In Perfect Balance: Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul
On their bold new album ‘Topical Dancer’, Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul have become masters of their own musical Trojan Horse.
As Mary Poppins taught us, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. That’s a lesson that Belgian duo Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul kept close to their hearts when putting together their debut album, ‘Topical Dancer’. It’s a record that tackles subject matter of the most serious nature - post-colonial racism, misogyny, social media abuse - but does so with such joyous musical playfulness and razor-sharp lyrical wit that you gladly absorb its message.
“We don’t want to stay bitter,” says Charlotte from her home in Ghent. “Even though we have our suffering and we’ve been through all that stuff that we talk about on the album, humour is a great way for us to evolve through it and to not stay stuck in it and be bitter.”
Far from preachy or didactic, ‘Topical Dancer’ slyly pokes fun at the everyday bigotry that the duo have both experienced in their lives, over a bed of leaping, hyper-energetic synth beats. As Bolis explains, “There’s a difficult marriage between music and humour. If you use too much humour, people don’t take it seriously anymore, but we feel like it helps us to use it as a tool to address some of the heavier topics.”
The duo first met when they were both invited to take part in a soundtrack project in 2016 by Stephen and David Dewaele, the brothers behind Soulwax. They immediately struck up a close friendship and, within a week, had written an EP’s worth of material together which was released in 2017 under Charlotte’s name. A follow-up EP, ‘Zandoli’, arrived in 2019, but for this full-length project, they have chosen to be credited equally as a duo.
“We felt misunderstood,” says Charlotte. “People saw me as a singer, the diva, and Bolis as the producer. I got asked many times, ‘Who’s the DJ behind you?’ Eww, no, we make music together and the music couldn’t have been made without him or me. We had to make the statement now or otherwise it would be too late.”
The Dewaele brothers continue to have a godfather-like influence on the pair: not only are they credited as co-producers on the album, but it will also be released on Soulwax’s DEEWEE label. “Bolis always says they are great musical chiropractors,” says Charlotte. “They fix your blockages and then you’re ready to go and make new music again and you’re inspired.”
“Humour is a great way for us to evolve through [troubles], and to not stay stuck in them and be bitter.”
— Charlotte Adigéry
Though a delicate balance between the serious and the comedic looms large throughout ‘Topical Dancer’, nowhere is it more carefully struck than on recent single ‘Blenda’. “Go back to your country where you belong / Siri, can you tell me where I belong,” Charlotte sings. Growing up in Belgium with Guadeloupean and French-Martinique ancestry has meant that she’s been exposed to casual racism on a painfully regular basis; the same is true for Bolis, whose Chinese descent has prompted abusive comments since his school days. “Those comments are real,” says Charlotte. “I hear it all the time. It’s, ‘OK, but where are you REALLY from?’ or, ‘Wow, your Dutch is amazing’.
“Belgium doesn’t realise the effect of post-colonialism and how people suffer from it, a lot of people are still oblivious to that,” she continues. “I don’t think Belgium has even apologised to Congo for what they did. Like, how is there still a statue of Leopold II standing in Brussels? How are streets still named after him? There’s a long way to go.”
The song ‘Esperanto’ tackles the corrosive decline in standards of public discourse over the last decade, with a series of wry, withering one-liners: “Don’t say ‘Only a man is fit for this job’ / Say, ‘At least you tried, Karen’” or “Don’t say ‘Nice pair’ / Say, ‘I love the symmetry of you’”. It’s a demonstration of the duo’s lightness of touch that they’re able to throw shade at both those who want to over-police language and the people who seek to use language as a weapon in the same lyric.
Elsewhere, ‘Topical Dancer’ ranges from the sweetness of ‘Ich Mwen’, a duet between Charlotte and her mother Christiane on the subject of womanhood and motherhood (Charlotte and Bolis signed their record deal on the day that Charlotte found out she was pregnant in December 2020), to the caustic ‘Ceci n’est pas un cliché’, on which they list every hackneyed, cringeworthy song lyric that they could think of end-to-end (“I was walking down the street / When I woke up early this morning / I said ‘Hey Mister DJ’”).
The pièce de résistance, however, comes with the album’s closer, ‘Thank You’, which finds Charlotte throwing every misogynistic, condescending, mansplaining comment she has received in her career back in the faces of the world with one giant, triumphant middle finger. “I hope the people who told me those things hear the song. Especially the one who said that he discovered me,” she says, before collapsing into laughter. “Yeah, that song was our way to get a little revenge and take control.”
After releasing an album as accomplished and addictive as ‘Topical Dancer’, you’d hope she won’t be dealing with dismissive comments like that anymore.
‘Topical Dancer’ is out now via DEEWEE.
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