Esy Kennenga can be considered the Machel Montano of the creole world. He was also a child prodigy learning the guitar from the age of 4. From the creole caribbean island of Martinique, he has grown in music. He has impacted thousands, tens of thousands with his music, all over the globe. He has sold out concerts everywhere including at the world famous Olympia in Paris. The opportunity to have a conversation with this creole superstar came up. No way could I pass this up. We met in Shoreditch, London, UK and I settled to the business for finding out more about Esy.
You were a child prodigy starting at the age of 4. Do you still enjoy what you do? I still enjoy it because I meet new people and cultures all the time. There is inspiration everywhere and in every person I meet and everywhere I go, I meet musicians and artists from other parts of the world. I feel I get richer every time I meet someone.
Are you based in Martinique now or in Paris? Based in Martinique. But Ilived in France for ten years you know?? I started my singing career over there. But it is still in within the diaspora.
When you moved from Martinique to Paris, was it difficult? Yes it was really really difficult for me. I moved to France when I was 20. Before I moved, I learnt a lot about France, I learnt the history. When I arrived in France, it was like whoa.. they did’t tell me the whole story.They didn’t tell me that I have to find myself. It was the feeling. People stare at you. I thought to myself… ‘What? Am I French or not?’ I am French but… you can see in the street, in the school, to get a job, to share with people, to get in a club, I felt I’m French but I am not French’. It was difficult but it also a good way to find myself. To say ‘Yo I don’t have to prove to people that I am valuable. I feel valuable’. No matter what you say, I will be myself. It was very hard emotionally. I felt rejected, I felt not in my place. But I learnt to be there. I was taught to be there, to be a French person.
But how did you do that? Because you have come a very long way. I look at my history. To feel better, I had to learn my history. So I started to look at where I am really from. So it led me to Congo, to Africa. I found the name of the first African of my family who was brought to the Caribbean. It was after slavery. Her name was Kennenga. And she was from the Congo. The ‘Esy’ is my nickname from high school, you know take it easy. I was wondering where your name came from…. yeeeaaahh.
You have been doing this for a very long time. What keeps you going? I think of that often. But you have to find motivation wherever you can. I find it in my music. With my music I have a mission. I need to spread a message, my vision of life. I often talk about love, but not love in private love, romantic love but universal love, between populations, between people all over the world. This is my motivation, let’s spread this message my way. We have to share our vision with each other to get richer. I love making my music for myself but I put this level in my music.
You have to live your dream. Don’t let anyone else define you, stop you. Tell you that you are not good. Did you get a lot of that? Yeah yea, when I was young, they used to say ‘Music don’t fill a man. You can’t do music as a job. It can be your hobby’. But I see people live from music you know? You have to believe in yourself, especially where I am from. It is a tiny island Martinique. And you have to fight for it to do what you really want to do.
How did you rise to such fame?. I had a group when I was young and we had two albums. We got famous in the French west Indies and a little bit in France. So I started my studies, practicising, writing, composing music. Then I become a solo artists.
Was it hard becoming to a solo artist? Yes it was hard. I shared the stage with my friends. It is not the same when you have the attention on you alone. If you are tired, there was someone else to share… It was hard but …I had to say more but alone. I started in little bars and it took about three years to get a good show to present to the people. And I started doing work with artists like Admiral T, Akido, Kassav. Step by step.. it took a long time from when I decided to go solo and the public decided to discover me as a solo artist.
How do you describe your music? Finally we call it Creole Pop. Yeah because people keep asking. Basically I use all the influences from where I am from; historically, geographically… I don’t know how to say that.. a lot of people have passed through there with slavery and our neighbours speak English Spanish, French. You know my music it’s creole but it has influence from reggae music, dancehall music, local music and French and American hip hop, international pop. I love Sizzla, Bob Marley,Capleton. But I also love John Legend, Micheal Jackson, Alicia Keys. I express myself my way.
So where are your main audience from? The French West Indies and the diaspora in France and from all over the world cause I have been to New York, Brazil, Ghana. But my main public is the French Caribbean Public.
What is your greatest strength as an artist? I think it is the whole product; the way I see life, I live the life, I believe in my life, the way I write. In creole I call myself the Solda Lanmou ‘the soldier of love’. And I define myself a bit like that, like a dealer but a ‘good vibe’ dealer. To tell people ‘yes life is hard but we can choose to live it in positivity. We can choose to see it in love. It’s a choice. It’s the way you act or react to what happens in your life.’ I describe myself like this, ‘Ok I am an artist, I’m a singer but I really want my music to have a positive impact on the audience’.
Do you think your music is doing that? Yes people call me to tell me that, they call me to talk to young children at school, they study my lyrics at school so I feel I am doing something good.
