“We all make mistakes, I myself can find myself in your place,” says Jovi, a member of the South African group BCUC to the prisoners of the Rennes prison who came to drink his afro-psychedelic music, At one of the flagship concerts of the Trans Musicales.
In the afternoon, the gymnasium of the penitentiary center for men of Rennes-Vezin turned into a concert hall. Platform, chairs, lights were installed.
The sound engineer checks the final settings while the seven members of the Bantu Continua Uluru Consciousness (BCUC) warm up their voices. Some twenty detainees out of the hundred registers timidly cross the front door of the gym.
Others have “preferred the football tournament,” says an inmate who opts for a seat at the back of the room near the exit.
“It changes the cell!” Launches another by nodding his head to the rhythms of traditional percussion tinted funk sound that distills the South African group.
The pieces of music are enchained, a prisoner jokes: “It allows us to escape!” Another agrees, “it changes cells!”
“There should be concerts more often,” says Olivier. This young man grew up in the Caribbean and the tunes concocted by the group originally from Soweto in the suburbs of Johannesburg “speak” to him.
Not far away, leaning against a wall, an inmate of about thirty years listens religiously to the jerky words of Jovi, leader of the group. “I came out of curiosity. I do rap, I compose a little in cell,” he says.
He participated in the musical creation workshops proposed by the penitentiary institution. The concert and these workshops are part of a project on musical life in prison, organized in partnership with the association Trans Musicales, the League of Teaching and the symphony orchestra of Brittany.
– “One day you will get out of here” –
On stage, Jovi is exalted. With his fist lifted, he throws to his audience: “My brothers, we are all the same, at the end of the day we all wish for a good life!”
In his songs, South Africa tackles the daily life of the townships, poor suburbs of his country. He also evokes the Zulu people from whom he came.
The drums, the congas and the bantu whistle with the vuvuzela faux air conquer the room. The energy released by the seven musicians is communicative. The few prisoners stationed at the end of the hall get closer to the platform as they go along. Eyes riveted on the afro-psychedelic cocktail offered by BCUC, the staff is not left behind. Equipped with cameras, they immortalize KG, Hloni, Luja, Jovi, Cheex, Skhumbuzo and Kgomotso.
A prison concert is not a first for the BCUCs who have already given one in South Africa and one in the Netherlands.
“We remain professionals regardless of place, audience or color,” judge Kgomotso, the only woman in the group.
“People in prison remain people, they are part of the community,” says Hloni, one of the percussionists. “BCUC is the people’s music for the people.”
After nearly an hour of spectacle, Jovi finished the concert by addressing the prisoners: “One day, you will leave here.” A brief exchange ensues.
One asks how to get the songs from the band. “On YouTube,” replies Jovi. The inmate tries to explain in rough English that he has “no internet access”, making the room hilarious.
As for Mehdi, he appreciated this “moment of sharing”. “It feels good to meet people, to get out of his cell.” He plans to write a paper in the next issue of the “prisoner’s duck”.
The room is empty. Olivier, the Caribbean prisoner, starts to store the gymnasium. The percussionist Luja comes to meet him, and, with a friendly embrace, slips: “Thank you for coming.”