Thomas Boutant: “our role is above all to continue to enrich culturally Martinique and the Caribbean”

Martinican singer Jocelyne Béroard and the "Big In Jazz Collective"

After 17 annual editions, the Biguine Jazz Festival became the Big In Jazz Festival. The 18th edition took place from August 17 to 24 at Villa Chanteclerc in Fort-de-France, Martinique. A collective of eight musicians from Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti were in residence: Maher Beauroy, Tilo Bertholo, Stéphane Castry, Ralph Lavital, Ludovic Louis, Yann Négrit, Jowee Omicil and Sonny Troupé. During the final concert, Martinican singer Jocelyne Béroard, who introduced her famous song “Concerto pour la fleur et l’oiseau”, spoke of “uplifting music, which allows us to dream”(…).

Thomas Boutant, the artistic director and programmer of the Big In Jazz Festival took stock of this new musical concept with Kariculture.

2-Big In Jazz Festival 2020 : What was the festival about this year? 

Thomas Boutant : This year we adapted to the context of the pandemic. We had to think, find new ideas. Quite naturally, we went in the direction of what we were already doing, i.e. a residence like, in fact, every year. And we thought why not bring together some of the best Caribbean jazz musicians from Guadeloupe and Martinique to make a collective, the “Big in Jazz Collective”?

The global project is part of a long-term strategy. The festival aims to become more international. To do this, there were several solutions, the one we found interesting was to be able to produce this residence but also a documentary film about this residence, all based on tracks from the repertoire, from our standards. An album and an international tour are also planned. There are three variations, three objectives: the production of an album, a documentary and an international tour. : Should we expect an album, a documentary and an international tour for each next edition?

T. B.: Why not! However, these are important means, both financial and human. We keep the main objective of continuing to explore and sublimate our musical repertoire. Therefore, the versions will be likely to evolve, we are open!

3-Big In Jazz Festival 2020 : We remember that in 2018 Guadeloupean trumpeter Franck Nicolas went on hunger strike to make jazz from Guadeloupe and Martinique accepted in festivals in France; Martinican singer Tony Chasseur had, in an open letter, denounced the lack of consideration for Creole Jazz when there are Latin Jazz and Afro Jazz. You speak of an “international” tour, is France excluded? 

T. B.: The French market is an integral part of our strategy to export and broadcast the Big In Jazz Collective. French festivals are mostly international and audiences are increasingly diverse. Our goal is to use the French market as a lever towards European festivals as well. : How did you choose the musicians?

T. B.: Manuel Boutant is also the festival’s programmer and Christian Boutant is the festival’s director. It was a dialogue between the three of us. How did we choose?

Out of the eight musicians, seven already played at Biguine Jazz over the past six years. We wrote the history of the festival with them, in any case the second part. I tend to say that the 18 years of the festival is two parts. The first part, which lasts about 13 years, is made by those who founded the festival, mainly with

local artists. And then, another vision that came in 2014, more focused on international artists and youth. That’s when we saw young people like Maher Beauroy, Marc Cabrera, Xavier Belin (…) emerge. They all have a history with the festival. Yann Négrit played in 2011 for the first time, Sonny Troupé who played in 2010 with Grégory Privat, Stéphane Castry who presented his project in 2018, Tilo Bertholo has been there since he was a child. We thought we would make a synthesis with the musicians who wrote this second part of Biguine Jazz.

4-Big In Jazz Festival 2020 : We noticed that Biguine Jazz changed its name, why?

T. B.: Yes and no, Christian Boutant already had that in mind. Things happened naturally. Big in Jazz represents the state of mind in which we are today: we know our roots but we know that we have the power to go even further, on the international market. We keep the same phonetics but the meaning is broader. Does that mean that biguine is less important?

T. B.: No, biguine is the foundations of the festival. It opens up, mixes with other styles. You can go from biguine, to hip-hop, to rock. Biguine remains the starting point because in its essence, it is the only traditional music that was already turned towards jazz. Over the years, we noticed that bands no longer produce biguine. We are witnesses to what is happening. We are evolving with it.

5-Big In Jazz Festival 2020 : Do you have any stories to tell about these festival years? 

T. B.: I spontaneously think of logistics because we learned on the job, with volunteers who also learned on the job!

In 2014, the first year we organized the festival, when the youth took over the whole production, we did not imagine how colossal it was. The day before the first concert, with Manuel, we panicked in the hotel room when we realized everything that had to be done. That represents the starting point of what Biguine Jazz has become today. People come to concerts, they have a good time, but they don’t imagine all that’s behind it, that’s not the point.

Regarding the programming, there is this story with Yolanda Brown, a Jamaican saxophonist who came in 2018. We discovered her on Deezer, we saw that she was playing in England. Three months later we went to see her in concert in a small jazz club. The concert captivated us. By chance, she approached us, in a few words, we invited her to the festival, she was amazed, the following year she came. : You are not sponsored by an institution, is this a problem?

T. B.: I think we are one of the only festivals that is 18 years old but does not have a permanent team. It’s a kind of feat but at the same time a disadvantage. Today we are building a permanent team which, I hope, will prolong this festival at least 18 additional years.

6-Big In Jazz Festival 2020 : The Saint Lucia Jazz Festival disappeared, do you think there is a place to take in the calendar of musical events in the Caribbean? 

T. B.: Unquestionably, the Big in Jazz Festival offers this alternative with a contemporary vision of what is being done today. There is room for everyone, our role is above all to continue to enrich Martinique and the Caribbean culturally, but also to position ourselves as an avant-garde festival where the whole world will come with a common goal, to discover the musical trends of Caribbean music and jazz!



7-Big In Jazz Festival 2020

Jowee Omicil : Who is Jowee Omicil?

Jowee Omicil : Even I ask myself the same question every day when I wake up. I am a music lover, passionate about music. I like to share, I’m in love with nature, with life… what more can I say? I am here, I exist. My existence says everything about me. : Are you going to revisit a repertoire from Martinique?

J. O.: It’s a global repertoire, not only Martinican, there’s the Caribbean, but we’ve been looking elsewhere. There are Martinican, Haitian, Guadeloupean and the American influences. I was born in Canada of Haitian origin… It’s a meeting favourable to the growth of this Caribbean sound that is too often minimized. It’s a pleasure to revisit the great work done by these composers, these writers. : What do you think of the Martinican repertoire?

J. O.: I’ve already revisited the repertoire of Stellio, Léona Gabriel… I never get tired of it. 20 times on the loom, you have to put back your work. Even art, I love Henri Guédon. I think it’s a very rich piece of land.

People are very warm, very loving. It’s true that there are social structures, which we can be identified, but we’re not here to make any amalgam or confusion. In short, Madinina, I love you.

8-Big In Jazz Festival 2020

Laurent-Emmanuel “Tilo” Bertholo : How was the residence?

L-E. B.: An imposed repertoire and we arrived with our experience, our stories, our talents as composers and arrangers. There’s something primal in the making of the arrangement. We propose ideas for structures and we see the results.

There is a very good atmosphere. Some people who come to see us wonder if we’re really working! We’re working hard but the atmosphere is cool. I have rarely worked in such a cool atmosphere. It makes things easier, we trust each other. Besides, there is a track that we found during a joke : we were listening to the music, we went off on crazy ideas, we got in the mood and it clicked. Vibrations are very healthy, very good, we really don’t take ourselves seriously.