The Bolokos are a punk band formed in 2009 in Goyave, Guadeloupe (F.W.I). They are composed of Océ Cheapfret (vocals, guitar, bombard, mandolin,) Edy Caramello (vocals, guitar, harmonica, bagpipes,) Mister Fridge (drums, vocals) and Ben O’It (bass, vocals).
Pioneers of Punk Rock in Guadeloupe, the group started out playing small clubs on the island as The Sleepwalkers, but quickly renamed themselves the Bolokos. (More on what a Boloko is below!) The band is a fusion of punk, country, ska, Celtic and Creole music. They cultivate a particular style both visually and musically.
In December 2014, they released their first single, “Love You As Before” on the Bokit Production label. The band is known to incorporate other instruments not commonly found in punk such as gwo ka, melodica, banjo, and trumpet. They are releasing their first LP sometime in 2018 produced by Martinican artist Kali. They are native French speakers, but wanted to do the interview in English and I found them to be a group of really funny, very independent and free thinking, extremely talented individuals. Read on!
Photo credit: Lala Von Schwartz (L to R: Ben O’It, Ocè Cheapfret, Edy Caramello, Mister Fridge and Woody the bird!)
Erin: Hi guys! My first and most pressing question is what the hell is a Boloko?
Océ Cheapfret: Hi Erin, thank you very much for this interview! To answer your question, a Boloko is a creole term for someone with a completely extravagant odd outfit and rude manners. In the West Indies it’s a very pejorative term. He has no conscience about the lack of good taste or he simply ignores it. It’s someone who is daring and ignores fashion codes. I see him as an anti-conformist.
Edy Caramello: Yeah, it’s kind of an insult. The closest thing I can think of that would translate into English, is a misfit or a bumpkin. When we began we had a different name but my eldest sister used to call us Bolokos because that’s what we were haha! So we finally changed it, thinking with a name like that it can permit us to do anything and everything. But it was a mistake, because at the beginning nobody wanted to hire us because of the name. Here we don’t have that culture of depreciating names for bands.
Mister Fridge: We don’t care about what people think. Even if it’s a denigrating word in Guadeloupe, we choose to laugh at it rather than take it seriously.
Erin: Tell me a bit about each one of the band members; where you are from, what made you want to play music, what instruments do you play?
Mister Fridge: Let’s start with the only woman in the group, Océ Cheapfret! She’s a bit like our mother, because without her we would forget a lot of things for concerts haha. But otherwise, it’s this unique, sincere, melodious voice that thrills the audience. An unforgettable character for the public, everyone remembers her. Then we have Edy Caramello, the first fan of punk in Guadeloupe, our songwriter without whom none of this would have been possible! Obviously, without us, it would be nothing, but he gave much of his persona for the band. And myself the drummer, the oldest, “el padre”. I originally come from Normandy. I have lived in Guadeloupe for 10 years. Music is vital for me. I also love trying new instruments. I literally live music, I beat the rhythm everywhere I can.
Edy Caramello : Very poetic! For a shorter presentation, hum hum, I was born and grew up in Guadeloupe. I think it was listening to Bob Dylan with my father which really gave me an interest in making music rather than only listening or dancing to it. In the band I do some barking and play guitar, harmonica, bagpipes and banjo.
Océ Cheapfret : I do lead vocals and play guitar, mandolin and bombard. Like Edy, I was born and grew up in the French West Indies (Martinique and Guadeloupe). After we completed our studies in France, we decided to reform our old band and spread the punk message louder than the first time. Punk rock in theWest Indies seemed a risky business at the time. You know zouk is the predominant music with dancehall and you have other Caribbean music which fills the empty spaces, so rock ‘n’ roll is nearly inexistent. But we really wanted to share this music which make us so happy and after a lot of gigs and perseverance the audience got bigger.
Erin: When did you start playing music and when did you decide or realize music was the path you were going to take?
Mister Fridge: I started playing music at 13 with saxophone, but I quickly changed to percussion and it has remained a passion ever since.
Océ Cheapfret: My taste for rock music developed at adolescence with Californian bands like The Offspring and Red Hot Chili Peppers. I immediately wanted to play guitar. At 12, I got my first guitar from my uncle who previously got his first guitar from his uncle! It’s a kind of a family tradition! Punk music came later with more happy times. My friend Edy introduced me to this very particular scene. It’s with him that I learned how to sing when we started to play traditional tunes that inspired us so much.
Edy Caramello : I was kind of late to start music compared to the other band members. I was maybe 14 or 15. I began with piano and my father taught me how to play the harmonica, but it’s Océ who taught me how to play the guitar. I don’t really know how to explain it because it’s a passion, you know? It’s when I see people dancing, shouting and singing our songs that I realize that it really worth doing it.
Erin: Who are your major influences? What or who inspires you today?
Océ Cheapfret: For me, traditional country music (Kingston Trio, Carter Family, etc.,) but the music that is inspiring me the most right now and makes me happy is ska! Bands like The Selecter and The Specials.
