It has been said by many that there is nothing new in music, that it's all been done before; all that is left is to adopt a past style, a past sound of music and wear it like a retro outfit from a vintage clothing store. That certainly appears to be true when almost every hyped band makes this old school music head (and a lot of new schoolers, too) think "where have I been bored by this before?" One band after the other trots out '70s hard rock, '60s folk and punk rock that's thirty years old. Some artists try to blend different styles and at least gets an A for effort. Unfortunately, such attempts usually reveal other problems like no strong musical identity and a distinct lack of observations and commentary regarding real life and the human drama. It adds up to being less of more of the same.
Karlex, a Haitian-American living in France, creates music that is like a rich, flavorful coffee: strong, deep, and well blended. He calls his sound Afro Groove. The music is smooth and subtle, with songs that are structured around Curtis Mayfield meets Bob Marley rhythm guitar parts, funky dub-wise bass and agile drumming. It all combines to create a poly-rhythmic stew. Karlex' deep, rich vocals surf the churning musical wave. He has quite a lot to say about things, too.
Karlex Antoine "Six songs written for this album are about very personal themes of love, love lost and redemption. At the time I recorded this album, my life was a real mess and I was trying to think positively so I could go ahead with it. In that sense, the live track on the CD Joker Man is the most personal song on the album. It may appear upbeat, but when you listen carefully, the song speaks of the loneliness of the human condition, the exhaustion from the efforts to fit in."
His efforts to be one of those running the rat race brought him to a crossroads in life, where he could go the so-called safe route or follow his heart.
Karlex Antoine "After having lived comfortably for a few years working in the business world, the question came back with some urgency, 'Am I going to stay away from what I truly love doing? What will I think about myself when it will be too late to get back?' Three years ago, the circumstances were right and I just grabbed the chance to make music my primary focus. I believe I have something to say, something to share with others. I feel there are people out there who feel exactly the way I do; the only difference is I put it in music, so there is a need to find them and share this music."
Karlex' unique sound comes from growing up in Haiti. His uncles were musical performers and his mother conducted the local church choir. Like many Caribbean nations, Haiti was also influenced by American music. This was especially true for Karlex, many of his family had moved to the States in the '60s and '70s. Summer trips to see family in New York, opened him up to the world and to a great big universe of music.
Karlex Antoine "When I was growing up in Haiti, we were always surrounded by music and it was very eclectic: from the French variety to Gospel, from Haiti's Kompa music to the Beatles the Stones and the Motown sounds. This has had a lasting influence on me, in the sense that I want to take my music to all kind of places."
[Mark Kirby] What are your primary influences, musical and non-musical? How do these influences come out in your music?
Karlex Antoine "For sure, I have some favourite artists or musicians that have influenced me more than others: Bob Marley, The Rolling Stones, and the Haitian singer/guitarist Dadou Pasquet, among many others. I draw vibrations from so many different styles of music and people. I am inspired by the books I read and the radio talk shows I listen to."
Video of "Farewell Angel"
The African influence, more pronounced in Haitian culture and other islands of the Caribbean, comes in many ways. On the title track, "Ghetto Fabulous," a cross-rhythmic shuffle played by the drums blends into the bouncy beat of the song. It's a signature feature of African music to have a rhythmic intro. The beat, the groove and the arrangements on this and other cuts on this CD, show that all those years listening to a variety of music paid off; as the song's hip hop sensibility is leavened by a catchy melody and chorus and the understated work of the other musicians. As with nearly all of his songs, the message is positive and empowering, "I'm ghetto fabulous / I am black beautiful / you're my Venus / certainly as beautiful..."
[Mark Kirby] Your writings show that you contemplate spirituality and the nature of reality. Have you drawn any conclusions? If so, how have these ideas and revelations influenced and shown up in your music?
Karlex Antoine "RESPECT for every culture and belief. The sense that chances are that I will die with so many unanswered questions, but with the hope that in another life I will have a chance to say, 'That's it!' Sometimes this will be seen clearly in songs like 'Let's Harmonize' or 'Farewell Angel.' Sometimes it will be just a little hint, 'Does he hear? Does he feel? One voice in a million,' in the song 'Joker Man.' But mostly, I feel like a responsibility to promote positive vibrations."
Karlex, above all else, is an excellent songwriter. He has taken to heart the John Lennon dictum regarding songwriting: keep it simple, say what you mean and make it rhyme. Like the Beatles, Neil Young, and others have proven, a great song can be just as beautiful and strong when performed on voice and piano or guitar. Karlex' songs have that superior quality.
Video of Karlex live on the iDTGV
Karlex Antoine "'I've Got News for You' is about freedom and tolerance of other people's culture and vision of life. It was, in part, inspired by the way some people look at urban culture, by Toussaint Louverture the former slave and black general and by Martin Luther King, Jr. The song 'Sometimes' started as a song about the frustration of not always having the words to express your feelings and how things are not always what we perceive them to be. Then, I wrapped the main idea within the story of a couple's relationship; with the dark side of an individual that is not always revealed, not necessarily a bad person. But, I believe in each of us there is light and dark and that we should accept each other's better."
Both the artist and this writer agree that the soulful "Farewell Angel," a song that is popular on Africa Radio 1 and whose video is in heavy rotation on Europe 2 TV, is our favorite on the album. The piece is totally stripped down to the singer/songwriter's essence of guitar and voice. "It was written the morning of my father's funeral," he states. With lyrics such as "I've got no angel to watch over me / I got no prayers to be heard / who listens anymore" and "In my bed I curl up / like the boy I used to be" he captures the grief of loss without weeping and wailing, the quiet sadness of how these moments play out beyond the weeping and wailing.
In addition to liberal use of the Internet and other standard ways to promote his music, Karlex has another unique idea for promoting and bringing his music to the world at large: a tour of France using the train as a roving music venue.
[Mark Kirby] What was it like doing a tour on a cross-country train? How did the idea to do this come about?
Karlex Antoine "The French TGV high-speed train tour was from April 30th to May 6th on the Paris/ Montpellier/ Perignan line. I was so excited. We played our repertoire differently just for the train. The show took place in the Bar iDZinc and was decorated to reflect my world. The idea came because iDTGV is a concept that was developed by France's SNCF to be an entirely different way to take the train. When a friend of mine presented them with the idea, they loved the music and decided to go for it."
[Mark Kirby] What is your live show like?
Karlex Antoine "The live tour reflects more what I want to do and what the next album might be like: more funky, Afro Beat and world oriented as well as very energetic and edgier. Most of all, my voice has bloomed and the shyness that I felt while recording the album has faded away. I had been away from playing music, and I needed to get my confidence back. I am a performing artist and I feel that I need to win my public with my live shows."
Whereas many musical artists - Kanye West and The Killers to name two - indulge in rap style braggadocio, Karlex remains down to earth and humble. When asked how he would describe himself as an artist, he replied, "I don't know if I am an artist, I would love to be one but I am so ordinary. I think I am just a guy who can write songs. I am just trying to share that with people and hope they will be interested, or may feel a connection because they sometimes feel exactly what I am talking about."