Multi-instrumentalist Pascal Udol aka Skalp DBS: “Music brought me back to real life”

Multi-instrumentalist Pascal Udol aka Skalp DBS

Even if the bass is his favourite instrument, Pascal Udol aka Skalp DBS has been playing several musical instruments since the age of 12. As a teenager, he studied at the Centre d’Informations Musicales (CIM) and began performing on the great stages of Paris in the 1980s. The musician who left Guadeloupe when he was 5 years old has been back home for a year. He has just started promoting his latest album entitled “Retour aux Sources” locally. He has invented his own music, its name: Afro-Caribbean. offers you the first part of this long interview that the talented artist has given it.

Pascal Udol-Skalp DBS 2 : Your real name is Pascal Udol and your artist name is Skalp DBS. What does this acronym mean and why did you choose this name?

Skalp DBS : Skalp is Pascal backwards, D is Drum because I was first a drummer, B is Bass, I’m a bassist and S is Select. : From which town of Guadeloupe do you come from?

Skalp DBS : My family comes from the island of Marie-Galante, they came to live in Guadeloupe, I was born in Pointe-à-Pitre. : At what age did you leave Guadeloupe for France? Do you have memories of that time?

Skalp DBS : I think it was in 1977 and 1978, I was 6 or 7 years old. I was at Mortenol primary school in Pointe-à-Pitre. I think I went to the first two classes. My mother went to work in France through the BUMIDOM, she was a civil servant, and she left me with my grandmother and, as soon as the situation became clear, she brought her children. I never wanted to leave Guadeloupe but I had no choice.

Pascal Udol-Skalp DBS : And your father?

Skalp DBS: I don’t know him. When I was about 25 years old, I knew his name and I understood why I made music ; I heard that my father is a saxophonist. At home nobody plays music, my uncle is a DJ, my brothers are singers, I am the only musician. : You are a musician and multi-instrumentalist, what instruments do you play apart from bass and drums?

Skalp DBS : All string instruments (guitar, bass, drums, piano, kalimba…) and drum-ka. When I was 12 years old, I was already playing all the instruments I had learned on my own. : When did you start playing music?

Skalp DBS : I was very small, 5 years old, I went with my uncle Patrick Udol – who now works at Média Tropical and Espace FM – who was going to rehearse in a gwoka band in Bas-du-Fort. I didn’t play yet, I was there, I banged on the drum and above all I watched. I really started playing music in France, they immediately spotted that there was something there.

When I was a child, I had a lot of health problems, a lot of memory problems. Music brought me back to real life. I have a very special background, I never went to school like everyone else.

Pascal Udol-Skalp DBS 4 : How did it happen?

Skalp DBS : I learned by myself, you always start music by yourself. I’ve always been attracted by music, when I went to France, my uncle stayed here, I had no one left. In Paris, because I had memory problems and they couldn’t find a solution, they tried all sorts of things and they noticed that I had an ease with music, I remembered everything. I was in a public school, I could change disciplines when the teacher saw that I wasn’t well or when I was “kidding”, they told me that I would go to the music room or else they would tell my parents everything, I didn’t want to go anyway… : But all the children would have been delighted to go to the music room…right?

Skalp DBS : It depends on the children (laughs)… It becomes a punishment when you are forced to do things you don’t want to do. Anyway, it worked. : What instruments did you discover in that famous music room?

Skalp DBS : Of course, percussion. My first modern instrument was the drums, when I was about 10 years old. At first I really wanted to be a bass player. At that time I had a friend whose father was a musician who toured all over the world and was very well known ; I blamed him for not making music because he had all the equipment ; I insisted that he play with me and I asked him to choose the instrument he wanted, unfortunately, he chose the drums knowing that I was a drummer, maybe to annoy me, it didn’t bother me, I’m a chameleon so I took the opportunity to go for the bass.

Pascal Udol-Skalp DBS 5 : He did you a favour?

Skalp DBS : He did me a favour but I didn’t have an instrument. My mother didn’t agree that I should make music. In the seventies, it wasn’t good… Later, she tried to get me hired in the City Hall of Paris in the 18th arrondissement, I could have been a civil servant but I got out of there… So I played with this friend, I’m a hard worker, I played 10 to 12 a day and he stayed at a very low level.

At the age of 10, the public school where I went and the Paris City Hall organized a show on France 2, I played the drums, I started to play on stage, it was funny. : Did you study music?

Skalp DBS : I studied bass. My French teacher had lent me an instrument for more than two years, I was 11 years old. I entered the CIM (Centre d’Informations Musicales) at the age of 14 in the 18th arrondissement in Paris. It was the great jazz school in the 80s in Paris where the groups Sixun, Ultramarines, or Michel Alibo studied, I was with them even if they were a little older than me… This school still exists but it’s not the same, it wasn’t originally a school, it worked so well that we found all the great musicians there. : Did you continue your schooling or did you focus only on music?

