The Sound of the Future: All About AlCol
We know the work, we know the name, but we want to know the man – so can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
AC: First of all, my real name is not AlCol; my full name is Alim Bénédict Aubry Colin, and I’m a 25 year-old DJ / producer – also a rapper. Since I was a kid, I was passionate about art. I started drawing first, and I enjoyed reading books a lot. In high school, my friends said, “You know how to write, why don’t you do it over beats? Why don’t you sing your texts?” I said, “Well, I’m not a singer, but I can definitely give it a try.” I love percussions, so I was in school, using my pens to drum on my desk to make beats. So, I started writing, but it was poetry and books, or texts, then I got into rap music. It was easy to listen to other people, to see how they do it, how they use words to make rhymes, how they flow on the beat, so I learned all that by myself. I released my first song in 2012, and it was called Met Dife. That’s how I met PrinceMozes, who produced my first song, but he was busy with school – so in 2013, I went home, took the software, and started producing. At first, I was just taking unfinished projects from PrinceMozes to try to finish them. I really got into production when I got into DJing, because I started DJing with friends and I found it pretty interesting. I got into it too, so it was easy for me to pick songs and try to mix them – but I learned all by myself, with no controller, no computer. Every time I got the chance to be in front of these things, I practiced. I wanted to have my own sounds, so people could put me in line-ups, not because I’m a good DJ, but because I rep something that sounds good. In 2014, I produced my first song, Konyen Nòmal, and it got popular in January of 2015, so that’s when I was officially a DJ in this industry, because people met me through Konyen Nòmal. In 2016, I released Map Byen Pase and I created Moombahkonpa. I’m a creative person, I want original stuff, I always want to understand things so I can have my input. I got into production, not because production is cool, but because I want it to be part of me.
We live in Haiti. Traditionally, your career choice isn’t very accepted. How did you manage your ambitions and the expectations of people around you, like family or other people?
AC: It was hard at first, because what’s important here is not what you do, but “Is it going to be useful? Is it going to put food on the table? Is it going to help?” Parents in general block you from doing certain things here, because they know the reality. They know how hard life is. They don’t always do it in the best or nicest way, because they curse you out and threaten to kick you out of the house if you do this or that. The real challenge at first was not to be accepted per se, because people are not going to approve everything you do, but to make them proud so they can say that, “Okay, he’s an artist, but he’s not hungry, he can buy his clothes, he can pay rent.” I just accepted the fact that they would never understand. It was easy for me to say, “Yeah, I’ma do this,” because I knew that I was ready, mentally. I didn’t do anything to manage that gap, but the effort that I put in my work did it for me. Since I was working all the time and I got results, people said, “Oh, let’s not bother him with that, because he’s getting gigs, he’s getting recognition, people know him, he’s doing something that he loves,” so at the end of the day, people who love you understand that that’s what you want.
What does your creative process look like? Are you the type of person to just wake up and get going, or do you wait for inspiration to come?
AC: Nothing will come to you if you don’t go for it. When I wake up, I just tell myself, “Let me produce something.” Since I’m not a musician, it’s not me humming something in my head and saying, “Okay, I’m gonna do that!” I say that inspiration doesn’t exist, but people tend to make me see that, “Not everybody can do what you’re doing.” So if you can do it, it’s two things: either you’re gifted, either you have inspiration. I don’t believe in it, so I sit in front of my computer and I put in the work. I create things. When I’m in front of a computer, I draft ideas. Many ideas. If inspiration is that, let’s say that I do both, because I draft ideas, I pick the best one, and I work on it.
Who are some of the artists that you have been listening to lately for inspiration or just for fun?
