Upa Upa Tahiti had the chance to meet Florent Atem, a Tahitian guitarist known on the local and international scene. Twice nominated for the Grammy Awards, Florent is also a professor and researcher at the University of French Polynesia. Meet this musician whose curiosity and talent are heightened!
Prefered ukulele

Ia ora na Florent! How did your attraction to music come about?

Ia ora na! My father is a musician too so it came from a young age, seeing the ukuleles and guitars in the family home. Music has always pleased me: I have always been very curious, with this desire to explore, to go and see "where no one has gone". I was also greatly influenced by guitarists who were avant-garde, who kept pushing the limits of their instrument. Very young I felt that I wanted to do the same. So so that music does not become something food, I chose to continue my studies, which allowed me to practice the profession that I do today, while having the luxury of being able to do music that I like in my spare time. I followed a traditional jazz / blues training where I learned improvisation and I evolve in a rock style mainly. Very early on I started playing in Hawaii, in the United States. As a teenager, I used to go there regularly with my family. That's how I met people from the music industry, did live there and recorded my albums.

Can you tell us about “slide picking”, this electric guitar technique that you invented?

The idea is to hit a string with the pick and try to make sounds. The goal is to make loops, by sounding the strings just by sliding the pick on the fingerboard. The left hand intervenes as little as possible.

It's a technique I started to develop as a teenager in the '95s. At the time, I wondered what I could do with this instrument that had never been done before. I was curious, it was really for fun! It was a bit of a crazy gamble, so for years it hung on. And in 2009, guitarist Michael Angelo Batio repeatedly came to the fenua. Listening to me play, he was surprised by this technique he had never seen, despite traveling the world. He was the one who encouraged me to share it on Youtube with the guitar community. I had very good feedback, it was of real interest to the musician community.

Today it has gotten to the point where I can come up with entire passages performed only using this technique! Currently I'm working on a new song which this time will try to place this technique within the framework of an orchestration. The idea is to have a bass and drums and play a real instrumental track for 2.3.4 minutes on the guitar using that technique.

You also had the opportunity to develop projects on the ukulele. How did it come about?

It was in 2012, when I was taking a musical break in order to fully devote myself to my doctoral thesis. At that time, a friend and producer from Hawaii offered me to do ukulele tracks for one of his albums because the instrument was coming back into fashion there… I like challenges so I answered. favorably, saying “why not, I'll try”. So I learned the “default” ukulele, as I didn't have time to do anything else! But honestly, other than the fact that there are strings and I can pretty much see how to use them, I think like a guitarist. There were a lot of things to learn: the tuning is different, the downforce too ... not to mention the technique! My benchmarks weren't the same but I tried to use this instrument in the true sense of the word: like an "instrument", allowing me to express myself according to what I happen to do. I also tried to take advantage of that, not knowing too much about the codes that really make up the tradition of the ukulele. It may have allowed me, I hope, to breathe new life into it.

In 2014, the compilation was released under the name “Island style ukulele 2”, bringing together many well-known Hawaiian artists. The idea was to offer ukulele reinterpretations of famous rock songs. I came up with a revamped version of "Sweet City Woman" and it was this track that was chosen in high rotation in order to sell the album. The album won an award in Hawaii.

The same year, I also participated with my sister in a Christmas album which was nominated this time. Still on the ukulele, we reinterpreted the melody “Go Tell It On The Mountain”.

And then we reinterpreted traditional Hawaiian songs on the ukulele, sung in the Hawaiian language. It's still a great personal adventure because I chose the title “Hilo One” (Hilo which is a city on the island of Hawaii and “One” means “sand”, therefore it is the “Sand of Hilo” ”). Although this song is a traditional title there, I got to know it thanks to the group Hui Ohana who rocked my childhood. They came to Tahiti in 1987, John Gabilou had them come, a friend of my father's… I was 7 or 8 years old and it was the first concert I attended (besides I still have the ticket! ). It marked me because for me it is associated with so many things (my childhood, this music that rocked all those beautiful years spent in Hawaii with my parents…). So when I had to choose a title for this project, I thought to myself that symbolically there was something to play. I didn't hesitate to reinvent the song by composing parts that weren't there in the original. Gradually, the producer liked the version and it was this track that sold the album and once again won a Hoku Awards (the Hawaiian equivalent of the Grammy Awards).

Personally, I was really happy because for all of these projects, it was not just covers that I proposed. Each time I really tried to reinvent the songs, having fun with all the musical tools I had available and depending on what I was asked to do.

Thank you Florent for this exchange! And finally, do you have any future projects?

In recent years, I have to admit that I have been overwhelmed by the professional side. Recently I played with my sister again, we try to keep in touch with the audience as much as we can. We maintain the link especially through social networks. The idea is to do a bigger gig again very soon, an intermediate step before the release of a new album that I'm recording at home very slowly. Mauruuru Upa Upa Tahiti for this interview!