I found out about Charles Pasi last December. It was my brother who introduced me to his music, he had discovered him on Spotify. My brother and I love to share music with each other. I must say, I had my first music education in his room and he still manages to introduce me to new music, apparently the student hasn’t become the master yet.
I listened to three of his albums all in one breath. I was bewildered because there hadn’t been an album in a long time that I could listen to without wanting to skip any tracks, and why hadn’t I heard that name before? I checked if he had come to Turkey before, I could not find any trace. Turkey did not know him either, but it definitely should have. The idea of being a part of this process was tempting and intriguing. I chased the joy given to me by his music, I contacted his manager and we have started representing this exciting, young musician in Turkey.
Charles Pasi will play his first concerts in Turkey on November 23 and 24 in Ankara and Istanbul as a part of XXF Very Very French Festival. It seemed like a good occasion to introduce him to you. Now I take my manager hat off, wear my journalist hat and share with you what I have accumulated over the last 11 months.
Here is the link to the Spotify selection we have made to accompany your reading.
Charles Pasi is the son of a French mother and an Italian father. However, he doesn’t care much about identities, more precisely, labels.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a French man or an Italian guy. Though I have to admit I have those two cultures and I know them, I understand them, sometimes I like them, sometimes I don’t.” The same goes with music. I never consider myself as a bluesman or jazzman or pop singer.”
To me, his music seems very familiar but also brand new. Jazz, blues, soul, rock, funk melt in the same pot, with his singing and harmonica playing as the binding agents that turn the final product into a chef’s trademark, made only using common ingredients. Et voila, this is Charles Pasi.
“It’s not an artist’s business to label the music, it’s the saleman’s problem. It’s easier to sell the record with tags like pop, hip-hop, jazz, funk.”
He is right; only the seller, marketer, journalist or someone who’s in need of describing the music need the labels. He doesn’t need to describe anything, he already talks through his songs.
He writes his song in English. He often encounters with the question ‘Why?’, his answer is simple: “That’s because this is the language by which I liked music. When I was little, I was listening to Percy Sledge and BB King day and night and when I started writing songs, the words spontaneously came out in English. Besides, when singing I like to have a distance with my language of every day.ˮ
Charles Pasi started music with a harmonica. Bob Dylan was who made him aware of harmonica but it was Chicago blues masters who made him fall in love with the instrument.
“I picked up the harmonica when I was 17 and I wasn’t expecting much from it. It was more like a toy and that was actually very helpful because if someone had told me that it was hard and I had to work on it, I wouldn’t have done it. I guess, thinking that it was easy and it was a toy helped me. I like harmonica also because you don’t expect from it. It looks like nothing but you can do a lot of things with it and I love that. I love what’s underrated and maybe I feel like very close to it as a person because sometimes I was really underrated. So I like what you don’t expect.”
His harmonica playing is really intense. Instead of trying to put it into words, I will take advantage of technology and leave the words to music. Below is the link to a live performance video that hits me with the power of its simplicity. The lyrics are easy and simple, yet very intense. The performance, just with a guitar (Joseph Champagnon, his longtime companion) and vocals, gives you the fullness of a band and of course that harmonica solo… He says a lot more with his harmonica than what he says with his words, with a delightful playing of course.
There is an instrumental piece called ‘Nonna’ in his second album ‘Sometimes Awake’ (2013). When I first listened to it, I remember asking myself, “How can a young man of his age (he must have been 27 or younger when he wrote it) find so deeply touching, naive, mature melodies”
Being able to write these tunes, then play them adding such an emotional intensity seem to require a way longer life experience. He’s no doubt older than his age. Neither musically, nor in his lyrics he’s not of his generation. I suspect that he’s living two incarnations at the same time.
“Sometimes I feel really old myself (laughing). It gets a little better as I’m aging but when I was 18, I was in another world listening to a lot of old music and people. I think my taste has something about the past but not because it’s the past. We tend to progress and I guess that’s the problem with progress. Sometimes you get to a point that was perfect in terms of everything, in terms of music for example. In the seventies, we had this strong, beautiful sound for the drums and the keyboards and everything. We touched something beautiful, then the eighties came and it was awful. Not all music of course, there will always be good musicians but the evolution sometimes is not that good. It’s not good because it’s new and also it’s not good because it’s sold. I guess I’m not really in phase with my own generation”
He definitely is not.
As his harmonica playing, Charles Pasi’s singing is another essential element that binds all kinds of different music and turns them into his own. He doesn’t think he is a good singer, but he never took vocal lessons because he wanted to preserve his own way of singing. He didn’t want to get too self-conscious about it, like knowing what was happening in his body while he was singing. A wise decision! What makes him real is the sincerity in his singing that also holds tiny flaws.
Music is a form of existence for him. As it’s written in his press release, this young man of 34-year-old has been following the path of his heart for over 10 years with no noise, no insane media campaigns behind him. He has been skirting around the codes, slaloming through the gates of the obvious, to write his own destiny. With a harmonica, a pen, a heart that overflows, and the feeling that this is what he’s here for. I ask him, what makes him write the most.
“I don’t know about what makes me write songs. The only thing I can tell you is that I think I need it because otherwise I’m not really sure what I could do first and second, what else I would want to do. I really need to write songs. Yes sometimes they can be sad, the thing is I don’t believe in being sad and writing songs. Writing a song is always an act of life, hunger for life, that’s how I feel I guess.
