“Don’t go home,” Peter One pleads gently during “Birds Go Die Out of Sight,” the final track on his new album, Come Back To Me. “There’s nothing for you there.” In a literal sense, the singer-songwriter, who began his life in Cote d’Ivoire and has called Nashville home for roughly the last decade, is recounting his worry for a friend who was determined to travel back to their shared West African homeland while it was embroiled in violent civil war. But the wise and nimble way that WNXP’s Artist of the Month depicts movement, yearning and sonic connections that span great distances in this easeful shuffle is also a reflection of how he’s mapped his own musical journey.
Between his small-town youth and his college days at University of Abidjan, Peter One collected sounds that spoke to him, made by troubadours from neighboring nations (Cameroon’s Eboa Lotin, Benin’s G.G. Vickey), by star performers of French Chanson (Claude François, Mike Grant), by American architects of R&B catharsis (Wilson Pickett, James Brown) and by those beloved for bringing postmodern sophistication to folk-rock and a mellow, contemporary touch to country (Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Don Williams). One was drawing his own connections, creating his own sense of lineage, not based on the logic of genre, but on discerning how musical ideas had moved across the entire African diaspora, through regional tradition, forced migration, contact with European colonizers and exported American innovation.
“When I heard ‘The Boxer’ the first time,” One recounted to me in an interview, “It did touch me right there.” He patted his hand on his chest. “Why did it touch me? I’d heard some African musicians who were playing this kind of music, natural music with guitar and vocal vocal harmony, so that was my preference before I even heard a song from Simon & Garfunkel. There’s probably something deep inside myself, my own inner nature, that has a preference for this kind of stuff, you know?”
One began his career in the mid-1980s as part of a duo with fellow singer-songwriter Jess Sah Bi, playing to huge African crowds and releasing an album, Our Garden Needs Its Flowers. After One moved to the U.S. in search of recording resources, industry expertise and opportunity, he embarked on a whole new career, nursing, to sustain himself and his family and kept making music privately. Now, he’s finally reentered the spotlight with his new collection of songs, understated works of longing, melancholy and boundless wonder sung in three languages and framed in polyrhythmic Afropop syncopation, rustling folk-country accompaniment and other styles that suit his reedy rumination. To illuminate the origins of his inspiration, Peter One made this playlist for WNXP: “Here are a few artists that influenced me during my first attempt at music, and continue to do so to this day.”