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World Music Matters

Gérald Toto: Swaying to a slower rhythm

Audio 11:55
French singer Gérald Toto discovered his musical vocation during exams to become a lawyer
French singer Gérald Toto discovered his musical vocation during exams to become a lawyer ©Benoit Peverelli

French singer Gérald Toto's lilting melodies and imaginary language make his music truly universal and deeply comforting. He talks to RFI about his new solo album 'Sway': an invitation to be quiet in the midst of a turbulent universe. And why his girlfriend is a melody.


Gérald Toto made his name in the “Toto Bona Lokua” trio alongside Congolese singer Lokua Kanza and Cameroonian guitarist Richard Bona.

They'd already experimented with an invented language on their eponymous album, the outcome of an improvised session.

Toto takes that language one step further on his solo creation, using vocalisation on several songs rather than identifiable words.

"It’s the expression of the heart," he says, comparing it to a child who has deep feelings but lacks the vocabulary.

Expressing that feeling through an imaginary language is "fantastic, because I can be understood everywhere in the world".

Being kind to yourself

Toto played guitar, bass, percussion on the album, sung all the vocals and wrote, recorded and mixed it in his home studio.

"I made it for myself, because I need it," he says. "And I can see that everybody has the same desire. There’s too much noise outside."

His music provides a counterpoint for the troublesome times we're living through.

"Just to build for one moment a space for us, for yourself, a quiet space, this can be useful."

My girlfriend

Toto's lyrics are as pared down and minimalist as his jazz, blues, bossa nova-infused melodies.

The song My Girlfriend consists of just those two words, repeated again and again as if to express how simple the feeling of being in love can be.

"My girlfriend is actually my girlfriend," he says "but [the song] talks about the way you look at 'the other'. And I think 'the other' is first of all a melody. You have to listen [in order to] understand."

The girlfriend in question is filmmaker and artist Jule Japhet. She co-wrote the song Away Alive on which he sings “feeling all alone even in your home, feeling slightly empty now your dreams are gone”.

"It’s about the search for the true meaning of life," he says adding that many people's response is to "look away" and travel to far-flung places.

"But then you can realise that the answer is in your heart, the travel is in your heart, inside yourself."

The Away Alive video shows Toto wandering through the desert in Tunisia.

"It’s an allegory of this search for the meaning of life. The desert is like an open space in your heart. But first of all you’re lost. And then finally you can find all the answers. But you have to take [to] the road."

Sway invites us to go on that musical journey, in the hope we might live more contentedly at home.

Gérald Toto's feel-good tracks: Harvest by Neil Young, Get It On by Marvin Gaye

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