Spanish and Portuguese. He’ll report on new African music every other week. This week, he wrote about Mo Laudi, a South African DJ in Paris.
As I step inside Andy Wahloo in Paris, the music instantly overshadows the intricately decorated interior. Clearly, whoever owns this spot put some cash into the decor, but the person on the decks is grinding even harder. I hear pop, hip-hop, electro, disco and other classics, but it seems to all circle back to Africa, which permeates the entire set. As I look around, I notice everybody sucked into the sound. This music works.
My friends had told me about me about their "South African DJ friend," and I thought I knew who it'd be. Not too many of those in Paris. Mo Laudi is a name I had been very familiar with, but until now I didn't know much about his path, or his vision.
"I have always been into this idea of creating links between subcultures, taking things from different worlds into other worlds." This phrase takes an entirely deeper meaning when you think of the world Mo grew up in. "During apartheid, music played a role in segregating people. There were radios for whites, for blacks. Bob Marley was even banned. Today it's totally different. With electronic music, everybody's getting into the vibe. Nowadays kids don't care, the boundaries are broken."
Download: Yadi, "Unbreakable (Mo Laudi Remix)"
Bringing people together and breaking down boundaries has been Mo's goal throughout his career as a DJ, MC, promoter and now producer. This desire took him from South Africa to London, where he kept quite busy for most of the 2000s. He started a number of successful parties, fronted the Weapons of Mass Belief punk band, began collaborations with Eric Soul, Radioclit and later on the Very Best, which took him on tour around the world. You can read more about Mo's incredibly busy London years here.
Mo Laudi moved to Paris in 2009: "I want to go everywhere around the world, but I always wanted to be in Paris. There is something I really love about the romanticism here. I felt like I needed to feel that spirit, that bohemian thing. I always felt like there is something that will happen in Paris, that it will be reborn somehow."
After an initial period of Paris syndrome letdown, Mo found his place: "I think there is a lot of work to be done in Paris, there are huge gaps people are not even aware of, people are afraid of each other. It's weird, it's almost like some weird apartheid going on, in a subdued, subtle way. At the parties I do, I try to break that down. I play African music along with a lot of other stuff. Soul Makossa meets Daft Punk. It's something I do quite a lot, breaking boundaries step by step."
This is exactly what I witnessed at Andy Wahloo. Mo subtly incorporates African influences into every sound, in this case by pairing them with much more mainstream songs, keeping people well inside their comfort zone, but still stimulating and exposing them to Africa. "Maybe the afro thing is becoming trendy or hip, but I feel there are times when it goes down, then comes back again, more real, and I feel now it's becoming more real, compared to how it was a couple of years ago, when it was kind of cool to take African influences and put them into music."
"Now I feel there is this new energy coming from Africa where there's this new identity, a new confidence that Africa has. It's raw, much cooler somehow. Just over the weekend, at the Weather festival, people from all walks of life were partying like crazy to South African deep house, Culoe de Song and Black Coffee, something I've been trying to push for a long time, and I feel like now finally it's happening, very naturally and organically. People are becoming much more exposed, more curious, genres are breaking down more and more, and there's much more room for new things."
Mo is keeping busy in Paris: "I DJ almost every day somewhere in Paris. I play for Radio Marais. During the day, I am in the studio. I'm helping the Gaîté Lyrique curate their Sharp Sharp Johannesburg series, as part of the events in 2013 celebrating the year of South Africa in France. I feel like people are ready for something new and fresh, and I feel like I'm playing a huge role in shaping people's cultural taste every place I stay. It's weird being the only South African DJ in Paris! It gives me some kind of responsibility."