Charlotte Adigéry is a musical marvel, flourishing right before our very eyes. It’s wild. The Ghent, Belgium-based singer/songwriter/producer has been steadily pouring the concrete of her own lane, tapping into that inner source with wide-eyed abandon. You may have been formally introduced to Adigéry through WWWater, the band she started by herself in college and grew into an acclaimed trio through the confluence of talent meeting on the road. It’s possible you first noticed Charlotte’s bright ember singing background for local acts these past years – but it bears no doubt that she has crossed those infamous 5 feet into stardom. If you’ve been keeping up with KNOTORYUS’ new music coverage over the past year, you’ll have been struck by the artist’s breakout venture ‘Charlotte Adigéry’. WWWater showcases the more stripped-back, punk side of Adigéry, whereas her namesake project delivers riotous electro pop dipping into her Martiniquais heritage in a dizzyingly fresh way. Cue the glowing reviews from Pitchfork and NME, a BBC plug and an international tour with absolute legend Neneh Cherry off the strength of her 2019 EP ‘ZANDOLI’. A 22-minute triumph of sound, co-produced by WWWater bandmate and close friend, the genial Bolis Pupul. The EP was recorded, mixed and released via the hallowed halls of DEEWEE – a partnership kindled from working with Soulwax on the ‘Belgica’ soundtrack. Each song on the standout ‘ZANDOLI’ is an invitation – from the instantly infectious gwo ka cadence of ‘Paténipat’, the black girl magic charge of ‘High Lights’ to the liberating push and pull of Caribbean inspirations draped over left-field electronica licking against Adigéry’s placid vocals. I urge you to get on this ride now, but wether you do so or not, the limitless sky is where Charlotte Adigéry is headed.
KNOTORYUS: I think it’s amazing that you get to tour with the great Neneh Cherry. She’s one of my longtime heroes. Can you talk about how that happened?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I love her too! Well, we opened for Young Fathers in London and that brought on so much.
KNOTORYUS: Was that as WWWater?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: As WWWater, yes. I was approached after the show by someone who was blown away by our show: “I want you to come play in Tasmania”. He said he was a curator of Mona Foma a well-known festival there, he turned out to be (Violent Femmes bass player & prolific musician, ed. note) Brian Ritchie. Nick Cave, John Cale and PJ Harvey have all been headliners there. So that happened. We wanted to add more Australian shows because it’s a long way out and you’re already there. So our agent looked for a match and it turned out that Neneh Cherry was playing. It’s about lobbying, but Neneh made the final decision. I remember her checking out our music and the thought that she agreed to us coming on tour was mind-blowing.
KNOTORYUS: How familiar were you with her work, were you following her already?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I notice more and more that I have a very different outlook on music, the artists I follow are very fragmented. There are few artists I have an overview of what they created at what time. Everyone around me does have that overview.
KNOTORYUS: It’s normal that everyone around you does. They’re a bit older and our generation grew up with certain radio stations and MTV when it was still all about music. And we would be subjected to artists within different genres, but we would also get to follow those careers as they went along. The way albums were dropping then, we could keep up and make weekly or monthly runs to our record dealers. But now, you look at your Tidal or Spotify every morning and there will be 20 new drops.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Exactly! But my mother loves music and when I was a kid she’d play Al Green, Otis Redding and a lot of reggae.
KNOTORYUS: You’ve got the right foundation there.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I do, that’s true. I remember Neneh Cherry’s “7 Seconds” from my childhood. And only later I discovered “Buffalo Stance”. You could say I grew up with her music, maybe not as consciously, but I knew who she was. I met her in Adelaide for the first time and she was one of those people where you can instantly tell when there’s a match. She immediately disarmed all of my nerves. It didn’t take long for me to see how real and passionate she is. You remind me of her.
KNOTORYUS: That’s a compliment I don’t even know how to take on.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Your vibe is comparable to hers.
KNOTORYUS: So, 2019 might as well be over because this is my highlight. Did you get to discuss sets or other things like that?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: We were allowed to do our thing. Her entire band was super nice. I saw her perform and there’s this childlike sense of fun there, she’s still playful and so natural, she’s really in it for the music. There’s no ego there.
