Difficult to paint the portrait of an artist who seems to escape from all the common places to which we have always sought to assign her: the diva of punk yodel, the anti-Heidi, the Haut-Valaisanne with an American soul . A few months ago, we met at her place in the New York countryside another powerful woman, with an unwavering bang: the American composer Carla Bley, for whom Stucky had revisited the opera Escalator over the Hill; Learning that we were Swiss, she immediately asked for news of Stucky and spoke of her immense freedom with the tenderness of a protective mother. Stucky, for many musicians around the world, is not just a name. It is an embassy.
From this life born on a suspension bridge over the Atlantic, we quickly grasped the main lines. Born in 1952 in San Francisco into a mountain family that has grown accustomed to commuting from one continent to another. Stucky’s father is proud that his daughter can sing Dean Martin without an ounce of Germanic accent; Dean Martin, but also the cowboy yodels, we dress him up with a stetson, she wants to become a hoola-hop dancer. It’s the good life, nannies are hippies. At 9 or 10 years old, however, it is the exodus. The family returns to Morel, in Valais, on the Furkastrasse. Stucky sees men in black around a table, who do not pick a word but sometimes launch into Zauerli of intolerable languor.
It’s beautiful because it hurts. Stucky, who comes from the blues, who repatriates the yodels, pretends to make people laugh, she enters her concerts with the din of a metal shovel, she mixes languages, she broadcasts short super-8 films where she plays Muhammad Ali or to the unworthy mother; in reality, she is 200 times a day on the verge of tears and this emotion comes up every time she sings. She studies comedy and singing in Paris, she crosses the world with a vocal ensemble, the Sophisticrats, punk and circus. She meets the composer George Gruntz who puts her in jazz and who sees her as one of the most fascinating artists in the country.
Since 2001 and his first album, Bubbles and Bones, Erika Stucky summons the best American soloists, she is able to convince Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Ray Anderson, a former Tom Waits, Michael Blair, but also an amateur quartet of Schwytzoise sisters who take up first yodels: her shows are DIY blockbusters, with castings in the form of triumphant freak shows, with films in super-8, secondhand costumes. She throws a piece of Britney Spears just after a melancholy of the Alps, without cross stitch, the worlds colliding, a woman whose roots seem to dance in the warming air.
It was clear again last year, when she played the witch of Dido and Aeneas at the Opera de Lyon, in a staging by David Marton. Erika Stucky in snow shovel and Hollywood glasses had invaded the scene of her little mutant body. She was terrified – we had seen her that day. And yet, immediately on stage, she had succeeded in owning an orchestra, soloists, flowerbeds, balconies, firefighters and placers. With this magnetic grace, this voice that always seems to be on the verge of derailment, this anxiety which is a paradoxical force, Erika Stucky builds a career capable of deconstructing pop culture and political identities in the same crazy gesture.
Citizen of the world
At the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, she managed to alienate the Chinese authorities – because she had built a yodel from the “Dalai-laï-laï lama” onomatopoeia – but also Conservative Swiss deputies who found that his youtze was not very clean. Nothing new under the Aletsch glacier: since she landed as a child in the Valais of her ancestors, Stucky is often considered a Sweating, a Swiss from the outside, in short, a metic. And the way she plays with geraniums, old uniforms, traditional songs, is as much a fascination for the exotic as a sophisticated form of cultural appropriation. Erika Stucky feels at home everywhere because she doesn’t belong anywhere. And when she gets up every summer morning to go swimming in Lake Zurich, she looks like a traveler in her own life.
Erika Stucky at the Lyon Opera:
When Erika Stucky was struck by the kind of illegitimacy crisis when she learned that she was winning the Swiss Grand Prize for Music awarded by the Federal Office of Culture, seven years after winning a “small prize” nippers regularly. She didn’t tell anyone about the award, like it was a shameful thing. Even his mother Ruthli should learn it by reading the Walliser messenger. Stucky has no idea how much more prolific the past few years have been than the previous years, how much what was sometimes a quest for the spectacular has matured into an unprecedented artistic gesture. Erika Stucky is unique. That is what we recognize it for.