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m i x — Death in Paris x Crystallmess

19 March, 2017

Cherry blossoms are blooming in London and everything is starting to come alive. We talk to DJ/ journalist Christelle Oyiri the future of black identity, and the inspiration for the 4th installation mixtape for Death in Paris.

Photo of Christelle Oyiri Crystallmess for Death in Paris interview and mixtape

– Hi Christelle, can you please tell us a bit about yourself? 

I’m Christelle Oyiri, around the way girl. Some people may know me as Crystallmess from the internet. I DJ and recentlystarted making music. I’m always looking for the perfect full-lace wig, then I buy it, never wear it and end up getting braids. I love long walks on les Berges de Seine and cuddling 🙂

– I love your stage name. Just sayin’ … 

Thank you ! To be honest, my stage name is super random and old. I had it since my first steps on social media… It’s a contraction of my real name Christelle (but English-speaking people pronounce it Crystal) and one of my main traits : messiness. I keep thinking about changing my name or operating under my government name, but I don’t know. 

– I listened to your mixtape before sleeping yesterday. It is very sensitive with some ambient and french rap. It made me feel like I was already in a dream with extensible emotional worlds. Is that a bond with who you are, your mood ? 

Yep most definitely. The mix oscillates between “kind-of/ambient/dreamy” and french rap. It was an attempt to represent what it would be like to sleep slipping in and out of consciousness, allowing yourself to dream when it’s become almost forbidden to you and hyper-reality is relentlessly forced upon you. My black and arab (boy)friends feeling pressured by both their culture and white supremacy to perform more masculinely are the main people I thought of when I recorded this mix in my room. French rap is the soundtrack of most of my friends lives but as musicians they make completely different music, often synth-driven, moody and rather not categorizable music. Although the energy of these genres are different, there’s a fragile proximity I tried to underline. 

– Where are you pick your influences ? 

I pick my influences from my surroundings and my feelings and sometimes my readings too. On one hand,  I’m influenced by what I called “lineage” or “continuum” , meaning my Caribbean and African roots, my upbringing, and the bridges I built between different genres I grew up listening to. It might not be an immediate and obvious influence but I somehow always end up paying homage even when it’s very distant and romanticized. On the other hand, my love life and friendships are unfailing sources of inspiration. In this mix, my friends and my readings influenced me the most. Recently, I’ve read a lot about afropessimism : Frantz Fanon’s work as a black psychiatrist from Martinique during the war in Algeria, Scenes of Subjection by Saidiya V Hartman or even Wilderson’s poetry. 

– You also refer to the recent Oscar winning film, Moonlight. I saw the movie 5 days ago and I can’t stop thinking about it, as a milestone. In theoretical studies, Serge Dubois (a specialist in Afro-American cinema) develops the idea of “Le Bon Nègre” present in films. Black characters were very stereotyped, always guided by white characters. This sterotype is the Candide, the obedient, the hypersexual and violent man, the comic, the tragic figure or the nanny… I think that this legacy is unfortunately still present today… but do you think Moonlight is part of a new area of representation, of the history of a person, of entity before race? Do you think the movie will change how the movie industry represents black people in history ?

I do not know if “Moonlight” will change anything but I can say is that it felt good to see queer black people in love on screen. A deep and singular love story between two beings. We’re the ones telling our story now. As I don’t believe in the idea of linear time or even progress, I can’t say if it’s going to change anything… I just enjoying what I’m witnessing right now. I referenced Moonlight because it’s about coming from a vulnerable place while being a  black or brown body, who so often are portrayed as violent, aggressive, and binary, as you said. Artistry, life, love, joy; all these things are possible because of vulnerability.

– At the moment, the climate in France is very tense…  Black identity or just the term “identity” is still a problem. Can you describe yourself as an activist ? I can feel it in you work, essay, music… You deliberately embrace it…

Hm, yeah France’s political climate is sooo shitty but I don’t remember the last time we were singing “Kumbaya” maybe 98′ world cup ? Ahaha.

Black identity is a problem everywhere, but especially in a country built around contradictory values like colorblindness and colonialism. 

Also I’m not sure if I deserve to be called an activist because I haven’t done anything yet, I’ve just wriiten here and there about my beliefs… There are so few black women in the white and male dominated fields I’m operating in, especially here in Paris, that my mere presence is seen as political. 

– You are close to NON Worldwide too, no ? 

Well, I support them obviously! I approached them less than two years ago and then wrote an essay about “French rap and its African roots” for the NON Quarterly #1, Melika (Nkisi) is the first person that invited me to play outside of France and I’m forever grateful to her and her music. What they’re doing is crucial on many levels. The fact that NON Worldwide has no physicality is potent, its diasporic meaning it spreads out and cannot be contained. So everything is possible musically, geographically and so on…

– You working with VICE, Guardian and others magazines. Is being a journalist your passion or a future goal ?

Being a journalist started out almost as a bet. A friend was in need of a contributor and asked me if I would be able to write something and I was like “Aight, bet”. But I never went to school for it (not that you really need to lol), I just had the opportunity. Even though it’s not always easy, journalism has made me experience a lot of stuff I thought I would/could never do. Like doing a roadtrip through France, hosting a TV documentary-series or co-writing a documentary. Thanks to it, I stepped out of my comfort zone. 

– Are you studying ?

Nah, not at the moment. I took a gap year from studying law because I needed to explore different options.

– Do you have plan after you finish university, a career plan ? 

What’s a plan ? What’s a career ? I have no idea what I’m doing right now or tomorrow. I’m really bad at this long-term stuff and I’m more into collective initiatives than individual ambition these days.

I can talk about a dream I have though : To own a recording studio/gallery in Guadeloupe and in the Ivory Coast and offer residencies/resources for artists and workshops and activities for children. However, to do that I have to have support (because doing something like this alone is boring), I have to be kind of rich, old and wise I guess, like a 60 person something playing hang drum and drinking coconut water straight from the coconut with no worries 😛

– Your ideal place to live ? 

Somewhere sunny close to the ocean, with friendly yet brutally honest people, and a large variety of fruits. Cute animals is a plus. 

– If you can embody one track for representing you, what it will be ? 

That’s a tough one! I literally have no idea. Maybe “Germination” by Ryuichi Sakamoto. But I might change my mind two minutes from now. 


Words : Priscillia Amey