Anne Paceo is a French jazz drummer, composer, arranger and singer of the Yokai quartet. Inspired by her travels, Yokai’s complex but listenable compositions are as diverse as the locations she’s visited: from the heat and vibrancy of Myanmar to the icy chill of the Arctic Circle. Ahead of a gig at the French Institute this week, she answered some of Will Jackson’s questions via email
Why do you play the drums?
I spent my childhood in Ivory Coast and next to our house percussionists used to rehearse all day long. My family says that’s why I’ve always wanted to play drums. To me, rhythm is the foundation of human beings – we all need rhythm. Actually our heartbeat is rhythm. In many cultures, people say that the world started with drums and vocals. To play drums and rhythm gives me a lot of joy and happiness; it’s the way I connect to the world.
Your music has a strong groove but sounds quite complicated. What do you focus on when you’re writing songs?
When I write music, the first thing I think about is melody. I like to write melodies that people can remember and sing. Actually, I sing a lot when I compose. The “complicated” thing can come from improvisation. But this can change at each concert – it depends on the mood of the night. Improvisations reflect the mood of the musicians while they are playing. In pop music, you write a tune and every night when you play it you have to express the same idea, the same feelings. In jazz there is more freedom. You can play the same tune in a different way every night, more notes, less notes, different intention. That’s what I like, to express myself in a different way every day as I feel.
You’ve said the tracks on your Yokai release were inspired by your travels. Can you talk a bit about that?
I always buy CDs from each country I visit and it can inspire me. Like my tune Shwedagon was inspired by Shan music from Myanmar.
Can you give any particular moments or experiences that influenced the music? Or particular bits of music that were inspired by particular experience travelling?
For Yokai, a lot of tunes were written after a tour in Southeast Asia. I was very inspired by the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, this place has something special. Myanmar people are very friendly, nice and smiley people so I dedicated a song to them. One tune in the repertoire is inspired by a city named Lulea, in Sweden, it’s more north than the polar circles. I was there for a tour, it was night all day, with snow everywhere. My music has something cinematographic.
Where have you been so far on your Southeast Asian tour? What’s the reception been like?
For this tour, we’ve played in Yangon, with Myanmar musicians, and in Brunei. People seem to like the music we play and I’m very touched by that. For me there is no frontier in music – people like the music when you play with your heart. With music, we can communicate with people even if we don’t speak the same language. I fell in love with Asia a few years ago, and it’s always an amazing experience to come back to a country or to “discover” a new one. It will be my first time in Cambodia and I’m really looking forward to it.
What do you hope your audience in Phnom Penh will get out of your music?
I hope that people will be touched by the music and express it as they want. I like when people are dancing, but if they want to listen in quiet appreciation it’s OK too. I hope the audience feels as free as we do in the music.
Anna Paceo and Yokai will perform at the French Institute’s Le Bistro at 6:30pm on Thursday, December 3.