A Journey to the Self with Réunion Island’s Jérémy Labelle

“No man is an island.” So goes the famous opening line of John Donne’s poem, and the motto for Wolfgang Tillmans’s recent anti-Brexit poster campaign. While Donne argues for the commonality of mankind in his verses, Tillmans uses the phrase to conjure the emotional implications of isolationism. On his second album, Univers-île, Jérémy Labelle (who goes simply as Labelle) tackles both issues with equal force, while relying on musical cues from techno and the local sound of maloya.

Born and raised on the French colony of Réunion Island, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, Labelle’s work is centered around the confluence of place, race, and culture that constitutes a person’s identity. Since his homeland has a history of Western occupation, as well as a consequential slave trade and indentured labor from India and Africa, there is trauma in lurking beneath every note. Through his music, Labelle works through both the creation of identity and the conflicts that result.

The album’s title, Univers-île, is a portmanteau that implies a convergence of the universal (“univers”) with the individual (“île,” meaning “island”). “I love the construction of the compound word,” Labelle explains. “It’s the perfect image for the tensile movement I used in writing the album. Univers-île is a journey to find the truth about me,” Labelle continues. “When I write, I go deep into myself and I almost lose language itself—this is when I begin to see the truth.”

Read the rest of the feature on Bandcamp.

[This piece was published on 21/09/17]