Interview: Francis Jocky: Music That Feeds The Soul
As anyone who has done any amount of interviews with professional performers will know, they usually follow a pretty cut and dried formula. You're told what time to phone the person, and how long - usually twenty minutes - that you have to talk to them, and you know that you're one of about forty people that they are going to be talking to that day as they play "promote my product". Sometimes though you get lucky and have the chance to just talk to somebody - have a real conversation instead of feeding them questions which they respond to with stock answers.
When I was told that I could spend some time talking to Francis Jocky about his new release, Sanctified and his career I wasn't sure what to expect. He had just released his first disc domestically in North America and he had been spending the week filming television shows and doing radio spots promoting it, which made it pretty likely that the interview could end up being the typical question and answer deal.
Thankfully, that wasn't the case. In fact, we went all over the place, and the list of questions I had prepared to ask him became gradually more and more irrelevant. One way or another we covered all the ground I wanted to, but it came out through the course of conversation as we talked about music in general, his music in particular, and about the new disc, Sanctified as well. I did start off by asking him to talk about himself, but we were soon diverted by his dropping quite the surprise on me.
So sit back and enjoy eavesdropping on my conversation with an extraordinary musician and artist, Francis Jocky.
It's always a good sign that an interview will go well when the first words out of the mouth of the person your interviewing are along the lines of "I'm so glad to speak to you". I was rather taken aback by that, as its not the usual reaction one expects from an interviewee. If that surprised me, the next words out of Francis' mouth took me even more aback.
"When I read the review you wrote of me two years ago (for Mr. Pain) it was like you had known me for twenty years," Francis continued.
Well, so much for any pretense at maintaining a professional attitude, because I spent the first ten minutes listening to this wonderful voice at the other end of the phone piling me with some of the nicest compliments I've ever had. Yet, I also realized as I listened to him that it was more than just him complimenting me, it was the voice of a person who was frustrated by the music industry's attempts to pigeon hole him as an African musician. "They don't understand that I love all styles of music - that it doesn't matter to me whether its a country song or anything else - if I like the melody I like the song. A good song is a good song no matter what it is."
Now you hear this a lot from people, but not often with the same sort of intense passion that I could hear in Francis' voice, and it made me curious as to where this came from. He had already told me that he had been born in the Cameroon, central West Africa, not a country I'd ever associated with being a hot spot for international music.
"When I was younger my parents used to travel to Europe and they brought back many types of music for us to listen to. I started being interested in music when I was eight years old, and I was listening to Bob Marley, Randy Newman, and Jackson Browne."
Okay wait a minute - Bob Marley, sure - but Randy Newman and Jackson Browne. An eight year old kid in the Cameroon even knowing who Jackson Browne is let alone listening to and appreciating his music stopped me cold. Hell, most people I know in North America don't know the name Jackson Browne. When I passed this along to Francis he laughed.
"I know it's funny. I went to see Jackson play in New York - he has a new CD out now, (Time The Conqueror) and is playing shows - and I went backstage to see him and ask him to sign a copy of my CD. I talked to him for thirty minutes. He was surprised too when I told him that I was a musician and that Late For The Sky (one of Browne's early releases) was what inspired me to become a musician. I was nine when I first heard it and I was just learning piano then, and there was something about his songs, even though the lyric are about many different things, even songs about cocaine, but still there was something very spiritual about them. They are songs that I can still listen to now years later and feel the same things that I felt then, enjoy the same way."
"You know", he continued, " When I'm trying to compose now - the songs they have to come from the heart - I want to be able to listen to them three years from now and still like them as much as I like them now - and this is what I learned listening to Jackson's music."
While we had a great time comparing notes about Jackson Browne's music and laughing about the songs we liked, like I said I don't know many people who listen to him so it was nice to talk to someone else who does, I attempted to get us back on course and talking about him instead. We had left him at eight years old listening to Jackson Browne...