KNOTORYUS: Growing up I was obsessed with hip hop on one hand but also with Robert Smith and Shaun Ryder. Different worlds merged in my head and then Neneh Cherry popped up on the screen with her amazing style and the groundbreaking ‘Buffalo Stance’. ‘Raw Like Sushi’ was mind-blowing, everything about her was so cool and rugged and the fact that she became pregnant and the way it was reported there was a lot of industry-pressure against her having a kid…
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I didn’t know that…
KNOTORYUS: Before Lauryn Hill had her entire ordeal with getting pregnant with Zion and that backlash, Neneh Cherry went through something similar. She became pregnant when her career was taking off and decided to go for it with her husband and they’re still together now.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Yes, Cameron McVey, they still play together too.
KNOTORYUS: She was such an incredible role model for me as a teenager. She stood up for herself. She was very proud and pregnant during a ‘Top Of The Pops’-performance. I did not want a kid for ages back then, but for me it was my first look at a black woman I identified with claiming her independence. She went against the grain, you could tell it wasn’t easy. Her freedom is hard-earned. I’m sure she’s one of the reasons why I hold my freedom so dear.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: You can tell that people now have a lot of respect for her. This is who she is, it’s take it or leave it. And I think that’s super inspiring and fascinating. Chance would have it that I’m a huge fan of The Slits and she was in the band at some point.
KNOTORYUS: Isn’t it crazy how that works out sometimes?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Right?! And the last song of our set is a The Slits cover. Not because we’re touring with Neneh Cherry, we’ve been playing that track for two years at this point. In Tasmania she came to watch us play. And by the time we were doing The Slits, she was in the front, cheering.
KNOTORYUS: Oh my god.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: So yeah. That was amazing. And then, after our last show in Melbourne or Brisbane, we went out dancing with everyone. She came along. She forgot her ID so they sent her back, so she took a taxi back and told us she’d return. We figured she might not and we would totally understand, but a little while later she was standing there waving her ID. We were all in some empty bar, super fun, acting all crazy. It was so cool. She was hugging her husband, getting on a chair behind him.
KNOTORYUS: It’s really great to see things like that, the longevity and that it matters knowing your worth and making bold decisions. Talking about bold decisions, you studied music at PXL in Hasselt, Belgium. A so-called Pop & Rock University. What was that experience like?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I really didn’t know what to study. I was unsure for a long time. Then I suddenly realised: “Oh, right, fuck, I want to make music”. I was a front woman of my first band by the time I was 18. I did a lot of backing vocals, said yes to everything and then I realised: “Hold up, maybe I need to study music.” So I auditioned in Tilburg for a preliminary course in order to do Pop & Rock School, but I didn’t get through. One of the teachers said: “Your audition showed little musicality.” I was like: “Girl. Sorry, but no.” (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: Fortunately you knew yourself so well that you didn’t let yourself waver.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Thanks to my mom, she always reminds me of who I am and what I’m capable of. One of my best traits is that I can suss out realness very quickly. Realness in people and in music and that’s what I’m always looking out for. So then I discovered PXL Hasselt. Pop & Rock School. I feel like the name doesn’t really cover what the school does.
KNOTORYUS: There’s often this stigma attached to uni’s like that, like: “Come on, do you have to study music or learn how to be in a rock band?”, while I feel like it’s very important to not just be thrown to the wolves. How was your experience and what did you take away from that?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: What I appreciated about that school is that they’ll never make you feel like you need to forget everything you know so they can ‘build’ you from scratch. It was more like: “So you’re into this? Listen to that”. Or: “You’re good at this? Try that”. They do push you out of your comfort zone. Music theory was taught by Jo Mahieu. The cool thing about him was that we would analyse a piece, and at the end he’d say: “If you want to make music that has something to do with this genre, know that this exists and that these are tools – but there are no wrong directions you could take this into.” They handed me tools. That was my intention when I started out and I graduated with them. They teach accounting, you have to organise a fictitious tour, you learn about copyright, your rights as a performing artist, all of that is being taught. At the end of the course we had to write a thesis and form a band. And mine was WWWater. I started doing that 2 years before graduation.