Do you now feel that you have a responsibility to be a certain way because of this? Yes, when I feel that sometimes I feel a lot of pressure.. you know’ I can’t say that because young people are listening to that’. But people also have to be responsible about what they listen to you know? I’m responsible for what I say, what I write, what I sing. But I can’t be responsible for how you interpret it. So I have good intentions, but I can say ‘I love you’ but you may it as **** you’ I dunno. The way you feel, the way you are so I don’t take this responsibility too much. I just do what I feel I need to do.
How did you know when you made it? It’s not when people stop you in the street. It’s when they change what they say to you. They say ‘Oh yeah the music it’s good’ then it becomes ‘Yo great work, thank you for your message, thank you, it’s helpful.’ I thought this is something.
Has your music has changed over the years? It has. I’ve grown up. I can write a love song when I was 15. I can write a love song now but it not the same point of view. Now I can talk about my children, my relationship, my wife and my children.
What has been your biggest achievement? I am proud of all we have done. Sometimes we don’t take time to think about how much we have achieved because we are always in a rush to do the next thing. But one is my concert in Olympia. It’s the most famous venue in Paris because every big artist has played there. And I had a sold out show in 2013. And this was a great achievement. In the front of this venue, you have your name in big red letters and that was a great feeling to see my name on this venue.
What is it like? Having a full concert venue all singing your lyrics back to you? Yo it’s an incredible feeling, indescribable. That’s great when you write something and people recognise themselves in it, connecting to the beat, the feeling and they think ‘This guy knows my life, this song was for me. I know it for me.’ A lot of things we think and feel in the same way. Maybe we don’t live it in the same way but I think we all have a lot of things in common; our relationships, our family. Maybe not the same country, culture, but the same deep feeling you know? So when I sing and people sing with me it’s like oh I don’t only touch their minds, but I touch their hearts,. It’s like we have a conversation heart to heart. In concert it’s good to feel the music, to feel the music with people you do not know but you feel it. I think it is the best thing.
The pinty party flash mob… what made you think of that? Well it was the time of flash mobs. We did a flash mob in Paris. We uploaded the video on the internet. My fans from Martinique said ‘Aye we want to be in it too, in Guadeloupe, London, Miami in Russia, different countries’ and I said ‘Whaaaat?, well ok.. let’s do in all different parts of the world at the same time on the same day’. That was amazing. For me I truly didn’t realise how it was. The intention was just to get people to enjoy together. I was surprised. In Russia that was the most amazing for me. There was just one girl who saw me in Martinique whilst she was on vacation and she started to like my music and she told her friends . Her friends were dancers and they did choreography in a snowy place in Russia. And I saw my music was truly international.
Is there anyone you would like to work with? I’d like to work with Chronixx. I met him at a festival in Paris. We made a stage together. Why Chonixx? Because I love reggae music, I love his reggae music, his vibes. It’s a new vibes. It’s like he took the reggae music, the pure reggae music and made it his way. A bit a soul, a bit of hip hip. But you can feel the real reggae in his voice, in his flow, in his melody. And I like that. I like the way he writes his songs. And I follow him on Instagram and I like his meditation, the way that he is a rasta, his influence of rasta. I share a lot of that spirituality. I like his way. Not just for the music but for his spirituality and his way and his vibe.
It feels like you are pushing yourself a lot more. You’re learning a lot more English. Is that one of your goals? Yes, I feel when you learn a language, you learn to express yourself in a different way. I’m like that, I like to learn new stuff. I am also studying Portugese and Spanish. Ok. You’ve inspired me. Yes I really want to travel the world with my music and I want no barriers.
How do you think the creole culture in London can feel more powerful? Maybe, maybe we have to be more open. If I speak creole for you, maybe you like my vibe but you may not understand me. You may not feel the need to learn creole. English is spoken everywhere but not creole. I don’t think we have to do it in the language. I think creole is not just about the language. I think we can express what we are but in a different way.
Will you be doing some more songs in English? Yes this is the goal, to find a good mix between English and French, because English is a universal language so it is understood by a lot more people. But my creole way it is not a mere language. It’s a way of being and a way of life. It’s hard to explain. You can be creole where ever you are.
With all this travelling, how does affect your family? It affects them but it is really what I am. My family knows that and he consequence is sometimes I travel for a long time, I go far away. But with the internet we can stay connected more than before. And a happy family is where everyone is happy. If I don’t do my music I will not be happy. I will be sad and my family understands that.
Esy has an energy, a vibe, the way he talks, his spirituality and passion in what he does and his need to learn? It definitely has an impact and I felt like I wanted to bottle it up and take it with me after the interview. I can see how he affects others in concert. He is a star.
All images were used with the authorization of the artist. For more information on E.sy, please visit E.sy Kennenga on Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram, twitter, You Tube, Sound Cloud.