Wally Badarou: The Pilot and His Prophet

Under the hands of Wally Badarou, a once-aspiring pilot, the Prophet-5 synthesizer clocked up considerable mileage throughout the 80s, leaving its polyphonic signature on some of the most influential hits of the decade. A loss for the aviation industry perhaps, but here in the land of music worshippers, no one’s complaining! For some 80s nostalgia, read on as Jasmin Hoek revisits some prominent works by this synth veteran.

Like no other, this man has mastered the futuristic and eclectic sound that makes every music lover nostalgic about the 80s. He is Wally Badarou, best known for his work with British band Level 42, having both written and produced for them since they first started out. If his name doesn’t ring a bell yet, you may recognize his work, as he has most probably co-produced or played a keyboard session in one of your favorite 80s pop songs. An example is “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)” from Grace Jones’ iconic album Nightclubbing.

Perhaps an even more iconic sound is Badarou’s synth contribution to Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”.

On top of his collaborations with an impressive list of musicians, Badarou also produced the soundtracks to various movies in the 80s and 90s. Born in France, this multi-talented artist holds a fascination for science fiction and had wanted to be a pilot growing up, before he segued into a career in music. Interestingly enough, despite his penchant for things electronic and mechanical, Badarou does not have any unnatural attachment to physical machines. In an interview with The Vinyl Factory, Badarou spoke of a time when the first synthesizers arrived in the scene and had not yet been accepted as a proper instrument alongside its acoustic counterparts. Those synths used by Badarou back in the early days are now part of what he refers to as vintage-mania. These days, he praises plug-ins for their small size and price, and is even a design contributor to the plug-in version of the Synclavier, one of the first computer-based synths in history.

Even if he is not nostalgic about the machines, Badarou’s music does carry with it a heavy air of nostalgia. He uses the machine as a tool to express his in-depth musicality and never fails to bring a lot of emotion to his computerized productions. His Words of A Mountain album, for one, can be best defined as an emotional roller coaster that tells a whole story without the use of words.

In contrast, Echoes – Badarou solo instrumental album that preceded Words Of A Mountain – carries way more upbeat and groovy tunes that can even be heard on the dance floors of left-field clubs. It was partly inspired by the years that he spent both in Africa and Europe. While Badarou was born in France, his parents were both physicians from the West-African country Benin. The clash and the harmony between his African and European influences clearly play an important role in all of his productions, especially in his solo albums.

Badarou’s heavy synth-infused futuristic productions, combined with an upbeat African rhythm and percussions make him a classic Afrofuturist icon. His contributions to this cultural aesthetic includes his production work with the legendary Afrofuturist Fela Kuti as well as several Afrobeat albums. Aside from the obvious stylistics, a fundamental trait that connects all Afrofuturists is their common narrative of a past, present and future intertwined. As a pioneer of both music production technologies and of his timeless iconic sound, Badarou was possibly one step ahead of the game; yet, at the same time, his newer productions still embody a certain 80s magic that many musicians are still trying to get their head around today.

 

Wally Baderou will be performing at Strange Sounds From Beyond Festival 2017 on Sunday, June 25th. Tickets are available here.