KNOTORYUS: When did Boris Zeebroek and Steve Slingeneyer join the band?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I graduated with WWWater and my first EP contains songs I created. I started playing live after my graduation project, I got to play Pukkelpop very early on, all by myself. At a certain point, I was booked to play in Aalst. Steve doesn’t have a driver’s license and he saw me on the line-up and asked if he could hitch a ride with me. We saw each other play and I was so impressed. I didn’t even know he was the drummer for Soulwax back then, I think. He thought my show was mega cool and told me to get in touch if I ever needed a drummer. Guess what? I did need a drummer. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: The universe! You can hardly call me esoteric, but sometimes it can’t be a coincidence that things align in a such a way.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I know, everything up to now has felt right. Steve and I started playing together, for a year. And parallel with that, the ‘Belgica’ storyline unfolded. When I was touring as a background vocal in other bands, one of the crew members was Frederik Dewitte, who also toured as a stagehand for Soulwax for a long time. Now he works full-time at DEEWEE (The studio, building & record label founded by Stephen and David Dewaele from Soulwax/2ManyDJs, ed. note) as an archive manager and with the synths. And at a certain point he called me up and told me to come to the DEEWEE studios. So Belgica happened and Stephen and David said: “If we can help in any way, we really believe in you… You’ll get there.” And they asked what I wanted to do.
KNOTORYUS: Were you open to their advice?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Yes, completely. Especially after singing backup, I felt like I wanted to tell my own story. I was doing that, with WWWater, but I got a good vibe from Steph and Dave and these are the musicians I look up to. So I started working at DEEWEE, archiving records.
KNOTORYUS: The DEEWEE building is such a mind-blowing place!
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: You’ve interviewed Stephen and David a couple of times, right?
KNOTORYUS: Yes, but I wasn’t there for an interview. They had invited KNOTORYUS out for a chat, we ate sandwiches and soup and they gave us a little tour. That space is unreal. I love people who create their own universes and then provide room for other people like yourself. That studio must be paradise for a synth fiend like Boris.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: It is! At a certain point they said: “Charlotte, we want you to release something on DEEWEE.” I was highly intimidated. I had no clue what I wanted to say yet.
KNOTORYUS: So you were working on your own music there.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: One of the first songs on the WWWater EP, ‘CELLE’ was mine and Boris. I was struggling and Steph and David said: “Do you want to work on this with Boris?” So him and I got in the studio together and the very first day we did ‘Senegal Seduction’. I had a harmony, started singing, he said “that’s good” and put some synth under there and up until now, we’ve always worked spontaneously like that. It’s only the combination of the two of us that could’ve created this music.
KNOTORYUS: Boris is a Belgian treasure. He’s got so much talent and so little ego. A rare combination.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Absolutely, no, it’s about the music. He pushes me, makes me play instruments I don’t know how to play. So that was happening and WWWater was performing a lot but I felt like the set wasn’t ‘breathing’ enough yet. So I asked Steve to join the band, luckily he agreed. And I’m finally really proud of WWWater.
KNOTORYUS: Back to Charlotte Adigéry and ZANDOLI. The video for ‘High Lights’. It’s so uplifting and free while there’s some darkness behind it. About people in the industry or in your surroundings who told you that you had to have one kind of look that people could identify with and you had to stick with. I have to say that I can’t believe that this type of ancient thinking is still a thing.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I got a lot of criticism on my hair. Every time I changed my hair, I’d get criticised. At one point it got to me so much, I ended up calling my mom crying because I just had gotten grey braids or something crazy fun like that, but I was so scared to go out because I knew I would get called out. She snapped: “This ends now. If you want to paint your hair blue, do it! Be yourself! Don’t let anyone take that away from you!” It tells you why I made that song and why I’m so proud of it, because I was able to turn my pain into something beautiful and I was able to celebrate myself. Also, it’s sweet revenge.
