Ralph Boncy is a Haitian singer, songwriter, and producer who has made significant contributions to the pop music industry in Haiti. He has had the privilege of working with some of the country’s most influential and talented artists, including Emeline Michel and Beethova Obas.
In this interview, Ralph Boncy discusses his career, his collaborations with Emeline Michel, the production of her albums, and his advice for new producers. He also reveals the special stories behind some of his most celebrated works, such as “Ayiti Peyi Solèy” and “Ti Moun.”
Let’s talk about the singer Emeline Michel, who you’ve worked with. Under what circumstances did you first meet her?
I first discovered Emeline through my Olympus camera. I was covering the show “Hommage à la Jeunesse” [Tribute to Contemporary Youth], at the Sylvio Cator stadium for the daily Le Nouvelliste, as a freelance journalist. It was quite a big event.
Funny enough, Ansy and especially Yole Dérose had warned me, during another interview the week before, that I was to fall for the young singer from L’Artibonite they were about to introduce. The big podium was revolving at the center of the soccer field and I was trying to get a decent [view].
Unfortunately, it was not very well-lit and my zoom was weak—a 35-70, I recall—so I couldn’t see her very well.
But, I heard something different and soulful that was new to the Haitian repertoire. I guess she sang three songs, but the only one I recall is “Di m’ Pouki Nou Renmen” [Tell Me Why We’re In Love] which resonated to me as an answer to my own lyrics for the song “Sab Lanmè” [Sand at the Beach], which Joel Widmaier recorded a couple of years back, talking about mad love in the times of turmoil.
I didn’t know then that the piece was from Beethova Obas and Chavennet Telfort. She should think of recording it eventually.
Songwriter-producer Ralph Boncy’s comments on this photo: “The picture with the red Wyclef T-shirt is taken backstage at an outdoor music festival in Montreal and I’m standing betwen two Haitian keyboard players: the one and only Fabrice Rouzier (Mizik Mizik) on the left and my friend JP Argant (Djous’) on the right right.”
Can you talk about the production of her first album, and other works that you were involved in. Are there any special stories behind some of the songs?
First, she wrote the lyrics to “Ayiti Peyi Solèy” [Haiti, Land of the Sun] and handed me a handwritten copy in a Cahier 15. Then, we did a demo of “La Chanson de Jocelyne” (The Ballad of Jocelyn) with Toto Laraque. Then she introduced me to Beethova Obas. I was the first to produce a track from him—“Plezi Mizè” [Pleasures of Being Wretched].
Then I promoted her first solo show, two nights at the French Institute. Basically, she was still in school at College St. Pierre while we recorded the whole thing. Everybody came and helped: First, Joe Charles, then Charles Adolphe, Loulou Dadaille, Raymond Desmangles, Hans Peters, Daudier—It is the beloved Jean-Michel Daudier who just passed away—Tony Belizaire on flute, DT Richard, Reginald Policard…Richard Barbot, our faithful bass player. She was starting to be taken seriously, all of a sudden!
Did you feel that she was going to become the big star that she has become?
If I remember correctly, we were formally introduced by Mario Moretta at a showcase in Institut Français, in late December 1985. He was another close friend of hers and the promoter of this little agency blooming with young talents—Djakout Zetwal. He said she deserved better exposure and insisted that I would take over her work. I thought I’d give it a try for she genuinely deserved it. But, come to think of it, it was a big challenge—possibly a very long shot…
Which of her albums do you feel has been her best?
I tend to refer to Rasin Kreyòl [Creole Roots] as Emeline’s best album. But they are all good and all pretty different too. Of course, I have a soft spot for Pa Gen Manti Nan Sa, which I produced while she was at a peak. This album [is] from December 1990 [and] was re-issued in France, Japan and Canada under the title Tout Mon Temps [All My Time] with different bonus tracks.
It was during a very busy year while we were on the road with Mushy Widmaier as a music director. The title song is a unique gem, some kind of a masterpiece. We brought back “A.K.I.K.O” from the first tour in Japan.
Mushy wrote the music for both and we had also great input from this very creative band with Joel, Arus, Osawald Durand and even Kéké Belizaire on “Balanse m” [Rock Me]. Also, the Decastro and Despestre song “Lanmou Anmè” [Bitter Love] that she did wonderfully.
But seriously, Quintessence is also a landmark with a touch of grace. The opening track about faith, “Djannie” with Kali, the song with Edwige Danticat—this is all great stuff. Not to mention the packaging and album cover job—the classiest she’s ever achieved.
Can you discuss the process of working with her for Quintessence.
About the song “Ti Moun”, we never sat together to write or sing as people probably imagine. Emeline had suggested that we should do another collaboration a couple of times, but I was always too busy and wouldn’t know where to start.
This time she sent a draft by email. I transferred it to a Word document and we went ahead from there. I proposed several verses, she picked what suited her the best. The concept was clear and though she sent several rough mixes by MP3.
Ralph Boncy and members of group Zekle in Paris. Photo Credit:
Do you ever think about putting a solo album together?
No, I don’t think so. I once thought of putting together a compilation of my favorite songs among the hundred-something that I wrote or co-wrote or was a part of, but it’s much too complicated. People would think I’m dead. And I can’t sing either. To record them over, I would need to slam.
Do you have any advice for newbies to the musical game…whether it relates to the musical or business side of the music business?
Never put out a song that doesn’t mean anything to you.
Out of all the songs you have written, which ones are the most special to you?
Too hard to say…I like most of them. Sometimes, I hate just one line. But since Zeklè and Emeline are the artists I worked the most with, I will mention “Si Ou Vle” [If You Want]. The guys thought the lyrics were so beautiful, they decided to slow down the first verse for people to hear the words better. Also “Ou te Di m’” [You Told Me] which I wrote with Daniel Jean-Louis.
There’s a loop in the chorus. People sing along the short sentences and it’s got a double meaning. With Emeline, I’d say “Tout Moun Ale Nan Kanaval” [Everyone Done Gone to Carnival] and “L’odeur de Ma Terre” [The Aura of My Land] are very special to me, very true.
But there’s also “Lavi Ka Bèl” [Life Can Be Beautiful] or “Le Poisson de Nuage” [Fish on a Cloud]. In both cases, I kind of put together bits and parts from her scrapbook before sketching the melody.
As someone who’s written so many Creole language love songs, what goes into writing one?
Very exciting. Creole is very sensuous. So, you feel privileged to get to sculpt words of your native language.
When have you written your best songs…when you were totally in love, or when you felt jaded about love?
It really varies. I can’t say. I wrote very few love songs, by the way. Even “Chante Lanmou” is more about misery, death, fate, destiny, soothing help, the great mystery of life and destiny. So I guess after great lovemaking would really be the best timing for inspiration, but it rarely happens this way at all.
Why do you think that a good percentage of songs, no matter the genre, are about love?
Because love is what we all look for. You know the craving, the quest for whatever kind of great love each one of us wants
Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by kreyolicious