The Big Interview with Yves Lo Pinto

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The Big Interview with Yves Lo Pinto Empty The Big Interview with Yves Lo Pinto

Post  Sirop14 on Tue Oct 11, 2016 7:38 pm

Today in Seychelles
2 hrs ·
The Big Interview with Yves Lo Pinto
“What is more important for me is the message, not the vector”
TODAY speaks to French journalist Yves Lo Pinto, who was based at Radio Seychelles in the early 1970s and who returned for a short visit last week. He reminisces on the way Seychelles used to be, the influence French radio programmes had on the community and what ministers and artists were up to at the time. He also reflects on how the structure of the family has changed, and weighs in on how all the country's social ills can be traced back to the coup d’état.
S. Marivel
Tell us how you came to work in Seychelles?
I came in April of 1972 as a radio broadcaster. I was 26 years old, and a journalist for various publications and radio stations in France. So there was an agreement between the French government and the Seychelles government of the time and the British government, because Seychelles was not independent then – but still both parties led by Mancham and Albert Rene, agreed at least on one thing and that was that French must be present in Seychelles.
And because of this you were sent to host French radio programmes?
Yes, there was therefore this consensus, and as Radio Seychelles had been a victim of a bomb attack in 1971, they had to start all over again. The airport was to be inaugurated; the Queen was to visit in 1972, so while all this was happening I was selected to be sent over. Why? Because I could speak English and French, because I could do anything on radio and I could write in both languages, and take my own pictures. I was a jack of all trades. Later I learnt that we were six pre-selected journalists – I did not even know I had been chosen out of these! When I got here the welcome was fantastic. I started to work at Radio Seychelles and there were already some French programmes organised by the Alliance Française, I recall one of them was an hour a week of song requests. At the time Radio Seychelles was very underequipped,
I went from having a Ferrari type studio in France to a bicycle type
studio here (laughs). But it was fantastic because it entices you to be creative. So you took the changes in good spirit… Of course! I didn’t want to complain, there is no use. And there were a lot of things to do. There were also fantastic people; Gilbert Confait, who was the launcher and one of the fathers of Seychelles songs. He helped a lot of artists back in the day, like Patrick Victor, like David Philoe, and Douglas Cedras. Actually they were technicians at Radio Seychelles! All the singers, known or unknown, used to come to the station on Saturday mornings. You could have gone there in the morning with your guitar, play your song, record it and it would play on a Sunday afternoon on air! This is how it worked.
What kind of topics did you cover in your various radio programs?
I remember we had “Le Magazine Féminin”, which covered everything from motherhood to cooking. We even had a guy who came to bring the mail each day from the post office – I used to ask him to pass by the market in order to note the price of things such as fish, and vegetables. When he came in, I would immediately get on the air and say things like, “There is octopus for sale, SCR 20 each” and so on. We tried to have a radio of proximity, to keep people informed about things that concerned them. I was also reading books live on air, which was great because people reacted to them by sending in their letters. It was beautiful. Of course I also had interviews with people in Creole, since it’s easier for them and it’s the official language, and then I would reply in French. At the time very few people wanted to speak French because they had to be active. It’s good to have SBC playing a French film or even foreign films but if there are subtitles what’s the point? This is passive. Even if it’s dubbed in French, and
it’s an American film, you are just watching and hearing but you are not speaking.
I wanted it to be active. This means that in one generation the language could be lost. So I insisted on interactive programs. For example in Seychelles College there was a club called “Le Cercle Prévert” named after the French poet Jacques Prévert. People like Maurice Lalanne, Bernard George, Roger Mancienne, Jean François Ferrari, Alain St. Ange, all these guys who were in College at the time, some were 18 and they were part of this club. So I was invited to participate in their poetry afternoons, and record it. Fifteen minutes later, it was on air – it felt almost live! The Alliance Française was filling up the Deepam building – it was not Deepam Cinema back then, it was a building made by the Catholic mission called Salle D’Oeuvre. With these poetry competitions, people from Cascade, Port Glaud, everywhere, would fill the premises. It was a huge thing at the time. The ball organised by Alliance Française for Bastille Day each year was the event of
the year! Everyone looked forward to it; it was fun and simple.
