Alain Peters is one of the best-kept secrets in the music scene of the Indian Ocean and beyond. His music is unique: a blend of Creole blues, maloya and international folk, it discretely takes hold of you and never leaves you. Peters travelled through the 70s and the 80s like a shooting star, alone or with a band, with his Sahelian lute, his reel-to-reel tape recorder, firewater and ill-fated genius. He died in 1995, aged 43. Poet, musician, singer and melody-maker, he left behind a handful of sublime songs which are gathered here for the first time on vinyl. Full of dazzling beauty and sparkling darkness, his songs express the yearning homesickness of the Creoles’ highly sensitive wandering soul, at the crossroads of African, Indian and European cultures. Réunion (literally “the gathering”) is aptly named and over the course of his uncertain career, Peters continuously embodied the soul of this culturally hybrid land with a fusion of African instruments, Indian mysticism and European poetry.
Both discreet and sincere, Caloubadia leaves a lasting impression. Peters and his friend Loy Ehrlich’s ethereal choruses give this ode to euphoria a feeling of weightlessness. It’s a slow incantation, mystical, heady and acoustic. With sparse means and spontaneous poetry, Péters speaks of his daily life and environment, where happiness and sunlight shine on an inner storm of volcanic strength and darkness.
Frail improvised percussion, a four-string lute, two plastic bags rubbed together and other titbits are enough for Peters to compose Creole symphonies of dazzling beauty, full of sun, waves and wind. Mangé pour le cœur is the perfect example of this, if not for its preternatural melody.
Released in 1977, La rosée si feuilles songes was the first song he recorded at Studio Royal in Saint-Joseph. Interpreted by singer Hervé Imare, this unique 7” was released by “Les Caméléons”, for whom Peters played the bass guitar. The band, at the crossroads of jazz-rock, reggae and prog rock, lived in a community in Langevin, in the heights of Saint-Joseph. This is undoubtedly one of the most productive periods for Péters, who wrote with a lot of ease, first in French, then in Creole.
Based on a poem by his friend Jean Albany, La pêche Bernica veers towards free jazz, with its incantatory saxophone, arranged by René Lacaille, Peters’ loyal friend since the “Caméléons”. He sings about a spot of fishing at the time of the Mass, in one of the island’s well-known rivers, near Saint-Paul. As in all of his compositions, Peters builds a little melodic gem from his childhood memories, which the poet and the music transcend. It’s remarkably fluid, as if flowing in an azalea-lined gulley which bounces towards the Ocean.
Plime la misère wards off ill fortune, evading a plaintive tone to become a lively creation. Based on another poem by Jean Albany, the song’s melody is built around the wind, while quoting several places in Réunion, once again placing the island at the heart of Peters’ preoccupations. The toponymy of the island names blends perfectly with the lyrics. Proud of his Creole roots, he grew up attending Claude Vinh-San and Jazz Tropical concerts, a band which had a lasting influence on him. His father Edouard actually played the drums for saxophonist Chane-Kane’s band, one of the island’s most influential bands, before the tidal wave of pop music of the late 60s arrived.
Ti pas ti pas n’arriver is another great moment of poetry from the Indian Ocean. The song is also known as Rame canot. This song demonstrates Euclidean perfection: It works like a parable for the hardship that life inflicted on him at the time.
The more celestial Complainte de Satan (1ère figure) is far less dark than its title might suggest. The lyrics evoke the island spleen and the surrounding vastness. Deceptively fatalistic, Peters leaves it to the elements and to an almost resigned Good Lord, while he delivers the lyrics for his own survival himself. The nocturnal Ti cabart is a light and moving instrumental track, with fragments of a sibylline chorus that tales off into the blue, without ever looking back. It floats high above the island’s peaks, carried by breathtaking choruses, while Wayo manman! weaves a hypnotic canvas, thanks in part to the strings of the ngoni. Péters repeats the chorus like a long looped mantra.
With its universal melody, Rest’ la maloya is probably one of the greatest unknown hits, which should be kept close to the heart. The Fender Rhodes and light percussions weave the perfect canvas for Péters, whose blue-tinted voice travels through the track like a shooting star, touching on a world dream. Full of hope, the track sounds like a sunrise, with nothing but the ocean on the horizon.
(Translated from French by Baron AJS Craker)