AC: What was I listening to lately? I was listening to Jeff Pierre. I listen to Skanda, who is a moombahton producer – I listen to a lot of moombahton, to be honest. I discovered a couple of new producers recently, because I wanted to produce that genre from South Africa – I don’t know the name. In general, I don’t have a particular artist that I listen to, I just listen to music. Even if I listen to a whole album, I don’t even remember the name of the artist, because it doesn’t really matter to me. I think it’s related to DJing, me not being able to remember artists’ names – I just classify songs and press play. I listen to a lot of South African music, lots of afrobeat, because I put out a mix recently, and a lot of moombahton. Also, some things related to traditional music from Haiti, which involves rhythm.
How easy would you say it is to be a DJ, rapper, and producer in Haiti, in terms of your work, but also in terms of how socially accepted it is with friends and family?
AC: In a country with a mentality like that, everything’s easy if you do the right thing, if you sing about the right thing, if you play the right music – for people ruling that game. If you’re playing konpa, you’re a good guy, a good DJ; even if you don’t play it right. If you produce rap music about peace, love, instead of ass and pumpum, you’re a good rapper – they won’t have a misconception of you. At the end of the day, this is not good because they base what a rapper is on what they might see on TV or in the US; they’re gangsters, they shoot people… I won’t say it’s easy to get accepted – again, it’s never easy. If you accept yourself, that’s the first step. People accept you if they want. You can have a nice life, and not too many people on your back, if you sing about positive things. As long as you sing something positive, as long as you’re not promoting what they qualify as bullshit, it’s pretty easy.
Would you say that you were prepared for working in the music industry in Haiti, or was it absolutely nothing like you expected it to be?
AC: I wasn’t prepared at all. It smacked me in the face, from the jump. I was dreaming about what I knew about the Netherlands, as a young guy. I used to really follow the music scene there, because they have good DJs, they have clubs, and they support music, they buy music – you can make a living out of music, there. My delusional ass thought that in Haiti, it would’ve been the same. But I forgot that here in Haiti, we don’t have clubs. Here in Haiti, we have problems related to copyright. Here in Haiti, it’s not easy to make a living out of music. I was dreaming, and the market smacked me in the face to wake me up. It shook my brain. So, no, I wasn’t ready.
Do you think there’s a responsibility that comes with doing the work that you do, social or otherwise?
AC: Yes. There is a form of responsibility. As an artist, it doesn’t make sense if you’re the type of person who’s says, “I’ma play this, I’ma produce this, doesn’t really matter what the repercussions are going to be.” You’re promoting bad behaviors, violence, this and that, and every single time you play somewhere, there’s a riot, but it doesn’t matter to you because at the end of the day, you just want to fill a space, a room, a club. It’s packed, and if you play music which is violent and puts people in a situation where they want to fight, it’s your responsibility. It’s like you’re spreading gunpowder all over, you strike a match, and you say, “It wasn’t me.” So, yes, there’s a responsibility that comes with being an artist, because you have an audience. You’re a leader, whether you want it or not, because at the end of the day, people want to follow you, people like what you’re doing. You have to remember sometimes that it’s not all about money, and take that responsibility. Sometimes, people want this, but you say, “No, as a human, I’m not going to partake in this.”
There is a lot of talk about the music industry in Haiti, and where it’s going – or where it’s not going. Do you think there is reason for frustration?
AC: A lot of reasons for frustration, really. Since the country is poor, we have poor people trying to make a living off anything. You see people selling dumb things in the street, junk. You can buy a fan on the street, and it’s not working; why was that person selling the fan if it wasn’t working? The answer is that this person needs money. There’s the need for money, to survive, for each person on this island – not everybody, but in general, that’s what it is – money is a motivation. Many times, people sell things that you are not ready to sell. People who do that sometimes are not as talented as you, but they get on the scene, they get everything, they get the money, they get the gigs, because they’re corrupt, they’re in the machine – and that leads us to frustration, sometimes. The person is just selling their body, and they’re getting to where you’d like to be – I say with no effort, but it’s an effort. It takes courage sometimes, to sell your dignity and to do something that you’re not necessarily enjoying, but since it’s easy, you do it. It’s kind of frustrating sometimes, when you see people who are not as good as you – or, let’s not be cocky, as good as people tell you that you are – making big moves, and being on all the line-ups, getting all the recognition, promoting bullshit. You’re just out here, people love what you’re doing, but they’re not the promoters, the club owners, the venue owners. So at the end of the day, it’s frustrating when you get the love from people who are just here to appreciate – but can’t do shit for you. Other people who are running the machine won’t let you in, because you don’t wanna be in – that’s what they’re gonna tell you – because you don’t wanna do this and that, you don’t wanna be their bitch. So if you’re not ready to be a bitch, of course, it’s going to be frustrating forever and ever.