We were also able to do things which seem silly, but were great. There were girls playing hockey and so I asked them to pass by to give the score – because there were no mobiles here at the time, only phones. One would come, give the score and say a few sentences in French and comment on the game, and with that I would also contact the captain of the other team and she would come to give her comments! That’s how it worked! Silly thing but it shows the proximity and the strength we had in radio because we were creative and we were credible.
Do you feel that this has changed over time?
I’m not sure; I lost a bit of contact with this. I was involved in radio in Seychelles from 1972 to 1976. At independence, Mancham asked me to go with him to State House.
Why did you get asked to work in State House?
The government of Seychelles at the time – the coalition, was adamant that the French language should be present here, so I got the job. And also because the French Cooperation had quite a hefty budget for this and it was normal that it was “les retrouvailles” for Seychelles and France without of course putting aside England and its influence. There was a consensus on this as well so I guess that the government of Seychelles preferred to have someone who knew Seychelles rather than to have an expert coming straight from Paris without any knowledge of the local situation. The job was in fact to incorporate Seychelles into La Francophonie. With this, Seychelles participated in numerous African summits. The idea was to build strong links with the Francophonie.
Do you feel that your French programmes on Radio Seychelles helped in building strong links between France and Seychelles?
It’s difficult for me to say but I can only repeat what people tell me – although they may exaggerate. Some people are saying, and please take it as I say it, that the way I was doing things – with simplicity – was a democratisation of French. Because when I was interviewing someone in French, the answer would come in Creole but that didn’t matter to me. I carried on, to make people feel at ease. What is more important for me is the message, not the vector. We are not in a university, this is radio. Here’s a little story to make you laugh, when I was working there was Le Seychellois
– a daily French newspaper, the editor at the time was the father of Betrand Rassool I think. He wrote something that went along the lines of, “Oh finally the beautiful language of Fénelon at Radio
Seychelles.” Fénelon was a Catholic bishop who was the teacher of young Louis XVI, so this dates back. When I heard this, I went to Alliance Française and took out a Fénelon book. Then on the air the next day I addressed this and said that I do not think I speak like Fénelon. I even read an excerpt of his book on air, which of course people found hilarious, then I ended by saying sorry but I speak French from this century! I suppose that “les grand blancs” were not happy with what I was saying. They thought that I was taking the prerogative for French. Some certainly resented the fact that I was popular for using French, thus taking it out of their own hands, like it was theirs. Some of them didn’t want to meet with me, didn’t want me to interview them, and never responded to me when I contacted them. But that does not matter. I knew I was good in a live programme because of the number of times people shouted my name when I was going back home. It was how I polled my listeners, immediately. Back then radio was everywhere and people were listening from 6am to 10pm!
What other programmes did you host on Radio Seychelles?
In the evenings I had something called “Le Magazine de la Jeunesse” for young people. It was very good because every day
there were different things to cover. On Tuesdays for instance it was stories for the children; so I was reading stories, asking children to draw things based upon it, and some of them would actually send their drawings. There was a committee, who selected the best drawings, then we’d get the name of the winner and they would receive a French book. We even did an exhibition of some of those drawings. People who are now in their 50s and 60s could
very well have been the children sending me drawings.
There was also news of course, both national and international, but for the most part I was free to choose what subjects to cover every evening. There was also an English chief, an ex commander from
the navy or army or something like that, I cannot remember. He had a programme about war but it was totally out of context, people were not responding. Certainly he resented me for having a programme that was more popular I suppose. Radio Seychelles was very popular and French programmes were as well so the English tried to compete, but it could not match.
