Interview: Q&A w/ Mystically – Upbeats for Your Soul

You can hardly start a new year in a better and more optimistic way than listening to some soulful and heartfelt reggae. Mystically, the duo formed by Marie-Lou Fauconnet and Adeline Aurokio, and their brand-new album Iration perfectly fits the bill. 

The singers and songwriters, based in Besançon, were inspired by their Afro-Caribbean roots and French present. They are indeed a captivating and thought-provoking voice in the music world, thanks to their far-reaching and quintessentially Caribbean uptempo sound featuring soul as well as hip-hop and ever-present African rhythms.

To spread and share some of their uplifting vibes with you and enlighten 2021, we reached Marie-Lou for an interview about the Mystically music experience, retracing the story of the project, recalling its influences and trying to look into the future, Covid-19 permitting…

I’ve read that Mystically’s inception occurred in 2007, after a gig in Paris. Can you tell us more about that night, and why and how you decided to start playing together?

Adeline and I were both backing singers in two different reggae groups, who were part of the same association. We ran into each other regularly and that evening we felt like singing together; so we did, backstage after a concert in Paris. I think it was to one of The Abyssinians’ melodies. It was a magical chemistry and we will never forget that moment.

Very quickly we felt like creating our own entity, our own group.

How has your project grown from that night? Can you briefly retrace your story since then?

We were three female singers at the beginning, we started by singing covers of great reggae standards, from Judy Mowatt to Johnny Clarke to The Abyssinians and many others. Our first gig was in 2008 at a tribute concert for Bob Marley. From 2008 to 2015, I had started to write and compose and we were performing a lot all over our county. Parallel to this, we were continuing our work as choristers, together or separately. The 3rd singer, Marie Fesquet, left the group shortly before the recording of Ladie’s Words in 2016. Between 2016 and today, Adeline and I consolidated our backing band, we focused on Mystically and continued to perform on stage. I wrote and composed a lot, and we went back to the studio in February 2020 for the recording of Iration.

3 Despite the fact you can be defined as a reggae act, you also look at many other genres to shape your sound, like soul and more traditional styles from Africa and the Caribbean. What are the main influences in your music, and have they changed since you started playing together?

No, I don’t think our influences have changed much over time. Since we were children, we have been listening to Afro-Caribbean music, reggae, soul. Every day, we listen to a little of everything. Our influences are very varied and have been enriched by meeting current musicians.

Iration, your second LP, came out only a couple of weeks ago. I’m pretty sure you’re more than thrilled about its release. So, what can you tell us about the concept behind the album and how would you introduce it? 

Yes, we are very happy and grateful with the release of this album and the feedback we have. This album is undoubtedly more successful, more thoughtful than the first, more mature too. It was born after a succession of personal events, painful to varying degrees, which brought us Adeline and me even closer.

Iration also contains more arrangements; this is the first time that we have used a brass section for our songs. We took more time before, during and after to try and bring out the best. As for the message, it is more intimate and personal than on Ladie’s Words, with titles like “I Wonder”, “You Stay”, “Jah Bless” or “Africa” for example.

Is there anything in particular that you like about Iration and, with the wisdom of hindsight, anything you would have done differently when you were writing and producing it?

What we like is that this album looks like us, and that we really took the time to do it, and that it pleases both us and the musicians. What we could have explored more is all the “free” parts that we always do on stage at the end of the song. There are often great improvisations (funky, afro, rock). We could have included more of those on the album because it’s also part of our musical identity.

It’s pretty straightforward to notice that you released your new album in the middle of a global pandemic. Which is, at the same time, a quite bold and risky decision… Why did you decide to do it anyway?

Because we are rather optimistic and we did not want to indulge in the ambient gloom due to current events. We were lucky enough to be able to record almost everything just before Covid, and we couldn’t imagine ourselves waiting without knowing how long it would be before releasing the album. Another important thing is that this project was partly funded by people who supported us through a crowdfunding campaign. We didn’t want them to wait too long. And life goes on!

Once COVID-related restrictions and regulations are over (hopefully pretty soon), how do you think music will come out from this period?  Through your musicians’ lenses, what can you see around you considering the music scene, industry and the audience at large?

There is a great desire on the part of the public to go to concerts and festivals again and a great desire for artists to play on a stage again, so that’s a good sign! Then, all this will depend a lot on how the organizers of this type of event will get out of this crisis: will they still have the capacity to organize such events? They will have to be supported by governments anyway, financially speaking. Because there is lots of will and creativity for the music business to recover, but what is lacking is funding to support culture. And culture is essential.

We are very happy to see that despite everything, most artists, concert hall organizers and managers do not give up and they are trying their best to bounce back. But I want to stay confident, because nothing can ever stop music and people’s desire to meet around music. It’s too powerful. Music is a weapon and a vehicle for love.

Despite COVID-19, it’s a great time to be a reggae musician in France. Not only do new bands and quality music sprout on a daily basis, but it looks like labels, media and venues are more interested than ever in the genre. What can you tell us about the French reggae scene and is there any musician/band in particular you would like to suggest that we listen to?

The French reggae scene is in fact a small world that we have the opportunity to be part of, especially with this album and our visibility on most reggae media channels. Although France is not roots reggae’s biggest fan, there are some very good artists who represent this scene. We particularly like Mo’Kalamity, Marcus Gad or Yaniss Odua.

How much has being an all-female act affected your career? Is it still a dream to think about gender equality in reggae and in the French music scene, or you can see that something is finally moving in the right direction?

To be a woman and to lead a reggae group as the vocal lead singer and not as a backing singer (chorister) is indeed something rare. So it is a source of pride for us. And for the moment, this has surely opened a few doors for us. This has not been a hindrance, or a brake in any case because it is precisely a specific feature that interests the public and the programmers. That said, the place of women in the world is evolving which suggests an even better visibility in the future.

Sadly, because of COVID and the fact that cultural events have been so badly affected by lockdowns and regulation, it’s still quite hard to make any project plans for the future. By the way, do you already have any plan for 2021?

No, no sure plans yet! Like many artists unfortunately! Some of this year’s concerts have been postponed. We are hoping for a quick improvement to the situation and to be able to play once more on as many stages as possible, in order to finally be able to present this second album to the public in concert!

What are you listening to these days? Any musician/band or album in particular?

I’m listening to a lot of roots reggae right now! It soothes me, especially in winter because at home, winter is harsh and cold! Adeline, she is listening to a lot of meditative music at the moment, from all over the world! We find warmth through music!

We have a tricky final question we ask every musician we interview… In a few words, how would you introduce Mystically to someone who has never listened to your music before?

A delicate question indeed! Mystically is a mix of reggae and many other styles, many influences and vibrations. It is also two French singers from the Afro-Caribbean diaspora who take great pleasure in singing and sharing together.


Photo ©: Antoine Saba