From Pisa to London, Ehua explores cultural clashes and gender disparities through her music «As a woman you have to tell yourself every day that you can do it; men do not need that»
Lampoon introduces Ehua
Celine Angbeletchy, a dj and producer whose stage name is Ehua, was born and raised in Pisa from Ivorian parents. «My mother is an art historian, my father works in the Superintendence of cultural heritage, but he also plays bass and guitar». Since childhood she was attracted both to the paintings by Italian masters as well as to black culture. «I love art history, many of my cultural references come from there. Music has been a boost in all my activities, starting from theater to others. From Beyoncé to Bob Marley, from reggae to gospel and R&B. I love movies, too. My style reference is Rita Watson, the character that Lauryn Hill plays in Sister Act 2. In the morning, if I look in the mirror and I see Rita Watson, I can go out and face the world. If not, I must change my clothes and me».
The role of bilingualism in culture
Angbeletchy moved to London when she was nineteen years old, at the end of her first year of university. «I had no plans for that summer, so I decided to live an experience outside Italy for a couple of months. They became three years and half. I came back home to finish my university studies, then I flew back to London. That city had caught me». She felt that she had already changed in the first months in the English metropolis. «The first gift that London gave me was the possibility of disappearing. Born and raised in a place where all the people were different from me, landing to London made me feel no longer in the spotlight, no longer observed, no longer looked at. That feeling allowed me to explore creative ways that in Italy I had cultivated only in my personal sphere, but I had never shown. It was not a conscious change, but I felt accepted and freer to express some emotions and some traits of my personality that I had not had the courage to show before. I had tied my passion for music, especially electronic music, only to dance, but in London I realized that I didn’t have to limit myself and I could make music, too». Thinking and reasoning in a new language was also an element to Angbeletchy’s growth. «Bilingualism has given me the ability to see myself and see the world more fully. In Pisa I felt people’s tendency to judge, to have an opinion on everything and everyone and at the same time to value their own opinion more than others. Indeed, bilingualism has given me a new perspective, a new interpretation that helps me feel free. Pisa is opinionated; London is more open to pluralism. I’m working on it through music and art, because I would like to embrace a vision of the world without prejudice, expectations or preconceptions».
Role models and reference points
As a child Angbeletchy dreamed of living in New York. «I have studied English all my life because I would need it in the Big Apple. London was a compromise, the middle ground between the inability to move to New York with no money and no contacts and the fear of getting stuck. I knew a guy in London, I would not have been completely alone». But the fascination for NYC is still there, even if she has never been. «It’s because of its cosmopolitan essence and, probably, because over the years I have built a fetish in my mind, an ideal image of that metropolis and, above all, of the Afro-American blackness. I did not have role models or reference points in my context, just Fiona May (famous black Italian athlete, Ed.) or some other rare excellences». There are also other places attracting her, «I had a brief artistic and professional experience in Dakar, few years ago, and I was impressed. It is a place where I could image to live for a while: the art and culture scene is lively, there is an international community of artists. In this moment of my life, I need the excitement and the energy of the metropolis».
The social power of the clubbing scene in London
London is the beating hearth of club culture, which has been a part of Ehua’s life since her teenage years. «I started going to clubs when I was sixteen, going to Versilia with some friends who had a driving license and a passion for deep house, minimal techno and all those genres of dance music trending in Italy. In London I discovered a different club culture. For example, in the Italian clubs I was one of the few to break a sweat while dancing, because most people are busy holding cocktails and looking around instead of dancing and moving. In England I saw the concrete body expression on the dancefloor, and I found what I was looking for in that activity which was already essential for me. Clubbing means going out with friends, letting off steam, seeing top artists I like and here I have found other people who wanted to feel the same. Full circle, the club became one of my favorite places».
For someone like Ehua, dj and clubber, the lockdown period was tough. «A night in a club, as a dj, a dancer or just a music lover, is a mission for me, a ritual, a sort of self-therapy, and I missed it during the lockdown. Not being able to go to clubs made me understand even more its social value: even the mere fact of being all silent together in a room, listening to music and moving to its rhythm, it is a valuable experience. Sometimes we need to be animals together».
