Rémy Kolpa Kopoul was a radio DJ and journalist who had a huge impact on the perception of ‘world’ music, both in his native France and around the globe.
Born in Paris in February, 1949, ‘RKK’ sadly died in Brest earlier this month (May 3). He was 66 years old.
Acknowledged for having been one of Europe’s greatest authorities on Brazilian culture, Rémy Kolpa Kopoul joined Radio Nova in 1992.
RKK presented Les Voyages Improbables with Jean-Francois Bizot, founder of the network, and remained one of Nova’s most distinct voices for the next 23 years.
Kolpa Kopoul was also one the founders of the French newspaper Liberation. He held the title of music specialist at the newspaper from 1975 to 1986.
During his career, RKK discovered and helped many foreign artists to become known in France, including Mayra Andrade and Yuri Buenaventura amongst others.
He organised the European tours of great Brazilian voices such as Caetano Veloso, Joao Gilberto, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil and Joao Bosco.
Under the alias of DJ RKK, he also became a popular club DJ from the ’90s onward, playing big festivals and worldwide stages from China to Canada, Japan and Brazil.
Below, two big RKK fans – British DJ Gilles Peterson and Belgian musician/label owner Marc Hollander – remember Rémy.
The first time I ever met Rémy was at a gig I was DJing at in France, about two hours outside Paris.
It was a community centre-type place that wasn’t much fun. We did a back to back – I’d heard so much about him. His echo was everywhere.
I remember we were backstage waiting to go on. He was already drinking champagne and he’d got a bit of Camembert out and was eating it like a bit of chocolate.
What an eccentric, passionate person.
I don’t think Rémy was a DJ as such at the beginning – he was a journalist, an agitator, connected with all those French thinkers and philosophy.
“Rémy was a wonderful showman with a great look and unique voice.”
In France there seems to be a real connection between philosophy, music and literature – more so than in the UK – which brings together offbeat, creative people.
Radio Nova in Paris – especially Loïc Dury and, of course, Rémy – was a huge inspiration for me when I was younger.
They were presenting music in a way that I’d never heard it done in England – a mix of world music, heritage, rock, jazz. It was a really beautiful way to listen to music.
Ever since that time, Rémy was very generous in feeding me music. Whenever I saw him, he had a pile of records. He was like a plugger!
He’d circle the tracks he thought I’d like on the CDs he gave me, and they were always great picks. So he was the best plugger you could hope for!
Rémy was a quiet activist. He wasn’t an egotist – he didn’t want his name out in big letters. But he was a wonderful showman with a great look and unique voice.
What’s funny is that after all those decades of counter-culture influence, over time he’d started becoming something of a celebrity. He was beginning to have a bigger role and getting across to a whole new generation.
He played my festival a few times and in the end he was the DJ everyone really wanted me to re-book. The crowds loved Rémy.
It’s a real shame he’s gone. People like Rémy are increasingly rare.
I hope he inspires more people to come through in future. I’m sure he will: you just couldn’t help but be inspired by Rémy.
December 1983: We enter this van parked in front of the Rennes university building where we (The Honeymoon Killers and three other Crammed bands) had just played a show on the opening night of the Transmusicales festival. A chubby and cheerful character sits in the van, looking somewhat like a make-believe gangster in a Fassbinder movie. He proceeds to interview us and asks us a ton of humorous questions. It’s Rémy.
September 1999: Zuco 103 invite Rémy to join them onstage for “O Homem da Gravata Florida” (The Man With The Flowered Tie). Not only because he’s supported the band since day one, but also because he’s actually wearing a huge, wildly-coloured tie, which is hanging between his proverbial suspenders.
July 2003: Rémy MCs a show entitled “Copacabaret” at Cabaret Sauvage. This lovely, warm evening was a kind of forerunner of K-Rio-K, the musical he had been dreaming about for almost 30 years, and finally managed to get produced in 2014. For at least three generations of Brazilian musicians, the two most important monuments in Paris are the Olympia (ever since the rising stars of bossa nova played memorable concerts there in the 60s) and… Rémy (lovingly pronounced “hhhhémi!”), who championed and befriended them all for several decades, from João Gilberto to Caetano & Gil to Bebel Gilberto & Cibelle et al.
November 2011: A visit to “Lundi C’est Rémy”, RKK’s weekly evening at Jamel’s Comedy Club, where one of our US folk or African hip hop (or is it SouthAm electronic?) acts is performing tonight. Many brilliant young artists from the four corners of the world got invited by Rémy to play their first French show there. They would always be introduced onstage by an enthusiastic little RKK speech, uttered with his unique voice and inimitable diction.
October 2014: Our last encounter: Rémy invites me to his flat for a “Contrôle Discal”, his program on Radio Nova, for which he originally used to visit his guests’ homes and pretend to perform a compulsory inspection of their record collection (the music equivalent of a “contrôle fiscal”, a tax audit; word play was another RKK trademark).
Lately, he had started to do it the other way around, and would get his guests to inspect his own collection. Much fun was had, that day: Rémy knew and loved so many different styles of music. He was always eager to discover new things, and to broadly share his passions, via the radio, the press, his club nights & DJ sets, and his incomparable knack for connecting people — he quite rightly dubbed himself The Connector (le Connexionneur).
The world of music won’t be quite the same without the endearing, precious, generous Rémy Kolpa Kopoul.