Belgian artists Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul.

‘It’s not about you, it’s about the conversation’: This Belgian music duo gets you dancing — and talking

In our latest installment of “Movement,” our series on music and migration, Meklit Hadero speaks with Belgian artists Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul, who are trying to start difficult conversations through music.

In a time when nearly everything seems politicized, it’s not easy to start honest conversations. 

But Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul, both artists from immigrant backgrounds, are trying to do just that —  start conversations through dance music. 

The two met in Belgium and last year, they put out one of the most celebrated albums of 2022 called “Topical Dancer.”

The songs are angular, electronic rhythms with a dash of distilled, insightful analysis and an undercurrent of playfulness beneath it all. 

The music makes you want to dance the night away, but the lyrics also ask you to stay present and contemplate the complexity of the world. 

Their song “Blenda” is a good example of that: 

The lyrics include the sentence, “Go back to the country where you belong,” a line the two have heard many times, Pupul said. 

“That sentence … if I may talk for our Black community, it’s like the N-word … it carries so much pain and grief,” Adigéry said. “But when you take it back and you use it and you celebrate it and you sing it, it’s a coping mechanism. And it’s a way of showing that you’re strong and that you’re bigger than that.”

Performing the song live over the past year has been a powerful experience. Pupul said it got very emotional when they played it in Manchester, England, and the whole room lit up and sang along – specifically the words “don’t look like what I sound like” in a diverse chorus of British accents. 

“We were looking at each other and I saw the tears coming up and Charlie’s eyes and I felt the same. And the crowd really sang those words so loud,” Popul recalled. 

“You could see that people feel seen…” Adigéry said.

The two sing about serious issues but they said humor is the first thing that connected them. 

“While we were writing the album, we found that humor was, like, our best ally in addressing certain topics,” Popul said. “Being able to laugh is freedom.” 

Belgian artists Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul start honest conversations through songs like
Belgian artists Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul start honest conversations through songs like “Blenda.”Courtesy of Camille Vivier

Adigéry said she was a little nervous playing their songs in the US for the first time – especially songs that explore the limits of political correctness and poke fun at contemporary discourse around hot button issues.

“Will this land? Will people find this funny?” they wondered. The answer: Yes, they did. 

Adigéry said the whole “woke” movement is very important, and she is happy about it, but “it’s also very important to not take yourself too seriously,” she said. “It’s not about you. It’s about the conversation.” 

“I really believe that humor and the way we address it is one way that can help us have conversations and find common ground where you wouldn’t think there’s common ground,” she added.

Pupul said the album is actually a record of the ongoing conversation between the two artists in the studio, from a Belgian point of view. 

“I can imagine that in China or in the US or in Venezuela that it’s going to be interpreted a bit different, but all the reactions we’ve had so far have been supportive, and that’s something that we really didn’t expect, maybe because it’s also very Belgian to not believe in yourself that much,” he added with a laugh.

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