Melodies of Meaning: Serge Ananou’s Impactful Music

Who is Serge Ananou? Born in Benin and raised in Cotonou amidst Voodoo culture and rhythms, he discovered his passion for music at the age of 13, initially as a percussionist before falling in love with the guitar. His music blends West African chants with influences from jazz, blues, and pop. Whether performing solo or with his band, Serge’s compositions touch on themes ranging from the protection of albinos and women’s rights in Africa to broader explorations of love and life.

Selected to perform at the World Music Showcase program of the A to JazZ Festival, Serge joins a distinguished group of global musicians. This program provides a platform for artists to showcase their distinctive musical styles to an international audience and forge connections with industry professionals.

Join our conversation with Serge as we delve into the influences, inspirations and aspirations that have defined his remarkable musical journey.

Growing up surrounded by the rhythms and culture of Voodoo, how has this influenced your music and creative process over the years?

Consciously or unconsciously, this aspect of my childhood inevitably influences my musical creation. Apart from having listened to Voodoo rhythms and chants from a very early age, having the chance to start playing in Voodoo ceremonies perhaps influences my creative process the most. You first learn how to hold a rhythm on the bell during a ceremony, and that can last for hours. It teaches patience and endurance, I’m told. And then, when you’re judged to be good, you can move on to another instrument. So I always try to take the time I need when I’m creating.

You spent significant time studying jazz in Paris. How did this formal education change your approach to music, and what specific elements of jazz do you find most compelling to integrate into your work?

My approach to music hasn’t really changed because, in Voodoo culture, beyond the notes, music is first and foremost spiritual. As one of my elders used to say, playing music until someone goes into a trance doesn’t just come from the rhythm or the notes, but from the heart you put into it. It’s a whole process, and I’m still just an apprentice in the field. As for my jazz training, I think it opened my ear to other sounds and harmonies. It’s an opening and a freedom for me in the world of music.

How would you describe your musical identity, and how do you strike a balance between staying true to your traditional roots and experimenting with new musical styles?

Having started out in music in my country as a percussionist, my musical identity was forged at an early age, and anything else is just a bonus. The base is within me, and I try to explore other worlds with it.

Your music tackles important social issues, such as the protection of albinos and women’s rights. Why do you believe it’s important for artists to address such topics through their music?

I think everyone is free to tackle the subjects that are important to them. I chose to address these topics because they touch me personally. My little sister has albinism, and in Voodoo culture, albinism represents the divinity ‘Lissa’. My sister is lucky to have been born in Benin, where people protect albinos, unlike in other African countries where they are sacrificed. When I talk about women being beaten, these are stories I’ve witnessed. I think that all my life I’ll be addressing subjects that are important to me in my music, without being afraid of being labeled an engaged artist, because that’s not all I sing about.

What has been the most challenging aspect of your musical career so far, and how did you overcome it?

I would say that self-production is the most difficult thing for me: composing the music, producing it, promoting it on my own, and trying to defend it in front of an audience. The strength to keep going comes from every new fan I get, every person who leaves after a concert with my CD.

Are there any contemporary artists, either within Africa or globally, that you would like to collaborate with in the future?

There’s a long list of artists I’d like to work with. I would mention Youssou Ndour, Lokua Kanza, Richard Bona, Oumou Sangaré, Angelique Kidjo, Raul Midon, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Gilberto Gil, etc.

Performing solo versus with a band offers different dynamics. What do you enjoy most about each format, and how do you adapt your performance style accordingly?

I love performing with my musicians because of the energy we share together. When we play together, the strength doesn’t come from me alone, but rather from all of us, and that’s the magic I love. At the same time, playing alone from time to time also has its charm. It’s an intimate moment with the audience that delights me just as much.

In another interview, you mentioned working on your third album set for release in 2025. Can you give us a sneak peek into what themes or musical directions you are exploring in this new project?

It’s an album that will take me in a direction I haven’t yet explored. The base or root will remain African, but for the rest, I’ll keep it a surprise…

This is your first time performing in Bulgaria. Did you know something about the country, the A to JazZ festival, and what are your expectations for the upcoming event?

This is the first time I’ve been to Bulgaria, and I can’t wait to be there, meet the public, discover the culture, and make new contacts.

One last question – what do you prefer: watermelon or melon?

I prefer melon. I like watermelon too, but it takes up too much space in my fridge.


Interview: Sofia Hussein for Dinya
Photos: Serge Ananou

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