It is more than due time to introduce the world to the French rapper, half-Ivorian, who has been living between London and Paris for a few years now, Lala &ce, born out of the cloud rap made by new generations fed by the internet, auto-tune and slowed-down voices that melt into the basses until they peddle their own particular sonic mist. This is the face we have chosen to talk about the ever original programme of Lyon's Nuits sonores 2022 festival (25-29th May), which reinvents itself after two years of pandemic and existential questioning.

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Author: Vicenç Batalla

Image: Gaétan Clément

For its nineteenth edition, the multi-faceted Nuits sonores has reversed its nature and its traditional four nights become four days in the halls of the former Fagor-Brandt factories, which the event has occupied since 2017. On the other hand, the four days offered to four artists become nightly appointments in the historic site of La Sucrière.

At the same time, the European Lab for cultural and political debate is transformed into the NS Lab at the headquarters of the organizers of Hôtel71/Heat/H7. A musical and militant geography at the confluence of the Saône and the Rhône, ready to sail as far as possible.

Lala &ce, for her part, comes from a little further upstream. From Bron, where she was born 27 years ago, and from Villeurbanne, where she grew up, daughter of an Ivorian mother, a child educator. After living in these working-class neighborhoods in the suburbs of Lyon with four of her seven brothers and sisters, she went to study in a high school in the posh 6th arrondissement of the capital of the metropolis because she had chosen Chinese as one of the foreign languages.

It was a way to get out of her more closed social circle and compare it to what was going on outside. But instead of being gentrified, despite her studies in financial management, she began to mingle with other young people interested in new musical possibilities through the SoundCloud platform in collectives such as LTRT (and the local pioneer of these sounds Jorrdee; the French pioneers being PNL) and 667 (a franco-senegalese group of rappers).​​

Between doses and doses of lean, a mixture of Spirit and codeine, which in the 90s was introduced into hip hop in the southern United States as a psychotropic drug, Lala &ce began to compose her first tracks from which her first self-produced mixtape En attendant Xx… was released.

Between family heritage and booty rap

Mélanie Berthinier, her real name, chose as her pseudonym the combination of “Lala”, as her maternal grandmother was called, and the acronym “&ce”, to be pronounced like the tennis ace, inspired by her great idol Serena Williams as much for the game as for her curves.Indeed, the androgynous and slender Melanie is a self-confessed fan of big butts. And, in this sense, she uses all the codes of the so-called rap game with the themes of luxury and sex as signs of success but inverting them as a lesbian statement

This can be seen in most of his video clips and, in particular, in the track “Serena-Botcho”, from her second mixtape Les Sons d’après released in 2019. “Botcho” refers to a cream marketed in Côte d’Ivoire to increase the size of breasts and buttocks, which gave rise to the popular bobaraba dance.

The lyrics of Lala &ce‘s songs are an open allusion to her desires, even if the French themselves find it hard to understand her with her expressly frumpy vocalization in which sensuality is conveyed precisely by that thick diction.

Les Sons d’après was produced during her stay in London, where she went to finish her studies and stayed on to work in a photography studio that was also a bar. It was produced by the Risky Business collective and released on the London label A4Ward.

Later, she decided to return to France and settled in the Parisian suburb of La Courneuve, where she shared a flat with her collective &ce Recless and other rappers of the latest generation, whom the French media defined with some relish as new young möderns: Bamao Yendé, Boy Fall, Le Diouck, Rad Cartier. An idea of their queer, provocative and afro-futuristic attitude is reflected in the video from three years ago “VT Zook II”.

A collective album

Despite the pandemic, Lala &ce continued to work on her first proper album “Everything Tasteful” (&ce Recless/All Points/Believe), which was released in January 2021, mainly in French.

The 15 tracks have a different producer each time as she prefers the basics to be sent to her by people from different backgrounds, then improvises her voice and lyrics over them or finds an accompanist to share the track.

There are up to six featurings, with Rad Cartier, Pull Up Boyz (Rad Cartier + Le Diouck), the Frenchman Ghenda, the British Pucci Jr and Lancey Foux and the American S3nsi Molly. The latter, in the morphological standards desired by the artist and which she convinced via Instagram.

