Although many people assume that his comedic sense comes from his father, Pupul is not shy about bringing up his late mother. Laughing, he recalls an early memory of her standing up to the racists who were shouting in the street, “Ching chung”, to which she replied in a deadpan tone, “Chung”, before leaving. When he had to choose a pseudonym for his solo project, he chose Bolis, as his maternal grandmother would call him, and Pupul, a silly sound his father repeated to help him fall asleep. “Seeing these two names side by side felt like I was paying homage to both sides.”
Now determined to be creative partners for the foreseeable future, Adigéry and Pupul prioritize play in their process. “Everything is possible and there are no mistakes,” Adigéry says of his work with Pupul, while adding that his collaborative spirit has helped him to no longer doubt himself. Together they use lightness on topical dancer to release some of the heaviness of the world, similar to a school of thought that believes laughter can be a form of meditation, made popular by new-age artist Laraaji. As artists who make dance music, however, Adigéry and Pupul understand how it can also be a common way of shaking off life’s fatigue. They’re equally involved on “HAHA,” a house banger that reveals how easily the sound of a good cackle can slip into a muffled sob. As sound is chopped into the underside of a hi-hat motif, Adigéry and Pupul once again blur the lines between laughter, language and music.
Pitchfork: When you first started working together, what were the things you were most in touch about?
Charlotte Adigéry: I remember Boris asking: “Is there anything that inspires you at the moment? I played Slits, and he liked them too. I said, “I don’t necessarily want to do post-punk music, but it’s more the approach to the music, which was very childish, playful and intuitive.
Bolis Pupul: They’re not guitar masters, but they have this DIY approach, where they use their guitar as a percussion instrument, or sing out of tune, or do weird harmonies and fun rhythms. These are the things that inspire us: using your imagination. We don’t have to be perfect musicians to make music. We can make music like Charlotte. She plays the guitar like a 7 year old kid.
CALIFORNIA: [Laughs] And he says that as a compliment.
BP: Sometimes you want to be able to play freely without having a concept or knowing everything about the instrument. And Charlotte, because she’s not very smart, she uses it as a percussion instrument. I had to tell her there were strings on it and you could make melodies, but no, she was hitting it and said, “I’m going to make a beat.” Then I just record it, and we do a song.
CA: It’s for his ego. In fact, I’m a guitar virtuoso, but I pretend.
As two people of color who grew up in Ghent, you must have somehow learned about this colonial history of how your people got there. Was there a time in your life when you started to reveal your identity?
BP: For me, it was when my mother died. I was 22 years old. In my childhood, I was bullied a lot because I was Asian, so I was not proud of it. I just wanted to blend in. My dad was famous and my mom was from China, so I didn’t want to be doubly special. As I got older, I became more self-aware and started meeting other people. I no longer saw it as a restriction or anything bad.
So when my mother passed away at the age of 49, I was obsessed with China and Hong Kong. I wanted to go back, and I hadn’t been there in my entire life. Eventually I went there and looked for the place where my mother was born. Now, it’s weird to say that I’m totally okay with that. You can’t hurt me by telling me I’m Chinese. The funny thing is that so many times people would yell something racist at me like “You’re a dirty Chinese”. I was like, “Damn, he’s right.” [Laughs] Anyway, Charlotte, how about you?
CA: I was aware of [my heritage] very early because of my mother. I remember her telling me once that she really wanted me to grow up in a Caribbean household. Moreover, I have always been discriminated against because people had something against Africans. I made it clear to them that I was not African, as if being African was a bad thing, but in my head [back then] it was. This idea was often confirmed, because when I told them: “No, I’m from Martinique, I’m from Central America”, then it was fine. It was like “Ah, oh, [you’re] exotic but not African, or not so black.
My mother took me to Martinique a lot. Every time I went back, I was like, “Oh, what a relief,” because I looked like everyone there. I love the culture and the food, everything on the island. I was so proud of it, but I remember hating my last name. I wanted to have this white name, because Adigéry sounded too exotic. I also remember looking at my face and thinking, I wish I was blonde and white. Then, being optimistic, looking at my chin and thinking, At least my chin is white. [Laughs] How does a chin even look white? It’s funny now, but it’s actually so sad to think like that when you’re little, not being able to accept who you are.
CA: We have such a close bond, so I really wanted to capture and honor that. We talk a lot about deep things, she is very philosophical and loves to psychoanalyze. She really gave me all the tools to lead a good life. I was about to turn 30 and I got married, which was a very symbolic and spiritual way to evolve, and also to resolve some pains with my father, who has Alzheimer’s disease. I was like, “Okay, now you have to start loving and accepting yourself.” My mum and I had studio conversations with Boris, because I trust him, and it was such a special moment. I asked about being a mother and becoming a mother, even though I had no intention of becoming a mother myself at the time. But then it happened.
A lot of artists compare releasing their albums to having a child, did you feel like you had parallel experiences with Rocco and topical dancer?
CA: There are a lot of similar feelings. Anticipation, working on it, [asking], What will the baby look like? What will the album be? And then share it with the world. I see my child and I love him and it feels so real, but the rest of it feels surreal. I have the same feeling with the album. You try to imagine people listening to it at home or while they’re running, it’s so abstract. It is a very joyful thing.
BP: Perhaps the difference with a child is that you have to let things go slowly. An album, you have to let go very suddenly. Will he mingle or will he be lonely in some sort of record store in midtown Manhattan?
What do you think good dance music should do besides make people dance?
BP: Raise their spirits. Also help them to let go. When I start dancing, I have to let go. I must lose some shame. I’m getting better, at least on stage.
CA: It’s the same effect as meditation. [Helping people connect] with themselves and with others. For me, having a good experience on the dancefloor means being able to become aware of the essentials of life. When you get those endorphins and realize, Oh, it’s a pretty nice place, this planet, and the people are really, really nice. How nice to be human.