„There is no other option than being humble“ – Mr Raoul K im Interview
With two albums being released on his own label Baobab and the new Toukan EP on Innervisions in the pipeline, Mr Raoul K continues delivering a high-class output as remarkable as ever!
Hailing from the African country Côte d’Ivoire, Raoul Konan has become one of dance music’s most influencial artists to date. Having moved to Germany with his twin brother at the age of 12, he quickly built a new life working as a football player and as a carpenter. Later, he connected with electronic music in a roundabout way after a visit to the Love Parade in Berlin and he was hooked straight away. We talked with him about his appreciation for Japan, his work ethos and the differences between Africa and Europe regarding culture and dance music.
As a DJ you are constantly touring through many parts of the world. Interestingly, your residence is located in Lübeck, a city with 216 000 inhabitants in the North of Germany. Why did you decide for living there and not in a bigger city?
Coming to Lübeck was a coincidence in the first place. I was living in Hamburg until 1999 but I was already playing football for the Eichholzer SV in Lübeck, a club in the Fourth German League. Later, I decided to live there as well. Moreover, my son is 14 years old now and I will definitely stay here until he is grown up. Lübeck is interesting for me because it is like an antipole to the high amount of traveling I have to do as a DJ. I can enjoy the quietness and stay incognito, shielding myself from the rest of the world.
In Berlin for instance, it would be completely different. I know a lot of people over there who work in the same business as I do. The distraction would be accordingly higher and it would be very hard for me to really focus on my work. I prefer staying in Lübeck rather than in a big city like Berlin, it feels right somehow. I am even coaching a youth football team of VfB Lübeck and I am very happy about that.
After your father tragically died during the last civil war in Côte d’Ivoire, you have not visited your home country for a long time. What is your strategy to get away from the cold and dark German winter months and to escape homesickness?
When comparing the people from Côte d’Ivoire and Germany, their way of living is completely different and diverse. When I first came here, I had to change and adapt myself to these circumstances a lot. Before the riots started six years ago, I visited my home country at least once a year to stay with my family and friends and to record music. I was able to calm down and to stock up on some sunshine. Since this possibility did not exist afterwards, I tried to keep my balance with my family and football even more instead. Lübeck suits perfectly to go for a stroll or to have dinner. As I am not partying that much anymore, the inexistent clubbing opportunities are not an issue for me.
How would you describe the differences between Africa and Europe regarding the nightlife culture and the crowd?
Electronic music has been present in South Africa for quite some time already. European influences have charactarized the country, so the music was not that much alien to the people there. Within the last 2-3 years it spread over the whole continent, there are events taking place in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya or Angola to name a few. It was quite interesting to see that the music was completely new for the people during the starting time. They needed well-known parts in the music, a lot of percussion elements and African voices for example. Instrumentals or classical Techno were very difficult to grasp. Regarding Côte d’Ivoire, it seems to be quite a huge struggle to organize events with electronic music there. Last year, however, I experienced one of the biggest highlights during my career as I was booked in my home country for my music. Sadly, we were overtaken by events as the female director of the Goethe-Institut Henrike Grohs was killed by terrorists during one of her stays when she was promoting events in Abidjan.
One can surely say that your last album Still Living In Slavery from 2014 had a big impact on the scene. The LP mostly contains songs instead of dancefloor tools which makes it a diverse experience to listen to. What kind of steps did you consciously take to create the unique Raoul sound?
I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to convince people with my own music, to come up with something fresh. Therefore, I travelled to Côte d’Ivoire a lot where I was recording traditional instruments and vocalists. In that period many producers were using the Djembe, a single-fured drum. I wanted to go beyond that trend by using African instruments which were not represented in the electronic music scene yet, such as the stringed instruments Ngoni and Kora or the Sabar drum. These new impulses worked really well on my first EP Le Cercle Peul from 2007. Thereupon artists like Âme, Joe Claussell, Osunlade and others congratulated me and gave positive feedback. I noticed at that point that I was well on my way and I consequently followed that path. It seems that a lot of producers in the scene are using more exotic instruments by now which I really appreciate. This enriches everyone. However, I know that my music is certainly not for everyone. Many songs are only considered as being good by journalists, other musicians and adults but I do not want to limit myself in any way. This is one of the reasons why I founded my label Baobab on which I can realize eveything I want to do. Being authentic is very important!
