Discophilia Belgica: visiting disco king Artibano

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'Discophilia Belgica' is a wonderful collection of next-door-disco and local spacemusic from Belgium made between 1975 and 1987. It was released last week on SDBAN records and dives into a collection of Belgian music that before today was rather undiscovered.

A special mention should go to the uncrowned king of next-door-disco: Artibano Benedetto. The Belgo-Italian is responsible for hundreds of 45 rpm singles released in the seventies and eighties, as an artist with his band I Dragoni but mostly as a producer for his own label Artibano. The result is to be discovered on Discophilia Belgica: the soul-singing Dan Davis, the outrageous synthesized bagpipe discofest The Diskery, the spaced out Holger Czukay-esque Rayon Laser and the Arabian sleeze of Alabibi. Oh yes, Benedetto is still very much at it. His DIY ethic to music is the embodiment of next door disco and provincial space music. We pay him a visit at home in La Louvière, Discophilia Belgica compiler Gerd de Wilde joined us for the trip.

Artibano swings the door open for us with great welcoming style. Before we know it we are chewing on some fine Walloon charcuterie and drinking a delicious wine, while listening to the enthusiastic stories of the 68-years old. After a first stop in Artibano’s office, we take two boxes with 285 singles into the living room. As excited as a digger can get, Gerd starts browsing through them, realising that there might even be more pearls to be unearthed. But we aren’t in La Louvière to make a brand new compilation, we are here to talk about the one that was just released.

How do you feel about your work being part of this compilation Artibano?

“I’m very pleased, it gives me a shot of youth. Everybody has great treasures from when they were young, so I’m happy to be able to look back at mine.”

When did you start making music?

“I was ten years old when my father gave me an accordion. He had always wanted to play it himself, but his parents hadn’t been able to give him one when he was young. I got hooked pretty quickly and when I was 16 years old I tried to release a 45 rpm single with my band I Dragoni, but it never saw the light of the day due to a fraud. It took me a few years to get the money back, but it didn’t stop me. On the contrary, it sparked my artistic creativity and made me realise I wanted to do better then the label that hadn’t been able to release my music.

In september 1974 I started my own record company called Artibano, I was 22 years old. I released the first single of an artist called Carmelo, he was also part of I Dragoni. This was my biggest talent: looking for musicians and singers, composing songs and making sure they could record a track and release it on a 45 rpm single.

Not much later we finally released the first I Dragoni single. We became famous in Belgium and in Italy, where everybody thought we were Italian. That’s why we also released a few singles in Italy. It’s not a coincidence. I was born in Belgium but conceived in Italy. Both my parents were Italian and migrated just after making me. I still go often to Italy for holidays.” 

How did you run your record company?

“I worked 28 hours a day. For every single I pressed 1000 copies. We weren’t a major, but we were stable. I had a studio in La Louvière, in the back of a music instruments store. We invited artists to come and record there.

I wanted to stay independent and turned down many proposals from record companies who wanted to buy the rights of a song, mostly because their offer was too low to me. They wanted the full rights for little money, which I think was a disgrace.

In the eighties I started SIPEM (Société Internationale Producteurs Editeurs de Musique). These were vinyl and cd compilations that I sent to plenty of record companies in Europe. The idea was to promote music to be released in other countries and languages. This was quite new, before we were sending out 45 rpm singles. With the compilations I wanted to join forces with other artists in order to reach more people with less costs.” 

You were the first to release music by Jo Lemaire. How did this happen?

“I was in 1978 that Philippe Depireux contacted me, a very talented drummer and at the time the partner of Jo Lemaire. He had heard from me and my label through other musicians. We became friends and that’s how I ended up releasing the two first singles of 'Jo Lemaire + Flouze’, the band that Jo and Philippe were in. We parted ways after, but I’m proud to be the first one to have released the beautiful voice of Jo.”

The Discophilia Belgica compilation has several songs from your label. Could you tell us a bit more about these artists?

Dan Davis or his real name Rose Louis Noël is a singer from Charleroi that I knew and liked so I took him into our studio were we recorded on eight tracks. We took the recording to Brussels where we transferred everything on sixteen tracks to add the violins. The single was quite successful mostly in Wallonia and Dan Davis played many clubs and dance parties. Afterwards we recorded an Italian version of this track with my band I Dragoni.

System Love is a project by Marc Mayan from Tournai. He was a producer, he didn’t play live.

Rayon laser is an artist I released on Playa Records, one of my sublabels. His real name was Vincent Algeri. He was incredible, he invented the reverse drums who sound super nice on this record. Today it’s easy to reverse things with a computer, but back in the days you had to reverse the tape by hand, it was a revolutionary idea.

The Diskery was a project by us. We did it in the studio, just for fun, in collaboration with a record store called The Diskery in Manage, close to La Louvière. He took 300 singles and we sold the rest. The A-side of the single was a cover of Mirza, a track by Nino Ferrer. The B-side was Star, the track that made it to the compilation.“

Do you still make music today?

"Yes, I’m still very occupied with music. I still release cd’s with my own music as Artibano. I also have a project called ‘Casting Par Email’ where a singer can record his own video of a song in our studio and another project called ‘Music Sans Frontières’ where I offer music for video.

We end the evening by listening to a few singles Gerd discovers in the archives of Artibano. Artibano sends us home with plenty of goodies and records and most of all memories of his unique optimism and energy. No doubt we will hear again from Artibano, in one way or another."