KNOTORYUS: I love your mom. How did the idea for the video come about?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I remember Jarri, our manager, saying: “I’ve got it, for ’High Lights’, we need to have all of these women lip synching to your song in a hair salon.” I had been wanting to work with the visual of Matongé hair salons. Maame Nsiah did the styling for ‘Paténipat’ and ‘High Lights’. She’d previously worked on a video with Joaquim Bayle, so Jarri suggested asking Joaquim to do two videos. That was a great match, because his work is also very versatile. So when we decided to do the hair salon theme, I knew I wanted to involve my girlfriends, it’s kind of an ode to our friendship. They’re beautiful women, not just on the outside but on the inside too.
KNOTORYUS: It shows.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: The feeling we always have, I knew that it would register on camera, my mom is in the video too. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: The styling in the video is so fun and I loved your chainmail dress in ‘Paténipat’. Have you discussed fashion with Neneh?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Not yet, but I have to!
KNOTORYUS: In the early days I immediately started researching where she got her clothes from, no internet back then, so it wasn’t easy. It turned out that she was styled by Judy Blame – an amazing and important stylist who passed away last year. And the way she wears young British designers like Martine Rose now shows she has such a deep and current knowledge of fashion.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: In some way, I want to stay naïve about what’s happening in the fashion industry, to avoid hearing the “You don’t get it”.
KNOTORYUS: There’s nothing to get, don’t believe anyone who says there is. Just make it your own thing.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: That’s it.
KNOTORYUS: Ill-Studio have worked on your visuals as well. There an amazing bunch, right?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: I didn’t realise how huge they are. I only found out through Instagram. “Oh, Louis Vuitton? Okay.” (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: What did they do for your project?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: For the video of ‘Paténipat’, Thomas Subreville gave input on editing and worked on the story, the build-up. For ‘High Lights’, he did more of the overview, seeing if it all looked good.
KNOTORYUS: That’s so fun, having people whose work is on that kind of level on board.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: For the merch as well…
KNOTORYUS: Is there merch? Nice. We’ll be at Broadcast. Sorry I haven’t been able to see the show before, but I really want to see it. That’s Charlotte performing as well? Funny to be talking in the 3rd person. “Is Charlotte coming?”
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: It’s so weird. Yesterday Dave said: “Charlotte, the brand”. (laughs)
KNOTORYUS: There is no doubt that something big is in store for you and it’s already happening. Are you enjoying this wave that you’re on?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Sometimes I feel like it’s all okay and it could all end now. I get a lot of messages telling me I’m being played on the radio, people from Seattle, Mexico, Russia. Oftentimes, it doesn’t register. (Chokes up a little) . A couple of days ago, a friend of mine asked me how it was going. I told her and I was getting emotional – like I am now. My life right now is everything I had hoped for and so much more. I still can’t really wrap my head around it. I’m thinking back to the time when we were recording ‘High Lights’ and ‘Zandoli’. I felt : “Damn, this is it! We made something that I’m so fucking proud of. I can’t wait to let people hear this.” But on the other hand, I’ve always been very aware and proud of my capabilities. So I would tell myself: “You picked music, something will happen, I feel it, I know it.” But when it actually does, you’re like “Goddamn! This is real?” That feeling.
KNOTORYUS: And how’s your mother dealing with all of this success?
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: She’s super proud of course! She’s always happy, she gets emotional and cries about the littlest things. Yesterday she said: “I saw someone commenting on your music in Japanese.” She reads all my comments on Instagram. And then she went: “There was one less positive comment.”
KNOTORYUS: (laughs) Oh, no Mom, I don’t want to know!
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: She said: “It’s not that bad, someone asked why no one had dreadlocks in the video.” —although someone did- So my mother is such a fanatic, she responded to that dude. “What’s it to you? Why dreadlocks?”
KNOTORYUS: She is me in 10 years, in my daughter’s mentions!
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: (laughs) Exactly!
KNOTORYUS: Before even reading what they wrote: “Don’t talk to her. You can speak to me!” (laughs)
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: That is my mother to a tee.
KNOTORYUS: Thank you so much for talking to me Charlotte. I had a great time.
CHARLOTTE ADIGÉRY: Me too, let’s meet up again, soon.