Visiting India for the first time to perform at the Ziro Festival of Music, Emilie Hanak of French folk group Yelli Yelli says her music reflects her family’s history. Drawing from the Algerian folk musical traditions of Kabylie, Hanak explores themes of exile and nostalgia through his music, translating distant melancholy sounds from his imagination, crossing many borders. His second album La violence estmechanique was released in April 2021.
In an email interview, she tells Anupam Chakravartty about her musical influences and her creative process.
Tell us a bit about your musical journey. What are your most important musical influences? How did music start for you?
My musical influences draw heavily from my Mediterranean/Berber ancestry. Over the past few years, I have been on a musical journey that has crossed multiple borders, from Anglo-American folk registers to the traditional Berber music that I listened to at home as a child. I started making songs when I was 17 or 18. I’ve always been in the music business. I have three brothers, all musicians. It’s funny because none of our parents or close family was really into music.
Tell us about the musical traditions to which Yelli Yelli is attached.
My mother is from Algeria, specifically from Kabylia. But I grew up in France, with no real connection to my Berber roots. The only things that reminded me of them were the music we listened to and the food my mother cooked for us. As an adult, I clearly remembered the strong effect traditional Berber music had on me. With my work I try to explain and translate the melancholy of a distant and imaginary world that I have always missed in some way. In sounds: hypnotic guitars, rolling rhythms, chanted words, repeated like magic prayers.
Exile is an important theme in your works as you indicated in your Bandcamp profile. Please tell us how it influences your music and your creativity.
My parents and great-grandparents come from countries other than France. My sounds are a tribute and a dialogue in memory of my ancestors. Some of them have been forced into economic migration. For a long time I felt far from these people, from their stories. Today, I feel like I’m singing for them, or they’re singing through me.
How do you overcome the creative challenges of being attached to various cultures?
Being attached to diverse cultures is valuable. My music mirrors my family history: it explores the feelings associated with exile, movement, loss and nostalgia.
Yelli Yelli will perform at 4:00 p.m. on September 30 at Signature Danyi Stage, Ziro Festival of Music, Arunachal Pradesh. In Delhi, they will perform at Depot 48 on September 27 and in Guwahati at Café Hendrix on October 1. Their tour in India was made possible thanks to the support of the Institut Français India.
Read also | Ziro Festival of Music unveils its first lineup of artists