Interview: Marius Billgobenson
Marius Billgobenson, whose music draws from world, jazz, and folk influences, has just released a new album, The Sum of My Pardon.
Q: What was your introduction to music? How old were you, and how did it affect you?
A: My wonderful introduction to music recall my days as a young child living in Ingoumina, which was a station for the Swedish missionaries in the Congo. Those days will always linger back in my mind since they laid the foundation of my experiences and growth in the field of music. 600 kilometers away from the capital city Brazzaville was my home, in a peaceful village where love was sufficient. While growing up, I had a troubling time trying to search my identity and while in the process, I felt my passion for music developing slowly. However, I took a lot of time exploring how life would be if I was a musician. Besides, I was faced with a difficult task of converting the inspirations and secret hums into songs that would make sense to the common man, which made the basis of my songs to be life experiences in the journey to becoming a profound musician.
Q: Did you grow up in a musical environment?
A: When I was being raised at a place near Congo River Basin, most of the time I witnessed the performance of the polyphonic singing by humble, happy men from the nearby woodlands. I could not deny the impact of the brilliant souvenirs in my childhood experience. However, the passion for their culture and music kept on invoking questions on the possibility of committing my voice one day to reveal to the world about the prominent traditional community. In spite of that, the guitar lessons from the missionaries and my father who led the gospel choir in the village played a part in my music roots.
Q: What styles of music had the greatest impact on you creatively?
A: I have always struggled to put my sound together to identify what styles of music had the greatest impact on me, but in my challenge of aimed to blend a significant elements of African music in my LP, jazz instrumentation may have been an essential style in matching my sound. In this struggle, I have always represented myself as an insect that would cause an earthquake with its roaring voice. After a long struggle, my sound was finally together and compact enough to produce an album, which I named The Sum of My Pardon. In the process of preparing the album, I realized jazz is an exceptional genre, which when played smoothly aids in bridging diverse traditions and cultures. Danilo Perez, a renowned pianist, has always stressed that jazz’s role in calling political attention on the word is significant. Without any contradiction, I support him. It is factual that we live in a divided community, and the only solution is to use jazz as an umbrella to bring about intellectual dialogues. Just like Danilo, I believe that jazz is stirring the people’s mind to have a meaningful conversation about what we as the human being are doing to ensure a better life in the next twenty years. Jazz creates a platform for people, and leads them to the right decision. Additionally, jazz can be used as a weapon to fight for civil rights, which will salvage the forest groups by calling for political actions on the marginalized communities. Overall, jazz always leaves the humanity better than it was yesterday.
Q: What instruments do you play, and how did you learn?
A: Although I perform mostly with an acoustic guitar, my most experimented instrument is an electric bass, of which but, both instruments I learnt from missionary guitar lessons. However, it is essential to notify that my music first instrument was my father’s accordion. Before graduating, I actively participated in CBE – a church youth group that had spread widely in the nation. I was a key figure in the music section and whenever I had the opportunity to lead the gospel choir in our tour to Scandinavia, I played and performed electric bass.
Q: What songs on The Sum of My Pardon are most personal to you and why?
A: “Happy Man in My Singing Woodlands” portrays a central experience of sharing practical lessons I learnt from my strive over the implementation of Afrique Profonde – a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of African traditional culture and their human rights, starting from one of the World’s most well known (yet misunderstand and greatly stereo-typed) traditional tribal people – sometimes referred to as the “Pygmies”. The concept aims to propel natural resources, indigenous knowledge and wisdom as bases for educational exchanges. I stress indigenous tales referring to memorable sharing with Sir MBOU, an old percussionist leader, to invite the coming-of-age an interactive physical process between the modern world and disenfranchised protagonists at Afrique Profonde, while claiming to the protection of the remaining forests in the Congo Basin River. Specially, I aim to portray how polyphonic singing performances of some groups of the pygmies are committed to give praises towards ‘gods’ of the forest, while looking forward to bring promotion and awareness of indigenous intimacy with the nature.
However, love always represents the key engine, able to fulfill and solve the despair and problems people face in their life across diverse societies. Therefore, in “The Kingdom For Love,” I stress life as the status a person sustains after all infirmities. For example, somebody’s smile from the heart can derived from artistic portrayals presented by other social actors in life. This represents an expression of love without borders and conditions. In my situation, “The Kingdom For Love” formulates my particular invitation to Ulrika Sandin – my darling wife – for a special dedication to affirm there is hope. Consequently, I assert hope ought to be recognized as an essential factor among men and women residing in the Universe as claimed by Ya Nzongo.
Q: What artists influenced you the most growing up?
A: From the many wonderful artists who influenced me the most growing up, the list may be long but Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock and Michael Jackson inspired me a lot – to name a few of them.
Q: How have you evolved creatively?
A: Being far away from home changed my realities about life after, especially after failing to achieve my long expected dreams at Afrique Profonde. In the foreign land, recognition was no longer by musical experience, but by education certificates. When the situation became worse for me, there were no resources to fulfill my dreams, and hence, I started working harder and saving more to actualize my dreams. Dozens of years passed and music remained the only thing resolved to, and I put all my efforts towards it while still working for the Congo Embassy in Sweden. I had dreamed of becoming my own producer, but due to lack of resources, I picked StudioPros in Los Angeles to produce my music while still in Sweden. By use of modern technology, it was possible. Today, I can access the best studio technicians, engineers, while CD Baby is publishing my music.
I desire to blend jazz instrumentation with tales and sounds from Africa, while bringing in social and cultural aspects that will allow people to make innovative bodies for music. This is in line with my valuable dream as a songwriter, to not only portray the ideas I capture in lyrics, but also to identify competent actors able to convert the valuable ideas into the real world. In essence, while both in the studio and onstage, I have been working with key people to produce my debut album. The vocalists Karolina Karner and Teresa Pirelli, Mike Haglund the Swedish pianist along with amazing African Backing, form the team I have been working on my search for a common ground, where I fit completely. Additionally, Everart Araujo Lucio the Brazilian bass player, and Patric Skog, the guitarists are not exceptional. Besides, it is necessary to mention about all the talented sessional studio team, and it has incredibly captured my passion for Classy Smooth Jazz at StudioPros. By all means, I cannot forget David Randle, who is an amazing guitarist and also guides me in the songwriting process. In fact, he is like a brother to me, and I am thankful for his encouragement and friendship.