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Q&A: Massilia Sound System interview

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The Scene caught up with Massilia Sound System's Papet Jali to talk football, reggae and the spirit of Marseille...

The Scene: Tell us about the history of Marseille.

Papet Jali: Marseille is a fishermen's city. The sea is very important in our history. All the ships came from Africa, Asia, every part of the world. We had business with these countries; in the past it was the big, big activity in Marseilles. In the 70's and 80's, Marseille's economy went down and now we are trying to rebuild our economy.

TS: How do you feel about Marseille?

PJ: I love this town even if sometimes I don't agree with some people's behavior. My city is a little dirty -- people throw whole newspapers on the floor and so on, and it's a pity because Marseille is so nice, so pretty. It could be one of the most wonderful cities in the world if we wanted. But we work for that. Many people think that it's possible to make some new business and activities to get people working. There is too much unemployment in Marseille, too much poverty, so the people are not so happy -- they don't smile every day. I want my people to smile all the time. We have to work to develop the city, to make Marseille more and more efficient, more and more present in Europe and in the world.

TS: How does Marseilles inspire you?

PJ: As a musician, I sing about Marseille, about living here, about the people here; and I try to find opportunities to show my city in the best way every time, even if there are many things that I don't like.

TS: How would you describe your music?

PJ: Everything's there in the music. It's a kind of mix between dancehall, hip-hop, ragamuffin, jungle, drum 'n' bass, 'cause my DJ's one of the best jungle and drum'n' bass DJs in France.

TS: What made you start making music?

PJ: We began Massilia Sound System twenty years ago because Marseille was in crisis. It was very down, economically, socially and so on. The National Front with M. Le Pen came up strongly in Marseille, 28% in the local polls, which was shameful to us, and we reacted to that by singing.

When we began to sing in French and in Occitan (we speak the Occitan language, which is the original language of Marseille, Provence and the South of France) people agreed with us, came to our sound system in Marseille clubs and encouraged us to go on.

We have toured France for 20 years now, and every time we play we present Marseille as a spirit that we want to promote, a spirit of good living and friendship, tolerance, no racism.

Often, because of the poverty, because of the melting pot, people don't understand each other. They fight and shout about, "You are immigrants, get out." Racism is a worldwide phenomenon. People want to be in their own community and we do not agree with that. In Massilia Sound System, we promote relationships between all people, between all cultures. We don't want people to live in their own areas. It's not good for the future. We want people sharing, mixing, exchanging their cultures.

TS: What are your influences?

PJ: Our music is reggae music, ragamuffin music, dancehall music, even if nowadays it's pejorative because people think of rudeboy music, gangster music. I know that some people in the music business are promoting this kind of artist, but it's not the origin of reggae music. The origin of reggae music is peace, love and unity.

TS: Why is reggae music so popular in Marseille?

PJ: In Marseille, reggae music comes naturally. All Jamaican musicians and singers, when they come to France, to Marseille, it's special for them because Marseille people love reggae. We have many reggae bands, singers, musicians.

TS: Why do you think that is?

PJ: Because Africa's just on the other side of the Mediterranean. Here, you have a lot of people from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and many, of course, from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco.

TS: What brings them to Marseille?

PJ: It's natural for them to come to Marseille because our culture is common. We have lived together for centuries now, and the weather is good -- it's not like in Africa but it's better than in Paris, for example, where it's cold. Many white people from Marseille go to Africa for holidays: we are just cousins.

TS: How did Massilia Sound System begin?

PJ: Tatou, my friend, founded the band. He had his own little sound system and he played Jamaican records everywhere he could in Marseilles, in little clubs and social centers and so on. I was an electrician so I fixed problems with the sound system, and little by little I began to sing myself. One day, Tatou said to me, "Come onstage, take the microphone and sing for the people." When you take the microphone one time and you sing, and people enjoy it and they show you, it's hard drugs, you're addicted. Just one time and you're addicted. After that I couldn't stop singing and coming onstage. It's fantastic. It's the best feeling that I know.

The Scene: Tell us about your passion for Olympic de Marseilles.

Papet Jali: Every time I go to see Marseilles play, I'm very proud to be there. All 60,000 fans have only one heart, one voice, one song, one emotion, one energy, only for the team, for each other. We share this energy here, we share our identity because Marseille people are people with great identity and feeling. They know that they are from somewhere. We are together there. We want to bring this spirit into the heart of the city.



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