Who is Vincha?
Vincha calls himself a former fanatic of French rap, but he grew up with parents who were Beatles fans and into the French ballad tradition. At age 12 he discovered rap with the soundtrack of La Haine, a 1995 film about race hatred in a deprived French inner city suburb, as well as DJ Poska’s mixtapes and the first album made by innovative French rapper Doc Gyneco. He says listening to French rap was his ultimate trip. “I didn’t make any distinction. I am nostalgic and not nostalgic (for it) at the same time, and it still interests me, that was what got me started.” He formed groups and took over the municipal youth club in his home town of Cesson, south-east of Paris, with his mates every Saturday. With 40 km to cover to reach the centre of Paris, he would jump on the train, hang out near Châtelet and on the Champs Élysées and eat pancakes at Bastille. “Typical for a guy from the suburbs.”
After spending years in various nebulous groups with no future where he learned about the life of a musician, he decided to go solo. The first name he took was Vincha Backpacker. “It was a reference to me always having a backpack. I travelled a lot, and that is how I would write – trains, airports, buses – those places are so sad but you meet lots of people.”
To make his lyrics sing, Vincha was lucky to come across a great arranger and sound engineer. In 2005, Tom Fire, who had listened to his demos on MySpace, invited him to his studio. They got on well and decided to work together, a fruitful collaboration that still continues. For his stage appearances Vincha chose a versatile DJ, S.O.A.P. (for Son Of A Pitch), with whom he toured for three years. “The formula was, two turntables, a melodica, a piano. There was a hip-hop cabaret feel, we called it rapped songs.”
Vincha released two EPs and had a minor hit with Les Petits Seins. But he began to be classed in the category of festive songs, a serious misunderstanding. “I did the song for the energy of playing live, but on the record that wasn’t where I wanted to go.” He was already focused on his new album in any case.
A rap album?
Yes, but from “the least hard-core rapper in 93 (the suburbs north of Paris that birthed many French rappers) but still comfortable with that, at ease.” (as in Le Souague (The Swag), a track featuring Hipoccampe Fou.) It is a personal album, funny, spiritual, hovering between emotion and derision and with sounds concocted essentially in tandem with Tom Fire. The sound is between hip-hop and melodic, and in it Vincha tells his life story. “Writing allows me to say things I would not normally say. Like telling my mother I love her.” So the song Lapis-Lazuli, in which Vincha describes his birth (“Quand de son ventre sortit Vincent, 3 kilos 5, futur rappeur” – When from her belly came Vincent, 3.5 kilos, future rapper) and talks about his mother in a moving yet humorous way. There are echoes of Akhenaton in the use of unusual words with sonority, and also of early Oxmo in the penchant for narration, the rapological storytelling that Vincha favours.
The recurrent theme in this collection of songs is love. Vincha has the knack of finding a choice formula, as when he describes parties where “tout le monde fait mine de ne pas remarquer qu’il manque un truc au tableau” (everyone pretends not to notice that something is missing from the picture), while talking about idylls that are not ideal (Il Viendra). But is love living in a couple? In 123, with Emilie Gassin in the chorus, the question is posed: “On croise d’autres équipages, chacun dit “Moi c’est cool”, alors que tous les staffs font de l’écopage et du sauvetage de couple (literally: You meet other teams, they all say, “Me, I’m cool”, when all their staffs do nothing but bail them out to save the couple), and again: “Chacun a son billet pour le train-train quotidien, on s’attend moins sur le quai, on s’embrasse un peu moins.” (literally: Everyone’s got their ticket for the daily grind train, you linger less together on the platform, you kiss each other a little less.) Lines that sadly apply to the reality of many couples. That is how Vincha’s songs go: realism, a touch of wry humour and a writer who does not hold back feelings, even heavy ones, yet avoids clichés and the macho attitudes that too many of today’s rappers favour.
So is it the album of his maturity?
There is no need for such a mega-cliché. Qui dit mieux is a record by a 30-something who knows how to wield his pen and brings the text back to the fore. “I don’t want to dream my life any more, I want to live my dreams.” A snazzy formula for a major track, 30 Ans. “Putain j’ai 30 ans, le diagnostic est évident/ Tous les symptômes sont clairs, il n’y a pas de médicament, un œil devant, un œil derrière.” (Literally: Fuck, I’m 30, the diagnosis is obvious/All the symptoms are clear, there is no cure, one eye looks ahead, one eye looks back.)
Vincha has a sense of humour and he includes himself in that: “Je me verrai bien brûler les planches, incendier des grandes scènes, dans le cœur des fans faire des flammes,” he raps in Des Etincelles, the first single with a clip made in Bali. (literally: I could see myself burning the planks, setting fire to big stages, putting flames in the hearts of fans.) “Perhaps I’m destined to appeal to a more adult public, but I dare to hope that everyone could listen to my sounds. I try not to think about it, I make music for other people, but I have to be my main fan.” He shouldn’t worry, he is no longer alone.
“I think about live performances a lot, and I hope that this album, which is more rap, more “testosteroned”, will allow me to play confidently on stage and to broaden my fan base. I want lots of things, I want to go in lots of directions.” The diagnosis is obvious: we will follow Vincha right to the destination he has chosen to reach.
It’s official: Vincha is 30. The headline song on the rapper/singer’s new album, 30 Ans, a temporal marker of bitter-sweet humour, announces his comeback.
New album: Qui dit mieux
Release date: 23 September 2016
First single: Des étincelles, already available.