Wally Badarou has worked with Level 42 from the beginning and has
always been the fifth member of the band.
He has recorded with Grace Jones, Black Uhuru and M (on "Pop Muzik"
with Phil Gould on drums).
(Thanks to Desmond Lynch for the scan)
From the liner notes of "Words of a Mountain" CD (c) 1989 Island Records Ltd.
(Catalog #91260-2) (typed in by Eric J. Hansen)
Wally Badarou is the bespectacled boffin whose synthesizer skills have lurked behind some of the most influential hits of the last 10 years: M's "Pop Muzik", Grace Jones' "Warm Leatherette", innumerable hits by Level 42, and a host of French pop. In addition, his soundtracks to files as significant as "Countryman" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" have established him as a composer/arranger of subtlety, with an intrinsically modern feeling.
But in his perhaps less know capacity as a solo artist, he also excels. Working in a category that distinctly belongs to the late 80's, his skills as an instrumentalist primarily concerned with texture might not have found a clear - or at least, marketable - niche till nowadays, when the relationship between humans and machines have moved beyond simplistic cliches of the 70's, when machine music was derided as 'cold'. His latest album, following the diversity of his only previous solo work, "Echoes" is a complex, thoughtful piece entitled "Words of A Mountain". Hovering somewhere between classical and New Age music, it is a highly symbolic venture, whose meaning enriches each time it's played.
Badarou was born in Paris in 1955, where his parents were students - his father a budding surgeon, his mother a pediatrician. When Wally was seven, they moved back to Cotonou Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, in West Africa. It was a comparatively privileged childhood, in which Wally, as the eldest of two brothers and a sister, enjoyed the musical instruments his father would bring him back from his international voyages. When his parents bought a piano for his younger sister, it was Wally who monopolized the keyboards. It was to Wally that his parents later turned when a younger brother joined a band, hoping that the eldest son would dissuade him from such time frittering. But close contact with a combo merely encouraged Wally to join the band itself.
However, Wally never thought of music as a career. His ambition lay in aeronautical engineering; he yearned to be a pilot. "Now, I enter a studio as if it was a sacred place", he comments, "it's like the cockpit of a place to me, where I can create something multi-dimensional."
It was only a deficiency in maths at school in France that drew his attention elsewhere. By now, his father had become a diplomat - first, Minister of Health, then Minister of Foreign Affairs - and eventually, Badarou Senior became Ambassador of Benin to Paris, London, and Madrid. At 18, Wally found himself studying in Paris.
"I'm from a melting pot of backgrounds" he observes deliberately. "I belong to that no man's land, belonging to the world rather than only to Africa. I know I'll be rejected by racists in Europe, and by the authenticists in Africa; but I have to defend that land somehow."
After school, it was time for Wally's military service. He worked with radio guided anti-tank missiles, surrounded by people he found far from stupid. In a happy flashback to his childhood, when he used to enjoy building miniature radio-guided places, "It was a good period. It gave me a rest, to decide what I was going to do."
He played with different bands all through his time in the army, from 1977-8, often working with Antilles musicians, the peer group of artists like his contemporaries Kassav, playing the beguine, while really inspired by musicians like Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul. Immediately before entering the army, Wally had acquired his first synthesizer, a Korg.
Nonetheless, while in the army he decided to forget about music, and concentrate on studying law, fearful he'd become just one keyboard player among many. "My studies lasted six months. Then, I realized I'm not here just to have a comfortable life, with a nice car. If I had to be miserable, at least let me be doing something I enjoy. At the time, I didn't have a penny, although I come from a bourgeois family. I respected my father's decision that they wouldn't support me unless I was doing something they could endorse."
But Wally was not without work. He became a regular session player, and joining a band call Pi 3/4. "It was a bit of Genesis, and a bit of jazz. Unlistenable now! Very amateur jazz funk, but it was fun at the time." The bass player of the group was the son of the A&R man in France's Barclay Records, and the band found themselves a deal with that label. It didn't last long, but the label retained Wally's services as a solo artist and arranger - launching a career move that to Wally, recalls that of Quincy Jones, who also started out as an arranger chez Barclay.
One day, Wally found himself jamming with some English musicians for the first time, in the Barclay studios. The bassist turned out to be the brother of Robin Scott, aka 'M'. Invited to play on that ground breaking record, credited as an inspiration by musicians from David Byrne and Brian Eno, to Mick Jagger, "Pop Muzik" introduced Wally to a wider musical world. It gave him his first place ride as a professional, a significant trip, and his first appearance on British "Top of the Pops". At 'TOTP' rehearsals, Wally again found himself jamming with a drummer, who shared his passion for Herbie Hancock (ironically, a her who Wally is scheduled to produce soon). The drummer was trying to form a band with a musician named Mark King. Thus, Wally was present at the birth of Level 42, with whom has maintained an involvement on many levels, including production, ever since.
Working with the Antilles group, the Gibson Brothers, on the hit "Cuba", led him to meet Island Records founder, Chris Blackwell, who was looking for a keyboards player for a new signing, Grace Jones. The connection with Jones' boyfriend and stylist, Jean-Paul Goude, has led to an exciting collaboration on the French Government celebration for the Revolution. Wally is organizing the music for the major event. The resulting "Warm Leatherette" sessions so inspired Blackwell that he began dreaming of a "Nassau sound" emanating from his studio on that island where La Jones had recorded, with Wally and Sly and Robbie as lynch pins of the music. Blackwell's confidence in Badarou resulted in Wally becoming a semi-permanent resident of Nassau, with his own studio at home.
In 1982, Wally signed an unusual deal with Blackwell's Island Visual Arts label, designed to exploit the contemporary interface between music and visuals. Subsequently, Wally has created the "Countryman", and "Kiss of the Spider Woman" soundtracks, recorded the multi-faceted "Echoes" album, with its hits "Chief Inspector" (covered by artists like Princess) and "High Life", which has the dubious distinction of being one of the most bootlegged records in Africa.
Wally is very aware of the reasoning behind an African musician making a record like "World Of A Mountain". "Now that the world is becoming more aware of African music, I felt, like many others, that it was important that this interest did not become a simple fashion or fad. There are two ways to confirm one's authenticity: to do what's expected of your background, or to go beyond that, and do what is not meant to be your music. Because no matter what you do, you're different from the white pop world, anyways. I suppose I'm trying to be Stravinsky! I want people to be aware that Africans can be sensitive to other forms of music, too.!
- Vivien Goldman
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