Before the independence we also did a lot of research in the archives, for a program called “Si ma mémoire est bonne” – “if my memory doesn’t fail me” to translate to English. We wanted Seychellois people to remember their way up to independence by remembering or being reminded of events – not only political but also social and cultural, through the media. We read newspapers from the beginning of their existence until the present date, and we found fantastic things! It was Seychellois people who were giving me their voice through this programme. We would say that on 27 September 1925 a certain British man died on the island six months after his arrival, and people would call to guess the name.
Let’s talk about your return to Seychelles. How long have you been away for and what are your observations of how things have changed?
The last time I was here was 11 years ago for the burial of my mother in law. Now I’ve returned just for a visit. There are a lot
of changes in Seychelles; a lot of buildings, a lot of higher buildings, a lot of buildings which are not very nice, and a lot which
are nice of course. There is a lot which prevents people from seeing the ocean but maybe there are too many buildings which
look too much alike. There is also a lack of urbanism.
Could you be more specific?
In a place you have several buildings, all different types, and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. Is that residential or Commercial?
You don’t know. So this means that buildings are sprouting like mushrooms, which is good because there is construction which means that there is a good economy. And if there is a good economy it means that the tuna factory is bringing money into the country and tourism is at its best again. The Seychellois are now conquering the mountains. This is a mountain conquest.
Interestingly, prior to this the mountain was reserved to a certain
extent to the “brown slaves”. Those with a bit of money wanted to be close to the sea. Now it is maybe the other way? That’s the only place to go now. In 1972, together with tourists, the population was
about 62,000 to 65,000. Plane loads were about 200 or 300 at the time so tourists weren’t many. Divide that number by months and you can even calculate the amount of feet on the ground at a time
because people were so few back then (laughs). If you do it now you have 90,000 plus the countless tourists every month – it’s more, much more. You have increased by a third at least, which is tremendous. Another observation is the roads – they are in quite good condition. Before, there was no connection between Anse La Mouche and other Southern roads. In the rainy season it was a problem to get on these roads. I’m also amazed and surprised by
the enormous size of some houses. May I call them castles? There are plenty. Look at the mountains, you’ll see them there. Is there a need? I don’t know.
Are there any other differences that strike you, perhaps even in people’s mentality?
The structure of the family has changed also. It seems for me that before the three generations were sharing a roof. Now, there is quite an increase in number of people living in apartments. On one side, you have huge space and volumes for housing and in others, tiny spaces. That maybe brings that whole point on the distribution
of wealth. I’m very glad to see that prosperity seems to be a common factor in Seychelles. At the same time, I feel that there are still very poor people around. I don’t know the statistics, but I’ve heard Mr. Ramkalawan say that about 40 percent of the population is below the threshold for poverty. For me that seems a bit high. Poverty exists, and there is a divide. Something else I’ve noticed is that people are fat. People are huge! People are drinking a lot, eating a lot. Sure people were drinking before, things like kaloo, beer, or whiskey…
How are those old drinking habits different today?
Everywhere you go, you can buy booze. Back then wine was more mainstream but alcohol was not sold on every corner. Seychellois
also have a sweet tooth, which is why they mostly drank sweet wine. There was this Portuguese wine that was being imported at the time that was quite popular. But that was it! But today people drink a lot, too much I would say, and it is common. There is also a massive drug problem at the moment… Yes, I’ve heard that as well! Simply based on my observations I can tell it’s a big problem.
Why do you think all this has escalated so quickly?
I linked everything with the coup d’état. There was a huge shock and so a lot of people could do nothing except drink or fall into poverty. There are a lot of divorces also, a lot of family break ups. I think that could be some reaction for a sociologist to comment on. I’m surprised that there are no studies done on the community, and it would be good because this is a question of public health.
Drinking is a problem for public health. It means that part of your money will be spent to take care of those people in ten or twenty years. People are taking care of drug addicts now, and focusing on obesity but I think the takeaway syndrome has picked up here too! It didn’t exist before, people liked their little hot thermos of hot beverages and food made from home. They would bring that to work, and it was certainly less expensive. The positive side of the takeaway syndrome is that it brings tourists and locals together.

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