Ia ora na Silvio! Can you start by introducing yourself?
Ia ora na! My name is Silvio Roy Cicero, I am 29 years old and I am an author, composer and singer. I am also a guitar teacher, I have my school where I teach the learning of this instrument to my students. My first name is of Italian origin because my father is Sicilian. My mother is Vietnamese, which makes me a "demi"! But not a “half” as we are used to hearing it here because I don't have a single drop of Polynesian. All my family, including my parents, grew up in France in Montpellier, they were immigrants. Then they moved to the United States, where I was born. I arrived in Polynesia at the age of 3, which makes me a cosmopolitan person!
I grew up on the island of Moorea, where I lived all my early childhood, then I came to Tahiti for studies. I am not Polynesian and I will never feel Polynesian like a real Polynesian. But for all that, I consider myself a Tahitian by culture.
How did this taste for music come about?
It all started for me with the guitar when I was a child, around the age of 12. I started playing the guitar thanks to my mother, who wanted me and my sister to play an instrument. A friend of the family gave me lessons regularly. At that time, it was not necessarily a revelation but it was also my only occupation (along with table tennis!). I persevered and when I was 16, I took part in a competition called “Tahiti Espoir Guitar”. It had taken on a lot of importance in the territory because it was covered in the media, we were on television every day… It was a big thing! I won this competition and I had the opportunity to make the front page of La Dépêche de Tahiti the next day, it was great for me at the time. This experience motivated me a lot to make music my profession.
Actually, I'm more of a guitar teacher than an artist. I compose my songs and I write for others too. At first I wanted to be the best guitarist in the world but then I realized that it wasn't worth it, from my point of view! Because the general public has little interest in instrumental music, people mostly expect you to sing. It's not popular manners to only appreciate an instrumental guitarist, unless he plays music by Michael Jackson, learned by heart… Having understood that, I started to sing but quite late, at the age only 19 years old. About the same time I started writing: I then released my first song, a zouk love, when I was 23 years old. Then my style evolved: I did reggae, variety (in Tahitian, French and English)… But it was when I started to sing in Tahitian that I became known here. However, it's not my first instinct since I don't even speak the language and I'm not Tahitian by blood. It's a bit of a sham, but I do it because Polynesia is well anchored in my life: I live here, I'm with a Polynesian and I have 2 children who are "half" Polynesians.
And today'today I'm more into country. The few country songs that I released here were very appreciated by the Polynesians. I had a small audience and I'm happy to be able to offer Polynesians a different sound from what they are used to hearing.
Can you tell us about your attraction to country music?
It's a musical style that I really appreciate because what's really respectable in country music is that real instruments are used: drums, bass… So it has a particular sound! We don't use programmed drums for example - which I don't criticize either because it's sometimes necessary in songs and it works. Country also represents values: those of marriage, family, religion… worn by most famous country singers. Finally it's not only a musical style, it's a movement.
Besides, one of my goals was to bring country music here, to Tahiti. For that I released 2 years ago the title “Here Faito Ore”, which made me known a little here. I think the Polynesian likes country, although he doesn't necessarily know it yet. My goal is to bring it here, because Polynesians are fascinated by America! While in France it's quite the opposite, the country has almost a pejorative connotation, wrongly!
What are your sources of inspiration when you compose?
They are many! It can be a wish, an ideal, an idea or even a personal experience or that of a loved one… When you write a song, it's a bit like doing a puzzle: you're solving a problem, you're doing DIY. Inspiration doesn't just come! It's a laborious process because you have to be able to sit down, let go of everyday worries and use your creativity - which I consider a muscle. In my opinion, it takes willpower. Personally, I have periods when I write a lot, others when it's total nothingness. When on the side you have a lot of things to do in terms of business, family etc… It's difficult to write. But when you write a song, you have to take advantage of this energy to write a second, then a third...
And there are also unfinished songs: it's easy to start a song but to finish it is more complicated! It's a chore. I work by objectives for the year: I establish a schedule for the release of songs that I must respect.
Do you encounter difficulties when composing?
Yes because today'today what is difficult in the'composition exercise c'is having to write different songs each time. Your songs must not be too similar, both in the text and in the musical composition.
And the other difficulty is not to produce music that already exists, because everything has already been invented in the end. It is not obvious to'invent a new melody, you have to check that it doesn't'does not yet exist. In fact, all songwriters are mixing their musical influences. We are the product of everything we listen to. Especially since there are codes, rules and structures to respect when you make music - and you want to play your songs on the radio for example. Otherwise if you absolutely want to innovate and stay in your corner, unfortunately only your family will listen to you. Always rely on references, but not copy them.
Do you also play the ukulele?
Yes, I actually first started learning to play the ukulele before taking up the guitar. I don't think I'm the only one in this case. The ukulele is 3 times easier than the guitar: with this little instrument, in a day of practice you can already make one or more chords that sound good! It's not the same as the guitar… [laughs]. Moreover, the sound of the ukulele transports you directly to the islands, to Hawaii… It's a beautiful instrument but not as rich as the guitar, which is more complex and has more possibilities. The sound is more complete, you can play all styles on the guitar.
Do you advise your students to start learning the ukulele when they start?
I recommend this instrument to children under 10, in case parents are in a hurry to teach them an instrument. Otherwise, I advise them to wait a bit before starting to learn the guitar. It is an instrument well suited to children, and to adults who wish to learn an instrument that is easy.
Thank you Silvio for this exchange! Finally, what are your plans for the future?
L'next year, in April 2022, I plan to'go to Paris to try to reach a wider audience. I'm happy to be in Tahiti and to be able to offer my music to Polynesians, but my wish would really be to go to France. With my manager, I plan to tour the major labels to present my titles in French, in a country style. I have at heart to offer French country, something that there is not yet in France I think. I'm also planning a Christmas title in Tahitian, which I'm going to release soon.
Otherwise, from next January, I will also give ukulele lessons. And then soon, I will open my music store which will be called “Cicero Guitar Shop”. I will sell folk and classical guitars, ukuleles… right in the center of Papeete! Māuruuru Upa Upa Tahiti for this interview.