Skalp DBS : I stopped school because I had this memory problem; the only things I remembered were music notes.

Pascal Udol-Skalp DBS 6 : Music has imposed itself on you?

Skalp DBS : I had no choice. My French teacher sent me to the music room every day, he had to find something to help me… That’s what allowed me to be attentive a little bit, he did it not as a punishment but in relation to my illness. I had this memory problem from the age of 6 until I was 14, I was asthmatic, when there were 5 people around me, I would pass out (…). : How did your musical studies at the CIM go?

Skalp DBS : At the time, I had a deal because studying at the CIM was very expensive – at least 50,000 francs – with a lot of courses (jazz history, harmony, music theory,) 40 sheets a week to study from Monday to Saturday. I was offered the CIM, but there was necessarily something in return which was I would take care of the rehearsal and course rooms and the equipment ; moreover, the CIM had two concerts a week in which I had to participate : one at the CIM and another at the New Morning ; my first concert at the New Morning was in 1984 or 85.

I didn’t only do music at CIM, I also learnt how to dance : acrobatic dance, tap dancing, mordern jazz, African dance. : At what age did you leave CIM?

Skalp DBS : I joined the CIM at 14 and I left 2 or 3 years later. I stayed at school but I didn’t attend classes anymore. : What did you not endure at the CIM?

Skalp DBS : I got the wrong teacher. He was a great musician but he was not a teacher. To enter the CIM, you need at least 2 years of music theory and 2 years of practice, I had neither. When you don’t know how to read and write music and the other guys have 5 or 10 years of practice and music theory and you only have a few months, nobody wants to play with you, I was in tears all the time, nobody wanted to play with me, I didn’t know how to play, they were too strong and I was too weak, I was a beginner. You just have to understand that they saw that there was something about me and gave me a chance that I couldn’t even seize because I was too young. : In your opinion, it was your talent that opened the doors of this music school? Had you already been spotted elsewhere?

Skalp DBS : It was just my talent that allowed me to join the CIM. At the time, I had done a concert at the Tremplin in Ris-Orangis. It’s a mythical hall where Johnny Hallyday performed and which existed long before I was born, I even played with Johnny’s musicians, his drummer, his guitarist, and with quite a few people. : So at a very young age, you already had a good experience of the stage, at the CIM, the New Morning and the Tremplin?

Skalp DBS : I was 15 years old. I played with an association called Coton Tige, it was funny. In fact, my French teacher who had lent me the bass belonged to this association which looked after young people in difficulties, young people from the DASS (social services), went to look for subsidies, we played concerts. I wanted to learn music, I met them naturally, they lent me the equipment in return I played with them.

Today, I still write music for Hervé, this French teacher, he calls me every year, he even came to Guadeloupe last year. He’s the one who made me do my first concerts at Le Tremplin, in Europe, he was the one who believed in me, he knew that I was going to choose music as a profession.

In fact, the people I met when I was little are still with me : I met my doctor in 1978 but in Guadeloupe I had to find another doctor. I’m a faithful person, the people who did me good, I don’t put them aside. : When did you start earning your living with music?

Skalp DBS : Very young, too young. As soon as I was on TV on Antenne 2 or France 2 at the age of 10, the money started coming in. : When you left the Centre d’Informations Musicales in Paris, which artists did you collaborate with and what kind of music did you play?

Skalp DBS : I played with the bands Roskins, Force One, Frantz Dorville, I took part in Phil Control’s album etc. I played all kinds of music; when I left the CIM, I “burned” everything…

For about twenty years – including 6 years in Deauville – I did covers of French variety songs, American singers all over France with other West Indian artists (Frantz Dorville, Raphaël Bolivar), people so much enjoyed my work that they even prevented me from going on holiday. I earned a very good living, I had a daughter to raise. We worked at two or three, as I am a multi-instrumentalist, everything was programmed. It was for example banquets, weddings, birthdays, Bar-mitzvah and the more they saw you, the more they liked you, the more work you had to do. : You also played with many artists from the African continent, who are they and why?

Skalp DBS : I also played for a long time with NZongo Soul, a Congolese who played with Bernard Lavilliers. Unfortunately, he passed away some time ago. He was one of the greatest voices in Africa, a showman, a big name. I collaborated with Fifi Rafiatou, a Togolese artist, with Doura Barry who sang “Les filles de mon pays”, I already was called for his next tour in Mexico (…). These are artists that I like, people that Africa respects, so people respect me too.

We helped each other a lot. Since I was very young, I was attracted to African music. Africa always opened doors for me, always came to me, they always called me to work. In France, I played almost exclusively with Africans, maybe the West Indians didn’t like my style or I was going too much towards Africa and that bothered them. I went where people wanted me and I was more interested because there are more rhythms (…).

Pascal Udol-Skalp DBS 9