Rising Star in the West Ivorian Singer, and Recording Star "Fely"s debut in America.
A friend who spoke some Bambara; and had met this "African star" on a cable car who had recently come to San Francisco once introduced me to "Fely." While secretly ecstatic, for I play guitar and have an affinity for Latin American music, I never get too excited about anything in this talkative city until it actually happens. Realistically pessimistic, I called her on the phone and arranged an informal meeting in my studio apartment on Leavenworth Street in San Francisco's Knob Hill district. Opening the door to her knock, I was awestruck by her physical beauty and demeanor. Tall, thin, crowned by long golden braids, she strode into my studio in leather, stared and striped pants with the slow, and the measured grace of an African princess. My bleak studio suddenly was transformed instantly into a temple of sorts. Tea was prepared, incense lit, and we talked of life and love among humans. She did not talk about music, she sang. Her melody and voice speak. I picked up my guitar and, without taking my eyes away from this mesmerizing ball of light, began to quietly, strum the cords that her melodies dictated with absolute clarity. She acknowledged the harmonies by closing her eyes and smiling as she sang. Then she began to hum and clap the intricate rhythm of the piece and my fingers followed. Fely's rare talent for making people believe in themselves has allowed her to assemble and direct musicians with a wide range of musical backgrounds.
Never letting fear or insecurity enter her musical ambiance, she is able to teach western musicians West African rhythms and melodies. Since our meeting in four years ago, we have gone from a voice and guitar duet to a seven-piece band performing and recording original "world" music in the spirit of West Africa and Latin America. While most of the band is more versed in Latin American music, Fely uses her knowledge of Latin American music as a bridge from which to cross over and into American music's deep debt to African music. Picking up her cow bell and tapping out the clave patterns of Latin American and African songs, she asserts that "African and Latin American music share the same roots." Listening to three recordings to date I think you will agree that there is one common thread that holds together the wide array of styles into one music: love.
Born in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire, in 1975, Fely came into the world surrounded by a rich legacy of traditional Ivorian music. While her father, Traboue Bi Tchaco Henri, noticing her exceptional talent as a painter, foresaw in her a career in painting, Fely says that "music chose her" from an age too early to remember. While she continues to paint in her spare time, she has followed her musical vision ever since childhood and considers music to be her main source of inspiration and her best form of expression. "Music has always been with me since my childhood." Watching her create a new composition is like watching a woman channeling power from within her. She closes her eyes and begins to hum a melody, continually circling back its beginning, the melody begins to take form, growing and changing with each new cycle. Transfixed by the melody she sometimes springs into a dance and sometimes sits on the floor rocking back and forth. At times, she bursts out laughing while at other times she appears to be on the verge of tears. When her idea becomes clear she inexorably hollers, "Yes! Yes! This is it!" Fely believes that music is part of a spiritual realm that exists without us, through birth and death, and that writing music is more a process of reading what she hears from within. After she hears the song, she begins tapping out rhythms and creating percussion parts.
"Music for me has a healing power and is the best tool for spreading a good message." Fely's first two albums, "Amour Perdu" (Lost Love) (1996), and "Aude a L'amour" (Ode to Love) (1998), created quite a stir in the Ivory Coast, where they were recorded and promoted. She filled venues such as Le Palais du Peuple in Guinea Konakri and the Hotel Ivoire in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Along side two music videos, she toured with her band with the national television channel, Podium, with a program called "Les Afro Music" led by Mel Theodore, to Bouake, Yamoussoukro, Abengourou, and Daloa. A national star at twenty-one, Fely's success in the Ivory Coast culminated perhaps at a special show "Dimanche Passion" sponsored by the national television station with Barthelemi Inabo.
A year after the release of her second album, Fely, with her young daughter, Dominique, ventured west to the United States as a musical and spiritual missionary. After over Three years in San Francisco Fely has established a household with her daughter, provided for her wellbeing and education, taken college courses in English, business and computers, founded her own music label, Fely Productions & Divers, and assembled a band. Only recently she has been able to confess, "I feel at home in America. African Americans are part of my family and a family thread can be very thin but is unbreakable." While Felicite Tchaco reaches out to Africans everywhere as part of an extended family, she has dedicated her latest album to her core family on the Ivory Coast, her late mother, Zadi Legbo Micheline, and to her father, Traboue Bi Tchaco Henri. Just last November she released her first debut album in the United States, "De Zere Gnan" (Meaning after war, an Homage to our Forefathers), and is receiving a strong response already. She performed on San Francisco's public television station, KQED, San Jose's public radio station KKUP, and have performed in a wide variety of small to medium sized venues around the San Francisco Bay area such as Ashkenaz in Berkeley and the CafÃ© Cocomo, and the African American Cultural Center in San Francisco.
Fely is working towards a promotional tour of her new album in California, but finally wants to return to her family, friends, and fans in the Ivory Coast for a tour in the next year. While love is the common ingredient that Fely finds in all music, love is a complicated and powerful entity, which Fely explores throughout her music and lyrics. Love means political and social justice which is seen almost nowhere in 2004. In her moving ballad on her, new album, "Evil Don't Follow Me," she calls strongly for an end of evil to around the world: "Look at Afghanistan. There you are in my way. Going to see New York, Look at South Africa, Rwanda; Congo, and Liberia, India, KOSOVO, Palestine, Israel; now comes Cote D'Ivoire, where will you take me next?" As a believer who "[has] been divine all of [her] life," she, like the Bible has no tolerance for violence. asserts that anyone who uses the Biblical citation, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," to justify violence has not understood the entire sentence, which condones no revengeful violence. Fely sees love and music as political, spiritual endeavors that must continue to fight for their existence in the world. Her songs are songs of protest, songs of homage, songs of joy and songs of pain, and are entwined the golden thread of love. Please visit her web site at www.FelyProductions.com and look out for her in your part of the world for, as she says, "A good thing is about to happen!"
By Steven Mayers
All citations was taken from interviews with Felicite Tchaco 12/03 - 1/04
Check out the artist's website:
1. De Zere Gnan
3. Evil Don't Follow Me
4. Den Kele
5. C'est Lui
6. Mobali Naga
8. Men Ie Li
9. Ma Fille Dominique