Up Next with Ben l'Oncle Soul

The multi-platinum-selling French soul sensation reflects on the healing power of his new album, ‘Is It You?’, for Re-Edition’s music column

Looking for the soundtrack for your next adventure? Be wary of the algorithm and let yourself be guided by the entrancing vibrations of Up Next – Re-Edition’s long-awaited music column – where arts and culture writer Gilda Bruno sits down with some of the most inspiring names on the up-and-coming and established music scene to delve into the inspirations, sounds and dreams of a new avant-garde of musical talents.

Today Bruno speaks with Tours-born singer and songwriter Ben l’Oncle Soul to take a deep dive into his latest project, Is It You?, and learn how working on it granted him calm amidst COVID-19.

For some of us, finding our path in life is a matter of dedication that requires extensive search and multiple, mixedly successful attempts. For others, a path is laid down long before they could even begin to consciously look for it. In Ben l’Oncle Soul’s case, his artistic awakening was naturally instilled into his mind by his mother as she rocked him on the striking, powerful vocals of the likes of Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

“I grew up in France and was the youngest in my family,” the Tours-born, soul-infused singer and songwriter tells Re-Edition in a conversation over email. “My mother was passionate about rhythm’n’blues and, while there were no musicians in our household, there was a piano at her place and a little organ in my grandparents’ home. I spent my entire youth listening to records and playing keyboards.”

A graduate of Tours’ School of Fine Arts, self-proclaimed Ben l’Oncle Soul – which translates to “Ben the Soul Uncle” – cut his musical teeth as a member of Fitiavana, a local gospel choir, in 2004 before releasing his first EP, Soul Wash: Lesson 1, five years later. Since then, his career took off, and numerous albums followed, including his eponymous debut album, released in 2010 under Motown Records, À coup de rêves (2014), Under My Skin (2016),Addicted to You (2020), and Red Mango (2022).

Among the voices currently redefining the contemporary Pop-Soul landscape, on February 13, Ben l’Oncle Soul staged his comeback to the international music scene with Is It You? – a nine-track album delineating the artist’s journey through the pandemic across R&B, jazz and heartfelt lyrics. “This album is a conversation about life,” he says. “COVID-19 led us to understand that we had to live differently and deal with our feelings – whether of anger, hope, or faith. I tried to find a way to do so with music.”

Below, we talk to Ben l’Oncle Soul about the function that music fulfills in his life, what keeps him going in moments of crisis, and the story behind his highly-anticipated, stirring new release.

Photography by Mathieu Baumer. Image courtesy of the artist
Photography by Mathieu Baumer. Image courtesy of the artist

Re-Edition Magazine: We know your music career kicked off after you graduated from Tours’ School of Fine Arts and joined the local gospel choir Fitiavana in 2004. But when exactly, and how, did music come into the frame for you, and what led you to it?

Ben l’Oncle Soul: I started very early in fact. I was not sure if I was allowed to use this piano in the small apartment of my mother, so when she left for work, or when she went away to get some stuff, I would start my second life playing the piano and singing. It was my favourite game ever.

RE: Think of the way your music has evolved since you first started playing around with it, and even more so since the release of your eponymous first album, Ben l’Oncle Soul (2010). What drives your musical experimentation today and what is the vision behind it? What made this change possible?

BOS: My urge to keep experimenting with music is probably what prompts me to start working on new projects from time to time. And while I can’t give in to it continuously, after the tour of each album, the desire to write new things always comes back as a necessity. It is a compulsive need: I just have to sit behind the piano and start all over again.

RE: How would you describe your sound in just a few words? What are the main influences and inspirations that come to define it? In what aspects of your work can we, instead, sense your authentic contribution to the musical landscape?

BOS: I do what we call “Soul Music”: my sound is my voice. As for my inspirations, I am mainly influenced by BB King and Otis Redding.

RE: Your new, 9-track album, Is It You? (2023), has just come out. Speaking about the project, you said it is “a conversation about life”, your way of processing the feelings brought about by the last couple of years. Despite coming out of the post-pandemic, there is a warm, hopeful feeling to it. What can you tell us about the story behind this new album?

BOS: I tried to hold on to something positive during the pandemic as a means of diving into the brightness which lies in everything. We were isolated and afraid but through music, I finally managed to find some solace. A soothing feel. While everything was on hold, life was still swarmed around us. I decided to grab that thread and that is exactly what helped me make this project.

RE: Out of all songs featured in it, which one best represents the concept and narrative captured in the album?

BOS: At the beginning, I wanted to call the album The Greatest because it was the first song I composed for it, but then I thought that it sounded too pretentious or arrogant. Out of all the tracks featured in it, Is It You? is the song that best embodies the questions I was thinking of whilst putting this project together. It is always good to feel like you have found a sense in life, but what sparked the album was actually another personal dilemma, or whether life was expecting anything from us at the time.

RE: In recent years, more and more music artists have lent their talent to other creative realms. Whether music, fashion, cinema or art-related, what would be your dream collaboration?

BOS: Music has always stimulated and moved me ever since I was just a kid. Personally, I feel like I am doing something useful and important, especially considering the world we live in today, where it often feels like everything is collapsing around us. Music is what I love the most in my life: playing music, composing and creating keep me grounded and inspired. Having said that, my ultimate dream would be to jam with Stevie Wonder or Cory Henry, they are amazing.

RE: What are your New Year’s resolutions for 2023? What can we expect from you in the future?

BOS: I will continue exploring the music of my mind, so wish me a bon voyage!

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Cookie Policy