IFOA: What inspired you to write The Greats?
Sylvain Prudhomme: For two years, I lived in Ziguinchor, in the south of Senegal, very close to the border of Guinea Bissau. The music of Super mama Djombo Orchestra, an old famous band from Bissau, was my daily companion there. I started to love Bissau, the capital city of the country, and the creole language spoken by the Guineans.
I was impressed by the glorious anti-colonialist history of the country (ten years of Guerrilla to get free from the Portuguese). I realized that what I liked in Super Mama Djombo’s music was precisely the echo of this glorious past: a very special and moving mix of vitality, proudness and melancholy, quite similar to the capverdian «saudade».
Prudhomme: I decided to investigate the ex-members of the Super Mama Djombo band: one of them, the guitarist Serifo Banora, in Ziguinchor, became a very good friend of mine. I then met other members in Bissau, Paris and Lisbon. I learned a lot about the history of the band.
I then started to write a mix of documentary and fiction – a fictive evening showing those musicians today, some in Africa, and others in Europe, sometimes fallen into oblivion, but all of them still incredibly talented and strong. I wanted a novel about time passing by, and about how some men and women managed to face it without losing any part of their panache and gracefulness.
IFOA: Who would you cast as your protagonist if this was a movie?
Prudhomme: One of the ex-members of the band, no doubt. Malan Mané, the former singer of the band, would be perfect. Or Serifo Banora, one of the main guitar players of the band. Both of them are hugely charismatic, they are used to the stage, full of humour and elegance. They still play and sing Mama Djombo’s music very well.
IFOA: What are you working on right now?
Prudhomme: The story of a man who has a nice family, a good job, but slowly destroys and loses all of it. He can’t help leaving home to hit the road and meet new people, and he finally gets to a point where he can no longer go back. A tale about the infinite number of lives we could live and the difficulty to admit that we have only one.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Prudhomme: A novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, El coronel no tiene quien lo escribe (No One Writes to the Colonel). And a wonderful novel by the Italian writer Marco Lodoli, Vapore.
Sylvain Prudhomme is one of the most exciting contemporary novelists in France. He has been steadily gaining in recognition and popularity over the past three years. In 2015, he was awarded the prestigious Prix de la Porte Dorée for his novel Les grands, which also won the Prix Georges-Brassens in 2014. Les Grandes was widely celebrated as one of 2014’s best books of the new literary season.