The unity of the album, with all sorts of rhythms and background noises, is given by Lala &ce‘s wispy voice, which is hard to grasp. The track that breaks out of this soft lethargy a bit is “Show Me Love”, with some rumba strings that also make it the most danceable and the one that has given it the most plays so far.

The spirit of collaboration extends to other outside appearances. In 2021 alone, she took part in half a dozen tracks with French musicians from different worlds, such as Vladimir Cauchemar, now a rap producer in Atlanta, the deep-voiced singer Malik Djoudi and the Perpignan rapper Nemir.

Last October, she directed the musical “Baiser mortel” with the Honduran-born electronic producer Low Jack at the Bourse de Paris of the Pinault Collection of Contemporary Art. All of her acolytes participated with a score created for the occasion, in which each interpreted death in his or her own way, with dancehall choreography by the Argentinian Cecilia Bengolea. All this, in addition to the image she lends to numerous fashion brands or as a muse in French Vogue.

Lala &ce during last year’s edition of Nuits sonores @ Gaétan Clément

Carte blanche to emerging voices

During the first of the carte blanche evenings at La Sucrière at Nuits sonores, on Wednesday 25 May, she will also perform with DJ Andy4000 who will lay the foundations for her, as she did at Nuits sonores 2021 exceptionally last July, and with new tracks such as “Toxic”. Her line-up features Bamao Yendé and fellow Parisians Broodoo Ramses and Tatyana Jane behind the decks, all passionate about sounds that mix hip hop, house, techno and the latest African rhythms. Alongside them, Low Jack and Brodinski, another producer who has made the leap across the Atlantic, will play side by side.

As for the concerts, both at La Sucrière and at the rooftop club Le Sucre, the Lyon-born artist was inspired by her own collective, with the presence of Le Diouck, but also of other emerging artists such as the Frenchwoman Oklou, founder of the NUXXE label in London with Sega Bodega and Shygirl, the rappers La Fève (from Paris) and Sadandsolo (hailing from Brussels) and the Nigerian-now-Londoner Midas the Jagaban, who remains anonymous behind a white bonnet.

“We’re all born without choosing ourselves”, Lala &ce explained at the time of the release of her album in french magazine Les Inrockuptibles, “nor our skin colour, nor our sex, nor where we’re born… So trust yourself. Only you can do it”. With this motto, she is the first local artist selected to curate a day of the festival. The other three are the British DJ Harvey, the German Helena Hauff and the American transgender artist Honey Dijon.

Musical and political programming

To give an overview of a programme spanning five continents, we mention Planetary Assault System (Luke Slater), Nicola Cruz, Danny L Harle, Kittin & The Hacker, Daniel Avery, Para One, Bicep, Moritz Von Oswald, Actress, Cakes da Killa and Barcelona’s Bawrut and Mainline Magic Orchestra.

At the same time, the NS Lab will bring together artists, activists and thinkers from all over Europe to contrast the musical euphoria with today’s world.That of two years of planetary viruses; that of the massacre of Putin‘s Russia in Ukraine; that of the more than thirteen million votes cast for Marine Le Pen‘s far right in the recent French presidential elections.

This is how they summarize it in the editorial of the Nuits sonores political laboratory: “It is a moment marked by the return to war in Europe, by the tragic nature of history, by the rise of authoritarianism and cultural isolationism, by a capitalist age whose reach extends all over the world, and by an environmental emergency. Never before have questions over the role of those spaces dedicated to artistic programming and public debate, over the function of the platforms we strive to create to connect artists, activists, philosophers and the European media, been posed with such acuity.”

This article is also available in French, Spanish and Catalan, on Paris-Barcelona‘s website.

About the author

Vicenç Batalla is a free-lance journalist who has worked, during the last 40 years, in local, social, political and cultural subjects from his city Terrassa (Barcelona) to Paris and now Lyon for several news media. Now, he continues to do the same, linking general newspaper (El Punt/Avui), radio (Cadena SER) and online specialized magazine (Rockdelux) with his own parisBCN trilingual website to connect different levels and places in this side of Europe.

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