| It was supposed to be a collection of teasers, like backward 'echoes' of albums to come. It ended up being perceived as one of my most important ones, if not the most important for many.
Things were pretty clear: it would feature stylised african pieces, some jazzy stuff, and some romantic stuff. Just to show the visual potential of my palettes. And Chris Blackwell was right in insisting I did it instrumental, quite a departure from what I thought I started with Barclay Records.
."... what bin should we put this into ?..."
Way before I went into production, I knew pretty well how I wanted it to sound like: a soundtrack for an imaginary trip of a little boy troughout the world. Hence the systematic crossfades between pieces, something I've always raved about when listening to Wonder's "Talking Book" and "Innervisions" albums. On a trip back to Nassau, Chris made me listen to Trevor Horn's production of Malcom McLaren "Duck Rock" album, which dynamic and variety ranges got me totally convinced of the idea. All I had to concentrate on was picking the right pieces out of the demos.
Most of my demos hardly were (and hardly are still today) complete pictures of a piece. They mostly consisted in 'pierres d'attente' (i.e. bits and pieces) waiting to be developped and/or combined in a way only dictated by the final goal I was to pursue, soon or later, sometimes consisting of just a drum-machine and synth-bass idea
In a word, "Echoes" was never concieved as a modern 'african' album, nor more as 'new-age', or any other genre one could think of. It was no experiment neither. The picture was clear, to my eyes: it simply was what pre-MIDI technology allowed me to do at the time, to express the multicultural roots I felt within, as an african born parisian who happened to get educated with Brahms, James Brown, Joao Gilberto, The Beatles, Myriam Makeba, Jacques Brel and Celia Cruz all at the same time. The kind of ecclectism anybody with an open mind was capable of, I was no exception.
The industry always in need of categories, I tried to bend the rules. And failed inevitably. With 'Hi-Life' I became an 'african artist' overnight, i.e. an artist who, because of his origins, was bound to make 'african music' most exclusively (or whose music could only be viewed through the 'african music' lenses). And in the U.S. and the U.K., 'Chief Inspector' was to put me into hip-hop lane, mostly due to the exploding 'remixes' phenomenon
All of which happened in an era where this kind of album - now easily defendable - was very hard to promote, so many were the domains and genres it was actually crossing. The point was, it was meant to be just like in a dream, where consecutive scenes do not necessarily develop in a coherent manner; or, better, like in a movie where a fierce jungle scene ('Jungle') could fade into a melancholic or romantic one ('Rain'). The "Echoes" album was conceived, not to belong to any particular genre, but like a score of an unshot movie.
Apart from within the black communities, "Echoes" went fairly un-noticed in metropolitain France at first. Unlike the U.K., where walking through immigration lanes at Heatrow airport would sometimes land me with occasional "Hey ! Mr Chief Inspector is back !" pun from the officer. And much unlike Africa and the Antilles too, where 'Hi-Life' became an infectious anthem. "Echoes" did perform on many levels, within many territories, in much unexpected ways. Up till now.