Mister Fridge: I listen to a lot of Ska-P, The Offspring, but initially I’m a big fan of ska/reggae music like Toots & the Maytals or Jimmy Cliff.
Edy Caramello: My biggest influence will ever remain Bob Dylan, but also The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, Hank Williams, Carter Family, Kali, D.O.A, Subhumans, UK Subs, The Damned, TV Smith, Goldblade and of course The Clash to name a few. They had a really huge impact on my musical path, and personnal developement. It’s the same people that I was listening to when I was a kid who still inspire my today but also new bands and but not exclusively in the punk scene.
Erin: Living on an island, how do you think that affects your music and creativity? Do you feel isolated or are you better able to develop your own style of music and scene? Why?
Edy Caramello: Very interesting one! I think living on an island (reminds me of the Cock Sparrer song!) influenced who we are because we don’t have the same culture and access to Western culture is sometimes difficult. But, Guadeloupian culture and Caribbean culture in general are dearly beloved by us. If we would have grown up in another country, we would probably never have started a band. One of the reasons we did is because nobody played the music we wanted to hear. There were some bands who played classic rock and the same boring shit we’d hear over and over again, but we wanted to hear bands like U.K. Subs or Sham 69! Sometimes we feel isolated, but we’re also proud to live here and who knows, without this distance maybe this conversation would have never happened!
Océ Cheafret: Cultural mixing is very fascinating. It was very important to us to cultivate this very rich Caribbean culture and mix it with punk music. Though this association seems easy with ska, an adaptation like “Bel Aw,” was the occasion to really show our cultural plurality and give our tribute to traditional Guadeloupian music like Gwo Ka.
Mister Fridge: I will add, that in Guadeloupe nobody had been as boloko as The Bolokos haha! So we try to surprise our audience at each show, change the set list etc.
Erin: Do you currently have a record label you are signed with?
Océ Cheapfret: No, we are a DIY band. We choose to produce ourselves. The inconvenience is we don’t have a lot of money, so things take time to happen, but the good part is we don’t have any pressure or someone who tells us what to do.
Erin: Where in the world have you played shows?
Edy Caramello : For now, only in the Caribbean islands, but our dream is to play at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, which we go to every year for our dose of punk rock! I think that after that I could stop making music and start raising chickens haha!
Erin: What is the band currently working on right now? Tours? Albums? Videos?
Océ Cheapfret: We are constantly playing gigs throughout the year where we can. The next one will be at a festival in Marie-Galante. We’re currently working on our début album which will be out by the end of this year. It’s already recorded, but now we have to do all the promotion ourselves until the outing. It’s times like these we realize that a label can be helpful haha. And we start filming a new video clip next week!
Erin: Personally, which form of music does each member prefer? Vinyl, CD, cassette or digtal music? Why?
Mister Fridge: Vinyl for the vintage side.
Edy Caramello: I would like to say vinyl without sounding like a pretentious twat like Mister Fridge, but I do dig this format. It’s a sort of a ceremony when you are playing it. You’re really paying attention to what comes out of the speakers. Now it makes me sound more pretentious than him hahaha! I also still buy a lot of CD’s to support bands I like. I don’t use Spotify, Deezer or any digital platform. If I do it’s for pirating to discover bands, because I don’t have enough money to buy everything I like, but if I really appreciate them, I will buy their music in physical form.
Océ Cheapfret: Vinyl has something magical and sounds alive. Although CD’s are still convenient (more choices,) and cheaper.
Erin: Do you think the internet enhances or destroys the creativity of the mind?
Mister Fridge: For me, it destroys the creativity of the mind. Internet influences us too much.
Edy Caramello: I have a different take on this one. You know if the internet didn’t exist I would probably never had developed an interest in music, especially in punk, because we don’t have access to this music here on radio, in shops, shows, etc. But I get your point that sometimes we spend too much time on it and it can be inhibiting seeing people like a 4 year old little girl playing 1000x times better than you ever will in some YouTube video hah!
Océ Cheapfret: The internet is an open door to the world and a source of inspiration, even more for us islanders. Its content can be a source of inspiration but it also can make you forget your singularity. When you look too much at the others, you forget to live and be yourself.
Erin: What guitars/amps/pedals do you use?
Mister Fridge: Mapex, Zildjian.
Edy Caramello: I use an old telecaster that Océ’s uncle who lives in Lyon gave me few years back. (Thanks Gilles !) I’ve just replaced my first Fender amp I bought in high school with an Orange one but I don’t remember the exact model. I don’t really use pedals except for a tuner and a boost for solos.
Océ Cheapfret: I’m currently using a not well known Canadian brand called Galaxy which was used by Joey Shithead for the last DOA album (last extravagant gift from my friend Edy.) So I couldn’t resist the luxury to play it with a good Orange amp! I haven’t used a pedal since, I just plug in and play!