Soulman // Ben L’Oncle Soul

At times completely oversaturated, the World Wide Web as we know it can be a hectic environment for music, film, etc. It’s a sea of artistic expression, just waiting to be consumed by millions of people across the world. That is why it is so exciting when you come across something good – I mean really good. French singer/songwriter Ben L’Oncle Soul is a perfect example of how the Internet can churn up something great, and we got a chance to speak with the singer about how it all started.

The name Ben, L’Oncle Soul, which means “Ben, the Uncle of Soul,” has been with Benjamin Duterde since High School. “I found my grandfather’s bow tie in a drawer,” he explains. “I wore it to school, and, trust me, in the 90s, it wasn’t cool… at all. My name is Benjamin, so kids began to call me Uncle Ben, like the rice brand.” Duterde started making music, and he changed the childhood nickname into Ben, L’Oncle Soul. He tells us that he discovered singing the way many of us do – in the shower. Duterde then joined a gospel choir and the first song he remembers really sticking with him was an Aretha Franklin tune. After meeting Gabin Lesieur, his keyboardist, the two formed a full band and began writing their own compositions. A true testament to his talent, Ben L’Oncle Soul first started opening for the likes of Raphael Saadiq and India.Arie. “Artists that I loved,” explains Duterde.

When asked to describe his inspiration behind the track “Soulman,” Duterde tells us,  “It’s quite simple: I’m just a Soulman. I couldn’t compare myself to all the great human beings that inspire me and that I mention on that song. I’m just singing soul music, that’s all I got but that’s still something…” The song “Soulman” has been recorded in both French and English, and Duterde describes his use of both languages to be fairly easy, “I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder as much as Serge Gainsbourg. I found my balance between those two languages.” On the subject of inspiration, Duterde mentions Otis Redding first and foremost, but also adds some other heavy hitters to the list; James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Sly Stone, and Donny Hathaway just to name a few. He is deeply inspired by 60s soul, of course, “but also reggae [and] hip hop… and life, too,” he adds, “I get a great deal of [material] by watching and listening to peoples’ stories.”

Ben L’Oncle Soul may make music that is steeped in history and tradition, but he somehow never fails to sound incredibly fresh. As for the future, the band will be coming to North America in June, hitting up Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and ending in Montreal for the Jazz Festival. We’d put our money on Ben L’Oncle Soul for a sure bet this summer… that is, if we were the gambling type.

—Annick Mayer