Perhaps this is why his music flows so easily and penetrates deep into your heart. Maybe what makes you feel good about his music is his hold onto life. Or that he doesn’t hesitate to expose himself in all clarity with his weaknesses and strengths, his bright and dark sides. Him being a mirror to you or your own story being told through his own experience. Or maybe his romantic look towards life. Here, of course, we are not talking about candlelight romance that leads to love and passion. In his own words, ‘being able to see the beauty in situations’ kind of romanticism. This is widely felt in his songs. His music is well able to transform you, if you let yourself flow with it. His songs poke you gently and sometimes wake you.
In his latest album ‘Bricks’, his lyrics seem to have been fed from the outside world more, comparing his previous albums. He got affected by what’s been happening in the world. Still not negative, though the album has more ‘blue in colour’ with the sarcasm kept in.
“It gets hard as I grow older, sometimes I want to stop, to tell you the truth. Sometimes things can get so messed up around me and I wonder what’s the point of writing songs. It’s been a tough time throughout the world, in Paris and in Nice we had those killings. It affected me a lot. I was actually confused about what I was doing in the world. It felt ridiculous making music while this shit was happening. I was at first discouraged and depressed about what was going on. I had the feeling the world was turning backwards and I guess you can feel it in the lyrics.”
Yes, it is greatly felt but it still does not darken you with its music or words. Even if the world has gone completely mad, the joy of life is always there.
“And then I’ve realised the answer was to keep writing songs because we need something light, we can’t be all about the killing, the wars. We really need to preserve this childish kind of things”
I was wondering if his album with Blue Note had musically limited him. An ‘uncaged’ musician working with a major always involves certain risks.
“What’s great about Blue Note is that when they sign you, they know you. They know what to expect, what they’re not going to get from you. Even though you can surprise them, they are very respectful. And that’s the only way I can do music, with people respecting what I want to do. Of course we talk about it. There are songs they like better than the others but at the end of the day they let me do what I want to do. So, I guess I’m really lucky working with them.”
Charles Pasi had released two more albums before signing with Blue Note. ‘Uncaged’ (2011) was surely an album freed from any limits. In it, the legendary Archie Shepp plays the saxophone in two pieces.
“I loved his sound. I was writing the song Farewell My Love and at the end I wanted a powerful solo. So, I tried on harmonica but it didn’t match. We tried it with the guitar and then it stroke me, I had in mind the sound of Archie Shepp, so I was really looking for someone who could play like that. Someone told me he was living in Paris, I said “Let’s try!”. At the time I was completely unknown, I was by myself, self-produced. So, I wrote him a letter, he liked it and yes, he came and played on the record. On two songs. He told me he really loved another song which was ‘Better With Butter that reminded him old blues songs. Yes, it was a dream come true and I will always be thankful. I didn’t have money and he just did it to help me. That’s a great memory”
Here are the two songs that were subject to the story: Farewell My Love and Better With Butter
Charles Pasi is a musician who discovers himself chasing his music, who transforms as he discovers, who decides his direction along the way and who likes to stay in flow. He doesn’t have big ambitions.
“My goals evolved as I was progressing. When I first picked up the harmonica, my dream was to play in the streets, maybe someone would throw me a coin. That was it. When I got that, I wanted to play in a bar, and you know, maybe get some audience. I finally got that, then a festival. As the stages were coming along, my goals grew but I still don’t have any ambition because I already reached all of my goals and far more. The only thing that keeps me doing it because I need it. I don’t dream of ending up in a stadium or like being superstar. It’s not what I am. My ambition is already fulfilled”.
If he had such a goal, he would surely be able to get there with his music, but as far as I can tell, he is more of an organic person. He loves to extend his music by sharing it, he likes the human touch in concerts. So that’s why he has got nothing to do with social media.
“I’m not into social media at all. First, I’m lazy. So I don’t want to be doing that. And I saw a lot people forgetting about reality, they’re focused on what’s happening on FB and Instagram and they’re really happy. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s really good for a lot of things but I guess it’s not for me. I’m an old school guy. Basically I don’t have time to picture myself, to tell you what I’m eating, where I am. It’s like ‘big brother’ you know (laughing), everybody posting where they are, what they are doing. It’s my life, my private life.
About communication, I don’t really feel comfortable selling myself. Everything is on sale, everything is like commercial. The best that can happen to an artist looks like having one of their songs in a big commercial. I think that’s sad. The artist world should be compensating the craziness of the business world. It seems like everyone can be bought and everyone is the star of his own world and I think it’s absurd. To be an artist is actually not to do what everybody is doing now. Everybody has his own show. It’s only a show. We’re living in a show, a constant show about everything. The best way to react to that is to be very quiet. The only way I have.”
From where I stand, I may have a few ideas about how social media can be used in favour to the business we are in but I admire his choice as an artist because it takes courage to do what everyone does not.
Now it is about time to wrap up the article. Although there are lots more to tell and I enjoy writing about, I also need to consider those who will read it. I’m grateful to Charles Pasi for answering my questions with great patience and grace, although it was a very long interview.
And finally, ‘Your first visit to Turkey’ question. An essential to finish an interview.
“Turkey is one of the places I’ve always wanted to see. I was secretly dreaming to come and play there because it’s the best way of visiting a place. You’re not just a tourist, you get to know people and people are very friendly when you get there to play. I want to see Istanbul, I want to see Constantinople and Byzantium. I’ve been living in Rome for a year and in Istanbul I expect the same amount of history that you can feel in the air.”
Charles Pasi and his band will play in Turkey for the first time. In another interview, he said, “People will witness the first performance of five happy men in town” I must say, when those five happy men are happy on stage, the show turns into a very happy happening.
The XXF concerts, organised by French Institute, will be in Ankara, @ If Performance Hall on November 23, and in Istanbul @ Zorlu PSM on November 24. I would strongly recommend them.
I’m finishing the article with one of my favourite concert videos of Charles Pasi, but still, nothing like the real thing.