Atlas Electronic Podcast 012:
Paloma Colombe

Words by Manal Aziz

Listen to a one-hour percussion-heavy party mix by Franco-Kabyle Paloma Colombe. Plus an in-depth interview touching on intricate heritage, and the healing power of music.

Two worlds in one. That is how I would describe the French Algerian artist Paloma Colombe. After her most recent trip to Algeria, I got to have a chat with her about the driving forces behind her artistry. With several radio shows to her name in France and the UK, she has found fitting ways to combine her love for music. Listen to podcast 012 below and find out everything you’d like to know about this artist.

Paloma Colombe, such an interesting name. If not a pseudo, can you tell me something about the origins of it?

Yes, as some people may not know, Paloma and Colombe are actually the Spanish and French words for dove. I guess it is very much inspired by Spain and Paloma Picasso – definitely a play on words, so thanks, Mom and Dad!

Haha, okay. So, Dove, you have a bunch of radio shows on several outlets. OUÏ at the London NTS, Desert & Stars at RINSE FM, and maybe even most importantly Radio Amazigh on Le Mellotron. What is it about radio that appeals to you so much?

It’s true, I enjoy radio very much and I guess that derives from the sense-of-freedom it gives you. With my Radio Amazigh show at Le Mellotron, I can do whatever I want for two hours every other week. This includes having guests over, making mixes of the more mellow music I love and cannot play in clubs or doing interviews which cater to the documentary-side of me. I have a degree as a documentarist and I’m about to shoot my second full-length film.

Let me explain a bit about the idea behind Radio Amazigh – not Amazing as many people may think. Amazigh, pronounced A-ma-zeer not A-ma-zeeg, is the name the Amazigh people give themselves. We might know them as the Berber people. You’ll find them mostly in Algeria and Morocco, as well as in Tunisia, Libya and in the Sahara (Mali, Niger). Berber gathers very different cultures: Kabyles, Tuaregs, Chleuhs, people from the Rif and Tamazight, all united by the Berber language, that can still differ from one group to another.

Amazigh means free people and it’s important to understand that this sense of freedom is key to their lifestyle and identity. They are independent, sometimes nomads like the Tuaregs: they don’t want to rely on anybody for food or accommodation. I am proud of being – and feeling – Amazigh, through my grandfather who was a Kabyle from Algeria – more precisely from the magnificent mountains of Djurdjura.

There’s a rich history between France and Algeria. Some would say it’s a very complex relationship. As a Franco-Kabyle, rooted in both camps, where do you place yourself in this history?

This is a very good question. Due to the very complex story between the two countries, being both French and Algerian can be intense – almost schizophrenic-like. I mean, I have the blood of two long-time enemies running through my veins. Plus, in my family, the two camps never met each other and most members of the family were reluctant of the union of my mother and my father. My parents had to face that in order to be a couple and to have me as a baby. This is what love can do!

I’m proud of being French just as much as being Algerian, and I want my life and work to assert: Yes, I’m all of this. You don’t have to be one OR the other. To me or is a mental construction whereas and actually exists. I assume that is also the reason why, unconsciously at first, I became a DJ. Mixing music together is a moment when, finally, 1 + 1 = 1.

How would you say your music is influenced or inspired by it in any way?

My father – a French melomaniac originally from Avignon in the South of France – raised me listening to French variété’s best parts: Gainsbourg, Bashung. I would get all the American jazz, soul and pop, too. In a sense, he was very Western. He has very good taste in music. My mother was really fond of cheesy French music from the yé-yé. Think of names like Julien Clerc, Azznavour. Also, she made me listen to Arab or Algerian classics like Warda and Fairuz.

In my own music, I make a point of having the least boundaries as possible, to create bridges between styles, times and places. Like mixing the percussive intro of a Jacques Higelin track like L’Ours with a recent electro-oriental track from young producers like Stas, or Viken Arman. I recently did this on my mini-set for Marie Richeux radio program on France Culture. It is key to me to express in my mixing that not only is mixing times, spaces and styles possible and doable, but it’s also exactly the crossroads where it gets beautiful, moving, special and – sometimes – magical.

In this day and age, creative boundaries are rare. I mean that musically but also in the sense that it’s easier than ever to connect with people from all over the world. Keeping that in mind, what aspects of your creative self would you still like to explore?

In my opinion, this is indeed a good time for our generation to bridge geographic and creative boundaries. Time and space are so compressed nowadays, you can do much more than you used to in less time. I do have a few new projects. For example, I started working with other artists on my sets so it becomes more like actual shows. Now, when the organisation allows it, I have (amazing and lovely) dancers with me on stage. Furthermore, I’m working with a visual artist to do projections, as well as live musicians, so stay tuned!

And who, in your wildest dreams, would you love to collaborate with some time?

I’m eager to team up with inspiring and engaged people not only in music but also in arts and politics, to create an interdisciplinary network of people committing to more equality, justice, and peace. The goal is to speak up in order to empower people we hear the least: refugees, women, children especially.

I believe when you get some visibility you have to share it with people who need it. Some struggles have to be heard. To me, getting together through music, partying, dancing, is already a very powerful tool, as much political as healing. Music Is The Healing Force Of The Universe says Albert Ayler. My Kabyle great-grandmother, as a gazana would have visions to heal people, and music was one of her tools.

On the 30th of June you’rd sharing the line-up with the legendary Master Musicians of Joujouka. What is it you’re looking forward to the most?

Well, first of all, I feel very lucky just to attend one of their shows. I’m looking forward to being inspired by the Wajd-energy (trance in Arabic) as I am deeply inspired by Gnawa and Sufi music in my own sets. As I will be opening and closing the show, I will play a trippy and powerful set at the beginning and a let’s-come-down-to-earth set at the end. Let the crowd travel back-and-forth between the ‘normal’ state of listening to the ‘paranormal’ one. I use this term etymologically: besides what is normal?

Music is an experience that transforms you within. There’s no point in going to a show like one thing and coming back home the way you arrived. So hopefully my set will create the right mood for a deeper experience of the MMOJ’s deeply rooted spiritual music.

Your podcast for the Atlas Electronic Podcast series was made right after your most recent trip to Algeria. What can listeners expect from this mix?

It will be a mix of very diverse influences including beats, percussions, basses and deep voices coming from far-away. It will have a club-vibe too in order to give people, who haven’t heard me play yet, a sense of what to expect: Power! Algeria is definitely rooting me into this most African part of myself.

Thank you so much for your time and words. Catch Paloma Colombe on the 30th of June, 2018 in Marrakech, Morocco where she will share the timetable with the Master Musicians of Joujouka.

The Atlas Electronic Podcast series has been created for the sole purpose of sonic education and entertainment. Get to know the people behind the artists and learn about the creation process. Find tracklists to elaborate your music library or simply expand your musical horizon. Go to SoundCloud for the full extent of our auditory archive.