Laurent Jeanneau in China
When did you arrive in China for the first time?
I was in China as a tourist in 1992. As a tourist, I went through that phase myself, I know what it is to be a tourist. That means you misunderstand everything. It took me years living in those places to realize all the things I understood wrongly for the first time I came.
I just read an article on Cambodia, all the villages that I’ve known along the Sesan River, all those gong orchestras that I was recording, those entire villages are under water now. Every time I get news from China, where we used to live when my son was born, or the places where I recorded all these great gong orchestras in North East Cambodia, are only stories of destruction. It doesn’t exist anymore, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to go back there, I would not go back to this time. If I would go back there I will not find the same things, I would just be disappointed, it would be terrible. If I’d ever travel, I should travel to new destinations, not carrying all my heavy bag of stories to one country. I’ve known China from 1992 to 2014, so there are 22 years of development. It is a period in history, it’s finished.
What do you have in mind as new destinations?
One of the reasons to move here was that I wanted to be back in Europe, involving the education of my son, who’s going to a French-German school here, in this neighborhood. I have to solve the problem of his education, you know?
If we think about this concept of multiculturalism, it only makes sense for people like my son. He truly understands the two cultures, the two societies. He’s multicultural because he has one foot in China and one in Europe. Me, I can stay as long as I want in Asia, I will never become one of them. I don’t believe in that. The multiculturalism would be just a forced process, but for him is natural, he has these two parts in him. For me, multiculturalism means those people who have truly experienced at least two, or three, or four cultures, and who are part of those two, three or four cultures. Those are the multicultural people. But they are a minority, it cannot be everyone. At the moment where the world is, people want to have just one language and one culture. But it’s ok, we live in a time in history where multicultural people are accepted and not called bastards.
Since you’re speaking about multiculturalism, what are your thoughts on cultural appropriation?
Yes, it is a super tricky issue. I’ve been addressed this question more and more actually, and the question is directed to me. Am I in that situation of stealing their culture for my own purpose?
I had a recent show, in January, it was a lecture about Tibetan shamanism. And this issue came, and at some point a guy in the audience said “Can I say that you monetize their culture?” And I’m like, “If you want. But if an anthropology professor would be here, at this table, earning 5000 dollars from an American University, basing all his knowledge on their culture, would you ask him this question?”.
I have no taboo with the idea that I’m monetizing their culture, but in my case is so small. But would you ask an anthropology professor the same question? Would you ask whatever photographer would publish pictures of tribal people, how much money they give back to the community, since their book have been super famous all over the world? I have no problem, I pay the musicians the way I can. I always used to say that with recording your voices (like you record me right now), you’re not stealing anything from me. When you leave my home, I will still have my voice and I will still be able to talk. Now, when you buy certain objects of rituals, African statues or something like that, you take something away that might not be replaced. This is much more damageable to the culture, the object that has been taken out of their culture. I’m not taking an object, but a recording. And I’m giving away this recording. And then if a person says “Well, I can still sing, I don’t need the recording”, I’m like “I know, I’m really happy you can still sing, but your daughter or granddaughter, or the people in your family would like to hear you, and you’re not going to be there all the time (I don’t want to say that you’re going to die next year, but at some point).” And then he’s like “oh yes”, and he takes the CD and say “thank you”. I think of this idea as what’s positive for them.
Honestly, I think it’s quite unique, in my case. Usually you have people like Muslimgauze, who has based all his musical approach around percussions of the Arab world, more or less. And apparently he became a Muslim, but I don’t know the details. But everybody knows he didn’t go there to do the recordings themselves. With me, I went there to do the recordings myself, I do remix them, but I also try to release the original recording, so I always tell to people that I would never pretend that my so-called remix, recomposed work, or my re-appropriated thing, is better than the original. I encourage you to compare. A lot of material is online, is not even a matter of money anymore. You can compare the original and the remix. That’s at least what I can do in terms of respect. Having two approaches of listening to this music, but the original is probably the best one. I’m summarizing. They are history, if history could be really objective, just based on the reality and not propaganda. And then there are guys like me who do history on one side, and a novel on another side. The latter is not reality anymore, it’s based on historical facts. If a guy only has a novel and distracts you from the original history, that sucks. But if he tells you “ok, this is what I’ve done, but this is the history, you can compare.” This is what matter in my case. You have the original and those people haven’t been recorded before, so it’s great that there’s a trace of them. This is what I do, it doesn’t matter which one you like.
Do you think is necessary to go in one certain place to record something, instead of just taking some parts of music, such as Muslimgauze did? Is it more truthful to go in that certain place, or is actually acceptable only to use parts of their music?
I’m the only one in the Western world who can visualize, when listening to a CD. I know how these people look like, I remember a lot of their kindness. I cannot see it only as a musicologist, for me it’s all part of a story, the time I spent with those people.