Ehua on minorities and gender gap in the music industry
Making, playing and listening to electronic dance music, going to clubs, festival and events, these are all actions that fuel the record industry, which is marked by many disparities and a wide gender gap. Some progress has been made thanks to the work and the commitment of no profit associations, groups, communities or to individual actions of people and small realities, especially in the electronic music scene, which seems a bit ahead of others. For example, the London-based label Femme Culture, which published Diplozoon, Ehua’s debut EP, is active on this front. «Talking about diversity and openness, in recent years there has been a change at least here in London. I am grateful that the scene is more open and inclusive, the line-ups more various, and I hope it is not just a trend of these years but that it is something that can influence the market. The recognition of a struggle for the rights of minorities and especially of black people, which have taken place after the murder of George Floyd in the United States more than a year and half ago, has been deeply felt».
The biggest challenge is being a woman, apparently. «I don’t think it ever happened that I was cut off as a woman, but from the beginning I have tried to protect myself, positioning myself in a neutral way. For example, for the first six months my Soundcloud profile pic didn’t show my face: people wrote to me starting with ‘Hi man’, then they apologized after I would reply by signing my name, Celine. My approach was marked by the awareness that being a woman would bring some unpleasant consequences related to look, appearance, prejudice. I found myself in a masculine environment, sometimes feeling inadequate or inferior to male producers, their experiences, their careers. Now I am stronger, because I’ve studied, too, I have collected experiences and I have built my path. As a woman you have to tell yourself every day that you can do it; men do not need that».
Celine is also part of Poche, an Italian collective for women producers, founded by Elasi and Plastica to highlight female artists in the electronic music scene, creating an open and safe community and networking. «I am glad to be part of it, it is the first time that I step in the Italian scene».
Ehua Aquamarine EP
Ehua’s latest album, Aquamarine EP, was released by a London label, Nervous Horizon, at the end of April 2021. These six tracks, inspired by colors and motion of water, take shape in a rich and experimental flow that moves between dark broken-beats and moments of troubling drone techno, with custom made percussive samples and original vocals, even spoken thoughts in reversed Italian to harness different motions and states.
«Water and sea creatures had been on my mind for some time, then I made the album in a year. I have a fascination with those life forms, like Diatom or Jellyfish, which also give titles to songs, and for the ocean as a sonic space: it is incredible how sound reverberates underwater. The air makes a sound underwater, too, and we call it wind outside. Some marine species communicate through frequencies that we do not perceive. All these things spoke to me, so I tried to put them together and create a metaphor, turning it into music. My music is based on the idea of transparency and space, on the balance between sound and silence, on the concept of paradox: you cannot grasp the silence in music, the same way you cannot grasp aquamarine. It does not exist as a color, you can see it only when there is a big mass of water like the sea or a lake, but if you take some water in your hands or in a small recipient, it is no longer aquamarine».
The idea of transparency returns in Angbeletchy’s words. «As I said, I like to be transparent in the London crowd. However, in recent times, I have felt invisible, too. This bad feeling disappeared with the release of the record, now I am feeling afloat».
Human’s relationship with nature
Angbeletchy is in a long-distance relationship with nature, because she lives in the urban environment of a metropolis like London. «I like nature, but I love living here, so my relationship with nature is in my mind. But I feel it also as an animal, beginning from the fact that I am a woman. My body talks to me, and it reminds me that I am an animal every month, every day. I also live the natural element through music, because my body gives me feedbacks, it gives me responses to sound and rhythm. When I am making music, my body reacts to what I am creating, and it tells me if I am going to the right way. So, I feel like an animal: I need to feed, to heal, to take care of myself, but also to release energy, to perceive physically, to let off steam».
Ehua dj and producer
Ehua, stage name of Celine Angbeletchy, is a London-based Italian-Ivorian Dj and producer who blends electronic sound from all over the globe. She released her debut album Diplozoom in 2018 via British label Femme Culture and in April 2021 she relased her latest album Aquamarine by London-based label Nervous Horizon.Celine Angbeletchy aka Ehua is an Italian-Ivorian dj and producer, now based in London. Her debut album was Diplozoon (2018, Femme Culture), her last work is Aquamarine ep (2021, Nervous Horizon). She is also a writer and the GRIOT Magazine editor-at-large.