Mathieu Delobel, or the adventures of a reggaeman monk

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

From rebellious childhood to immersion in African life, the beginning of Mathieu Delobel's career is already atypical. It was in Burkina Faso that he wrote his first song, under the impetus of singer Tiken Jah Fakoly. Back in France with reggae in his head, the young man from Var had an unexpected encounter with the Venerable Nyanadharo. Distraught, Mathieu becomes a forest monk. At the Bodhinyarama monastery in Tournon-sur-Rhône, he reinterprets a prayer in Pali to a reggae tune. A song that will travel to the royal monastery of Thailand. Returning to secular life, he continues today to work on his mind, while plunging back into his musical projects.

Sitting on a wooden garden chair, under a laurel caressing the wall, Mathieu Delobel observes the courtyard of the church on the other side of the fence. The Chicago Bulls' red bull with white horns is ubiquitous on his cap. In the gentle warmth that envelops the terrace, the young man recalls his childhood. “While I had a rather violent character, I came across a book by the Dalai Lama at the age of 12. I liked it, because rather than a belief in an afterlife, it was oriented towards self-knowledge. But over the years, Mathieu was unable to completely adhere to the Vajrayana teaching. “It spoke a lot of compassion when I was more angry and rebellious,” recalls the young man, who left school at 16.

The marabouts and the reggae star

He finds in music a way to escape. "With my brother, we played the djembe on the beach or in the woods," he says, imitating the beat of the percussion with his hands. A passion that becomes a vocation in Africa, during an immersion of several months in Burkina Faso. Every Friday, the young man from Var puts on the boubou and goes to the mosque. In the village, Mathieu fetches water from the well, meets marabouts... Until the day a friend tells him about a reggae concert planned in the capital, Ouagadougou, with the Ivorian Tiken Jah Fakoly headlining . "I couldn't miss it," asserts the young man, before pausing. “The concert took place in an electric atmosphere. I absolutely wanted to meet Tiken. »

When he received him in Bamako shortly after, the singer offered him to make a model with his former Burkinabe sound engineer. It was there, back in Ouagadougou, that the young man came across reggaeman Jah Verity. “He asked me to record with him. “This episode allows him to return to France with his first piece and his first texts, “inspired by my experience as a white man in Africa”.

“Venerable Nyanadharo has asked us to rethink our lives. I saw myself in college, different from the others. And the master told me: “Above all, don't think that you are not like the others”. As if he had read my head. »

Wishing to work on his voice, Mathieu approaches the former Belgian tenor Serge Wilfart, who trains him in his method. "He led me to channel and release the tensions of my body through breathing, returning to my center," he explains, pointing to his navel. This meeting founded his initiatory and spiritual path, in parallel with that of his brother, Arnaud. Facing Mathieu, on the other side of the terrace, a rhododendron resembling a bonsai winks at the latter, who has gone to live for a year with the monks of the forest, in Thailand.

From revelation to Tournon's hymn

A few years after his return to France, Arnaud goes to Tournon-sur-Rhône and asks Mathieu to join him for the anniversary of the monastery. Bodhinyarama. The young man arrives with his dreadlocks, far from the bald ideal of Buddhist monks. “One morning, the Venerable invites us to his room. I remember seeing him inflexible, in a meditation posture. He launched us into breathing exercises quite similar to those of Serge Wilfart, ”recalls the musician.

The church bell rings the half hour, bringing back his memories to a moving moment: “The master asked us to rethink our life. I saw myself in college, different from the others. And the master told me: “Above all, don't think that you are not like the others”. As if he had read my head. Back in my room, I started crying. He was the person I had been looking for all my life.

For the 35th anniversary of the monastery, Mathieu shaves his dreadlocks and becomes a monk. The master asks him to memorize a long prayer in Pali. A task with school smacks that repels the young man. But one evening, he decides to hum the prayer to a reggae tune, accompanied on the guitar by a young Asian novice. In one day, he finally manages to memorize it. “I took up this song in Belgium, at the royal monastery of Thailand, in Sweden… The Venerable now considers my song as the anthem of the monastery of Tournon”, exclaims the young man.

Phenomenon, consciousness in rhythm

After two years in the orbit of the monks of the forest, Mathieu rediscovered secular life and the seasons by the sea. my inner tensions. So I decided to permanently cut myself off from my past. For three months, he left to train in yoga in India. In the evening, he meditates while watching bodies burn on the banks of a dry river. “Fully aware that nothing is eternal, I understood that I already had a wealth of lessons, and that it was now up to me to move on. »

Since 2016, the two brothers have been staying regularly at the monastery of Tournon, where they help with logistics and reception. At the same time, Mathieu revives in music. In 2019, he began recording in the studio in Canada to "try out new sounds". Back in France, he finds a guitarist friend and his brother, a sound engineer.

Together, they finalize two pieces. The first, It's over, resumes a prayer of thanks in Pali. On his smartphone, the young man launches the piece of Phenomen – his artist name, a reference to the globality of phenomena. The voice of Venerable Nyanadharo launches, on a few syllables, a rhythmic, meditative and sunny journey, covering the song of the gulls in the courtyard.

"The other piece, Babylonian, evokes Africa. Mathieu plans to return to this continent to work on new songs. Before confiding in us: “Some are already ready. And a new revisited pali prayer should be finalized shortly. »

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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