Japan’s respected label Mule Musiq released your first album Introducing My World back in 2011. Where does your appreciation of Japan come from and do you have any fascinating anecdotes to tell about this country?
Shortly after I was playing in Japan for the first time, I fell in love with the culture which was unknown to me until that point. It feels odd because the Japanese are quite similar to the Germans. They are not smiling at you and are looking away when passing you in the streets but I am feeling an energy there which is hard to describe. The people are humble and positive, I like that a lot. I have to admit that I only got to know the protagonists of the scene who are mostly living in the city. But I want to visit the rural areas as soon as possible, too. Interestingly, 2/3 of my vinyls are sold in Japan. I do not know why they like the music so much but it makes me very proud. It even happend a few times that I was recognized in a restaurant and while I was shopping in a supermarket. Completely crazy!
Baobab is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary. You already promoted a few snippets of a new EP on SoundCloud and announced a new album as well. Could you give some information about it already?
I am currently working on two albums to which I am really looking forward. I am producing one album completely on my own while there are some friends of mine collaborating with me on the second one. One of those guys is the Japanse artist Kuniyuki. We have developed a remarkable friendship over the last years, he even stays at my place when he is in Europe. Kaito has to be mentioned at this point as well. These are the ones I can confirm for now, I am afraid you have to be patient regarding the other names.
Your latest album has been offered at Muting The Noise in Berlin as well that promoted it as an „album without all the world clichés.“ Do you have a special connection to the Innervisions family and their sound?
I know the Innervisions guys in person and I love to play stuff from their label in my sets. The short review was a real pleasure to read because they have been working in the industry for more than 20 years and they know what they are doing. If they are promoting music or have an opinion on any subject it is mostly true and well thought out. Just recently I finished the song ‘Toukan’ together with Manoo. They signed it for Innervisions, Dixon then shortened the song and made two reworks out of it which will be released on 14th July together with a remix made by the Portuguese Trikk.
The collaboration with Laolu happened by chance. We met at a festival eight months before the album was released. He wanted to work with me, so I sent him some files of an unfinished song and told him that he could totally indulge with it. He definitely has contributed a lot on the outcome and that it reached such a wide audience. It bothered me and I felt sad for him that only my name was mentioned in many reviews which does not do him justice.
One year later, I received a remix request from Dele Sosimi for his song ‘Too Much Information’. I quickly thought of Laolu as being able of contributing a great remix for it as well. I sent him the files and he fabricated a beautiful version. It was released by Innervisions afterwards and he was rewarded with a lot of justified attention. We are working on new stuff again but I do not know how and when it will come out yet.
Which gig are you mostly looking forward to in the near future?
I am soon playing at a festival in Paris together with Culoe De Song, Djeff Afrozila and Manoo. As Manoo is basically the only person I like to play b2b with, these moments are always something to remember. On top of that, the French crowd always lets loose and goes completely wild. The energy in Paris is beyond words.
Is there anything you would like to achieve no matter how unreachable or improbable it might be?
My musical career has offered me so many opportunities. I have already reached everything I have ever dreamt of. I once said in a former interview that I would love to play in another country. When I think of this desire and compare it to what I have achieved by now, there is no other option than being humble. All the rest is just a bonus. Nevertheless, I still have goals, of course. I would love to organize an event with artists I really appreciate. It does not have to be big or take place on a regular basis – 500 persons once or twice a year are perfectly fine. I would like to be in charge of the curation and the people would be digging it – a small utopia of mine. We will see if I can put this into action.
Regarding my private life, I would like to return to Côte d’Ivoire with my family one day. There are still a lot of things to work out, so it will take at least 3-4 years before I can realize it. My twin brother who lived with me in Germany for 20 years already made this step and he is glad about his decision. In the meantime, everything moves on and hopefully as successfully as it has been in the past.
Manoo & Mr Raoul K feat. Ahmed Sosso – Toukan EP (Innervisions)
VÖ: 14. Juli 2017 auf 12″ und digital
Interview: Tim Schulze und Jannis Damitz
Text: Tim Schulze und Jannis Damitz
Fotos: Raoul Konan