One day, five musical friends left Mauritius and set off for China, intending to stay for only a short while. That was in 2005.

Finding many open doors of opportunity in Shanghai, they pursued work as session musicians and appeared on the stage with various bands, performing popular cover songs to please the crowds. Yet, they would keep coming back together simply to play the beloved music of their Mauritian homeland so far away.

For seven years, while these friends pursued musical opportunities in China, they also explored their musical talents and played together mostly just for fun. At one point, they released a CD of Reggae covers. Then, in 2011, they decided to take a serious stab at forming their own band. They started writing original songs and arrangements, matured into a cohesive group and chose a name that announced their arrival on the music scene: Noukilla.

Here We Are!

noukillaNoukilla–meaning “Here we are!”–is Gilbert Kuppusami (vocals & percussion), Alain Couronne (bass), Yan Boodhoo (drums), Macleen Rangasamy (guitar ) and Giovani Chaton (keyboard). Each of the band members was raised in a family that valued music. Gilbert says his dad was one of the first to introduce Bob Marley’s music to Mauritius. All of the band members began playing music as children, starting off on simple, home made instruments such as drums made of carton boxes and milk pot tin covers, or a guitar fashioned from a sardines can affixed with a strip of wood with nylon strings. The exception was Giovani: he first studied to become an engineer, was graduated and only then changed his mind to pursue a dream to become a musician.

Some years back, a club in Shanghai organized a “Mauritian Night” in honor of Gilbert’s birthday. Gilbert and his friends celebrated by playing Séga and Séggae music, which was so well received that the group was subsequently booked for a large music festival, despite having no original music nor even an official band name!

A Unique Blend of Music

Integrating into Chinese culture was easy for these Mauritians, since they already hail from mixed cultures including African, Indian, British and French; plus, some band members have Chinese relatives.

Contributing talents and perspectives from various ethnicities, Noukilla has coalesced a style of music that is heard nowhere else. It’s a fresh fusion of traditional Séga music intertwined with influences of Reggae, jazz, rap, funk, Chinese vibes and even old European styles like polkas and waltzes. Imagine Steely Dan melded with Bob Marley, or driving electric guitars reminiscent of ‘80s big hair rock bands punctuated with drums pulsing an African beat. Employing a collage of languages is another signature of Noukilla’s musical mixture, embracing Creole, French and English to complement in words the blended musical style unique to this band. Noukilla’s true genre is difficult to pin down, since musical styles are mixed and matched even within individual songs, resulting in a tossed-salad amalgam of music that very pleasantly works.

Musical influences on the band members include Phil Collins, George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Richard Bona, Stevie Wonder, Michel Camilo, Level 42, Bobby McFerrin, the Yellow Jackets and others, including most of the members’ own fathers, who originally taught their sons to play instruments.

Noukilla might best be described as “a little bit of sunshine on stage.” As keyboardist Giovani notes, “Soleil is my favorite song because this song is all about sunshine and happiness and just puts you in a good mood.”

Personal Favorites

Each band member has favorite songs for varying reasons, but these choices all seem to hinge upon the stories the songs tell. Most of the lyrics are observations about everyday life. Both Gilbert and Alain name as their favorite, Laissle Vive; a song written specifically for Alain’s sister. Both Alain and Gilbert were privy to the story that was unfolding in this woman’s life, making the connection very personal. Yet, the resonating message of the song itself is dedicated to women worldwide who aren’t respected in their relationships.

Sekiriter la Vie is Macleen’s favorite because of its lyrics, and Yan’s favorite is Shame on Humanity, a catchy tune of hopeful optimism that features smooth jazz harmonies. And yet, it’s again the words that put this song at the top of Yan’s list, with lyrics that encourage respect and love for one another:

…A smile from your heart could bring happiness…

If you do not have respect, what a shame, my brother

The world is full of hate

If we send you a friendly smile, happiness will fly around

And you can also fly around — let’s share a friendly smile

and the repeated refrain:

If every man can give some love, happiness will smile back to you, my brother/sister

Noukilla has performed at clubs and numerous festivals, including the JZ Festival in Shanghai (China’s largest jazz festival), the Shanghai Art & Folk Festival, the World Music Festival Shanghai, the French Fête de la Musique and Shanghai’s WorldExpo 2010. The band has also performed for the embassy of Mauritius in Beijing.

What’s Next for Noukilla

Although China has been their mainstay location, the band members hope to bring Noukilla to other countries. Noukilla has not yet hit the small screen of television, nor are Noukilla songs heard on the radio as yet. But it likely won’t be long now: Noukilla is currently creating its first album. Wilson Chen is joining the regular members as a guest saxophone/EWI performer on the work, due for release at the end of this year.

The musicians are also putting together Sega/Seggae workshops to present at schools and universities. They confess that they still feel nervousness before performing, but direct that energy into the show. To musicians just starting out with performing, they counsel, “Always trust the reason why you are there and why you wanted it; go with the flow,” and, “Take it easy; once you start playing, it will be fine.”

As in its songs, Noukilla’s message of optimism and encouragement rings through.