Let’s talk about the future. What does the future look like for AlCol? Is there a specific place you see your career in?
AC: Not in this country. I have no future here, if I stay here. My future is my present and my past, because it’s the same stories repeating over and over. You know, different situations, but same concept. You already know from the go what’s not working. The future is somewhere, I have to figure that out. I’m working on it. Poverty stole appreciation for art from our people. They’re so into getting the money to survive, they don’t have time to appreciate, and you can’t have a future in a system that’s lacking appreciation. Ideally, I’m going to create a platform, which is a project I’m actively working on, but now, I’m literally the only one artist on it with my girlfriend – we’ll see where that goes. Even if the system is not working, it’s interesting to join forces with other people and see what we can do for the movement. Money is going to be a part of it because we’re living in a capitalist system, but I just want a platform where I can get people into producing electronic music. It’s important for the movement to be sprinkled with cultural elements: our rhythms, our way to play music. It’s going to be called SaBonWi. Not because we’re cocky, or egotistical, or self-obsessed, but because it has to be good, and it’s a positive way to think of it. You tell yourself even before you press play, even before you start putting elements in your computer, that it’s going to be good – it has to be good, ‘cause we’re lacking that. We’re lacking good projects, we’re lacking things that can be played on the international music scene.
You recently released your first EP, Grenn Zaboka. Do you have any other projects currently ongoing, and can you share a little bit of what they’re about?
AC: Yes, I’m going to release EPs instead of putting an album out, because for me, putting an album out just means that you’re ready, you know, and it’s not the case yet. I’m not ready yet in that sense, because production takes time, you have to learn all the techniques, and since I’m self-taught, sometimes you don’t necessarily get what you like, you don’t sound like you’d like to sound. These EP projects are just going to be tests, and when I feel ready enough, I will put an album out. For now, I’m just me being constant in my work as a DJ / producer, since once you have fans, you have to keep the train going because people expect you to release things. So, my projects are remixes, bootlegs, putting them on my SoundCloud, releasing mixes, DJ mixes, working on Moombahkonpa, and trying to add variety in my production in general, so I spend my days in front of my computer and at the end of the day, I select 1-2 projects and I release them.
Any last words about what people should expect from you, music in Haiti, or people who want to follow your path?
AC: Don’t expect me not to be myself. As an artist, you have to respect what another artist does. You have two choices: it’s either you love it, or you don’t. But don’t try to turn someone who is doing something, who is taking their time to do something, into something else. Sometimes people see other artists, other DJs, and they say, “Yeah, this guy sounds good, I like him, why don’t you play his type of music?” I’m not him. At the end of the day, it’s encouraging, you know, when people appreciate what you’re doing, ‘cause why would you do it, why would they love it, if it wasn’t good? If you don’t like me, don’t come to my events; if you don’t like me, don’t press play on SoundCloud. But if you do, don’t try to change me, don’t try to turn me into something that I’m not or that I don’t want to be. I’m not stubborn, but it’s a process. For people who want to be like me, or who enjoy what I’m doing and would like to hear my suggestions? Work. Just work. Don’t try to be someone else, be yourself. Dig inside of you, dig deep inside of you, and find your true self – this happens when you work on yourself, on what you love, on your music.
Interviewed by NOIREDELATOUR