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Taken from Issue 03 of WIP Magazine, available now at Carhartt WIP stores. 

“I guess I would say I’m a late bloomer. Nowadays, a lot of people do things really early on. My journey has been different,” 26-year-old artist, writer, and producer Crystallmess explains. Born Christelle Oyiri, the Paris-based polymath is weaving forgotten histories and cultural hauntologies into the framework of her creative constructions. In 2018, Oyiri released her first EP titled Mere Noises, an emotive trip through Afrofuturist rave, ambient shoegaze, and Caribbean Zouk music, while also curating an arts installation as a personal homage to the traditional Ivorian dances “logobi” and “coupé-decalé.” Most recently, Oyiri was accepted into the NTS WIP artist program, a mentorship and development initiative for emerging musicians. 

Raised in Val-de-Marne, a suburb of Paris – which, in Oyiri’s words, is “most famous for its bank robberies” – music was always part of her household, she remembers. However, this did little to convince her of music being a viable career path, as the landscape of French music still shows a limited representation of young, black women. For Oyiri, there were few musicians to whom she could relate. “We just don't even have this kind of history in France,” she says. “Outside of rap, there is no large black music tradition that is as powerful and complete as that of black people in the US or the UK.”

During her teens, the Internet exposed Oyiri to new, esoteric sounds and fresh opportunities. “I grew up in a time when the Internet was still very anonymous, when you were still able to dream,” she muses. Back then, it was about discovering and trading new ideas more so than it was about exchanging intimate moments from one’s personal life to spike engagement metrics. Through online blogs and message forums, Oyiri formed a clear idea of the artists she admired, and the one she would one day become herself. 

Upon discovering the late DJ Mehdi, the seminal French Hip Hop and House producer who passed away in 2011, something clicked. “He was a legend in his own right, and his presence was a double representation for Arab and black kids,” Oyiri remembers. “He was charismatic and had street cred, which, when you’re a kid from the hood, is extremely important to see.” In her application for the NTS WIP artist program, Oyiri considered citing DJ Mehdi as the mentor she never had. Recently, Oyiri increasingly explored this idea of loss and memory in her work. She refers to her 2018 Mere Noises EP as a “coming-of-age” piece. “Aspects of it are based on losing people close to me, but also mentors I had never met. It was the first time I was forced to embrace this. The other aspect of Mere Noises, even though I’m not so fond of identity politics, was looking at my African and Caribbean heritage. It was essential for me as a basis to begin creating,” Oyiri reveals. “For instance, the track ‘Just Because it's a Funeral Doesn't Mean You Can't Rave’ features African drum patterns. The song ‘Marriage Burlesque’ is influenced by Caribbean Zouk music.” These different elements are reconciled in the interlude. “Confusing and evanescent,” Oyiri responds. “I was making sense of a mix that I hadn’t made sense of before.”

Oyiri continues to use elements of her art to better understand herself and the world around her, diving into under-explored narratives and forgotten cultural histories. In August of 2018, Oyiri, fueled by her curiosity on the clandestine phenomenon of logobi – a style that originated in the Ivory Coast before gaining popularity among black, French youth in the banlieues of Paris – wrote an article for Dazed on the dance style. The lack of written history was what motivated Oyiri to contribute to its documentation. Her article for Dazed in turn grew into a mixed-media arts installation titled Collective Amnesia, which featured sound, moving image, and 3D renderings.

A staunch believer in community and DIY ethos, Oyiri wanted to combine the forces of her close friends. It was this group that ultimately manifested itself as Collective Amnesia, a project aimed at restituting the history of logobi in a mystic, non-literal way, through fictional stories on sorcery, memory, art, and characters featured in the visual-sonic essay. “The sounds of logobi and coupé-decalé feature heavily in my music and mixes, so I wanted to pay homage to this and my Ivory Coast heritage,” Oyiri adds. Dance plays a significant part in her art, whether  featured in her articles and installations, or intertwined in her music. “In my culture, dance is the most natural thing to do, and it’s highly spiritual. I think it's important to reassert ourselves as physical beings in the world, and I aim for my music to be quite physical, too.” 

Oyiri regards the temporal lineage of these phenomena and explores their presupposed mythologies as well as the process of archiving and preservation. When asked to describe her own process, Oyiri illustrates an analogy conceived by one of her close friends: “It’s a house, with a lot of people from different timelines in it together. A lot of these people aren’t human. They are either deemed ghosts, monsters, or abnormal. They are your ancestors and those who have not been born yet, coexisting in this single space. I think it’s a very good description of what I'm trying to do.”

Words: Morna Fraser | Images: Sylvain Sey