The phone rang and there on the other end of the line was Madonna Louise Ciccone. The biggest pop star on the planet had fallen in love with Boom Boom Bâ, the new single by Cork- Côte d'Ivoire duo Métisse. She knew nothing about the song or the band but of one thing she was certain. She wanted it on the soundtrack to her new movie. With that, an army of assistants had scrambled to track down Métisse to the not-quite-pop-hotbed of Fountainstown, 23 kilometres south of Cork city.
“She said she loved what we were doing,” recalls David 'Skully' Sullivan, the Cork-born component of Métisse. “And then it went on the soundtrack to the Next Best Thing, which went to number one in America.”
Boom Boom Bâ is that rare entry in Cork music’s hall of fame – a transcendent pop song that has taken on a life of its own. Arriving at the tail end of trip-hop in 1999 and sung in the West African language of Agni, it created an instant sensation. As did the partnership of producer Skully and vocalist Aïda Bredou.
They’d met in the mid-Nineties in Toulouse, where Skully had relocated to teach English after his rock career in Ireland had sputtered out. One night he saw Bredou fronting a Caribbean cabaret act and was transfixed.
They became a couple on and off stage and, moving to Cork, enrolled in a Partnership Scheme through which they could claim social welfare and set up their own business. As Métisse – French for “mixture” – they were soon in the middle of a record label bidding war.
“It was hype,” says Skully. “We used to leave our house in Cork and be flown first class to London. We’d walk out of the airport. A limousine was waiting at security. And nobody knew who we were.” Métisse may have gone beneath the radar. But Boom Boom Bâ became a bone fide hit. Madonna adored it, as did radio stations and advertising agencies across the Continent. It featured in marketing campaigns in France and Italy and on TV shows such as Dead Like Me. Here is the story of how it came to pass.
Skully’s involvement in Cork music goes back to 1976, when he started post-punk three-piece Real Mayonnaize. They materialised in a cloud of guitars and attitude, before taking up synths. He continued with that electro sensibility through the Eighties with Chapter House.
This was a transitional time for rock music in the city. A scene, led by bands such as the Belsonic Sound and future Sultan of Ping Morty McCarthy’s early group The 3355409s, had coalesced around Elm Tree Studios on the Mardyke (the latter also featurng Skully’s old Real Mayonnaize bandmate Jerry Buckley). Skully, however, was regarded as by far the most ambitious.
“I heard Real Mayonnaize on Capital Radio, the pirate station,” recalls Gerald O’Leary, founder of the Elm Tree and future Métisse manager. “Luke Ward was the DJ. I called him up when it was still on air to find out who it was."
After Real Mayonnaize, Skully achieved further local acclaim with the aforementioned Chapter House, featuring the Kate Bush-esque vocals of Ann Redmond, previously of Porcelyn Tears.
“The way the industry worked was that you went in and begged a record label to sign you,” he laughs. “And the record company said, ‘yeah…we’ll give you £100,000, here you go”. I never mastered that because I never go that record deal. Chapter House kept hitting the brick wall.
With Métisse, the reaction from labels was precisely the opposite. “Sony were phoning saying ‘hey guys this is interesting…we want to sign you’,” says Skully. “That had never happened before”.
“Until then we were the ones chasing the record companies,” says O’Leary. “All of a sudden it was the other way around. I remember the three of us being flown to Paris by a label we hadn’t even signed to. The plane tickets must have cost over three grand. It was insane.” “We used to live all that glamour,” says Bredou. “And then come back to our simple life in West Cork, in our little car that couldn’t go further than 60km.”.
Skully and O’Leary had been around the block, though, and didn’t mistake the hype for reality. “We were cynical,” says O’Leary. “We weren’t native kids who were starstruck.” There were some setbacks. Their debut album was delayed two years after they signed with a small UK label, which lavished £250,000 on the record in 1997 but then declined to release it. Having negotiated their way out of that contract, they signed a publishing deal with Sony.
“We had the first digital studio in Ireland,” says Skully. “Today, a studio is an iPad. In those days, a digital studio arrived in a lorry. What it allowed us to do was make a very intimate recording. We were able to get the best out of Aïda’s voice. We are at home by the fire. She was comfortable.
Boom Boom Bâ sounds effortless but its creation was a painstaking process. “It started with African vocals,” says Skully. “Aïda is heavily influenced by her grandmother and her life back in the Ivory Coast.” Deciding the song required strings the duo went to London, recording at Richard Branson’s Townhouse Studio in Shepherd’s Bush and Metropolis in Chiswick (where Mark Ronson would later make Back to Black with Amy Winehouse.
”In London, they said we needed a second verse,” says Skully. “And so Aïda sat in the sun in London and wrote one…” “Boom Boom Bâ is my heart beating for the children of the world,” says Bredou, today based in Baltimore in West Cork. “'Bâ’ means child in my father’s tongue of Agni.
“I used to give dance classes in Toulouse to kids from four-years-old upward,” she continues. “I loved every moment of it. I love them all and I have the patience for all of them. They were a pleasure to be with. I still have some of the ones from Toulouse that are mothers themselves now and have been finding me via social media and got back in contact with me. That is really touching.”
Bredou and Skully released two albums, My Fault in 2000, and Nomah’s Land in 2007. They would also have a son, Nomah (today a musician and photographer). The pair eventually went their separate ways as a couple but continue to work together as Métisse.
A documentary about Métisse, A World Of Our Own, is in the works, directed by writer and journalist Mark McAvoy (author of Cork Rock). And a new album – which started life as the soundtrack to underwater film Black Coral – is on the way. They also receive millions of hits on Spotify (“we get about 60 dollars”).
“It’s just starting to happen again,” says Skully. “We have the documentary. Recently 2FM’s Dan Hegarty put us on his list of the top debut Irish albums of all time. Things like that come out of the blue constantly.”
Yet even as they continue to look to the future they are aware, too, that Boom Boom Bâ was a special moment. “It is the perfect mix between Aïda and I – African vocals with electronics and piano,” says Skully. “It was colossal.”