ColumnsPaul Stokes

Guest column - Ill communication? How to record with someone who doesn't speak your language

ColumnsPaul Stokes

How do you make a record if you don't share a common language with your collaborators? That's exactly what Joe Driscoll and Sekou Kouyate have done for their album Faya. With the pair set to head out on tour together in March, Driscoll explains how the music itself allowed them to communicate.

Sekou and I met at a festival in France, and within the first few hours of jamming with him I had begun planning an album in my head. There's a lot of elements to consider when planning an album, but I'd never dealt with collaborating with someone who didn't speak the same language. The first few weeks, we sat just the two of us and jammed all day with a little dictaphone on the table. I felt in those sessions that language wouldn't be a problem, but I was still a bit nervous to see how it would all play out in the studio.

We didn't find it as difficult as I'd first imagined. Musically speaking, we would just act out what we wanted to hear. Tempo too slow? Clap your hands a little faster. Too much bass in the mix? We'd imitate the sound of bass feedback with a whooo sound. End that bridge sooner? Hum the phrase, and then wave your hands like a referee to indicate a sharp ending. I think it actually provided a lot of the good vibes and laughter in the studio, having to communicate mainly via beatbox musical charades.

Of course, along the way we began picking up each others important words. Still, at present both of our vocabularies are very limited (to put it politely). Now with the addition of James 'Jimbo' Breen on drums, and John Railton on bass - we've added two more French illiterates, so at least I can feel a bit smarter for knowing more vocab than them. However I am at times reminded by Sekou that I still have a very long way to go. I think we've all found that trying to convey elaborate ideas using only pigeon language requires a lot of patience, but because we're all collaborating on something we are passionate about and are eager to communicate, it doesn't feel like hard work. In fact, many of the funniest moments in the studio and on tour have been us laughing at each other's attempts with language. Mispronounced words, or complete butchering of phrases. A common irritating one is instead of asking Sekou if he's hungry, I mispronounce it to seemingly ask him if he is a woman.

Overall though, it's just confirmed what I've always felt about travelling. It's funny to realise exactly how few words you need to convey the essential and core ideas. One of my favourite films is Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog. The two characters are best friends, though one speaks no English and the other knows no French. They sit and play chess every day. It's exactly the same as my musical relationship with Sekou. We're similar cats like that; I think we both enjoy the free headspace. It's nice at times to have company but never have the pressure of small talk. You only get enough words to relay the brass tacks.

The day I was asked to write this article, Sekou and I were discussing all the logistics of the tour. I was attempting to translate for the band and our manager, thinking maybe soon I could be close to fluent and it would change this whole dynamic. I was relaying a lot of information back and forth between everyone, until eventually Sekou said, Joe, please - speak English! It keeps us all laughing, and for now - our caveman vocabularies continue to see us through. As Longfellow once famously said "Music is the universal language of mankind" and that is what this project is all about." Joe Driscoll @driscollmusic

For more and the full tour head to Joeandsekou.com.