French-born Antillian composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Gérald Toto's new album Sway (released via French label Nø Førmat) is a transformative and calming listening experience through which this super talented multi-instrumentalist (he plays guitar, bass, percussion and mixes) takes us on a new divergent path from his former work with with the pan-African trio Toto Bona Lokua in 2004 and Lokua Kanza and Richard Bona on the album Bondeko last year.

Gérald has long been an intrinsic part of the French underground as a pioneering world music creator producing experimental albums, alongside working with artists as diverse as the Algerian rai singer Faudel, Parisian's Nouvelle Vague and the Middle Eastern electro futurists Smadj.

Fusing a range of musical genres with his new nuanced solo record Sway, Gérald's invented his own 'invented heart language' to provide a resonant multi-dimensional musical experience. I asked this self-proclaimed 'mad scientist of sound' some questions and he eloquently and charmingly, between bouts of laughter, told me about walking out on law exams, comparisons, creative processes, and Haikus. It's certainly as easy to get swept up in Géralds descriptions as it is in the stunning songs themselves. Enjoy the journey...

Sway fuses together so many genres of music. Can you tell me about your musical influences?

I do not have any limits in terms of genre in music in general. I just follow my feeling. It’s about music touching me or not, wherever it comes from. About my musical influence, I don’t think about it, I just do. There are many, many possible guesses (laughs). I would have to fully introspect to dig up some answers here. (laughs) I can say: Jazz, Folk music. Northern American music. English Pop. Carribean and African music; north African music included. I am trying to give you something here, but… (laughs shyly)

You spent your student loan on a recording studio so you must have really known that music is your calling?

Yes (laughs softly) It was so clear and I even got further confirmation of this calling while being tested for Law School at Uni. At some point, in the middle of the exam, I stood up and left because I had this sound in my head and it requested me to go home on the spot and to record it. I guess by then, I knew.

You worked with Richard Bona and Lokua Kanza on Bondeko. How was it working solo and how was the studio experience recording this record different from Bondeko?

Bondeko is a collaborative creation for which we, the 3 of us, shared our offers, our ideas with each other and through this joyful and constant movement, we highlighted the gateways between us, the areas where we enter into resonance, what connects us. In my solo work, I clear my soul, like you would a forest, so the path finds me. It's something else. I have there, for once, no limit both artistic and cultural. Also, in terms of time: Bondeko was just 5 days in a studio while Sway was 2 months in my home studio. Immersed. It’s a different temporality.

But you weren't completely alone. Which artists feature on Sway?

I’ve recorded and played all the instruments on my own and sung all the voices, then I produced it in terms of sound: premixes, arrangements, etc… There are two tracks featuring lyrics by two carefully handpicked music composers and producers, Alice Orpheus for 'Let It Blow' and Jule Japhet for 'Away Alive'.

When Bondeko came out, the reviewer, Neil Spencer, likened you to “an African Crosby, Stills and Nash.” How do you feel about that and comparisons in general?

Wow! Really, it’s a great honour to be compared to these kind of high figures of music. I am a big fan of these artists. Sincerely though, the thing connecting Richard, Lokua and myself is the pleasure, the excitement to work on vocal arrangements. I guess it gives our work pure strength. I understand the necessity to compare, to build networks or help the listeners in their quest for beauty in sound, but in the moment of creation, I forget it all entirely. A tree is a tree is a tree.

You obviously care about words. The album title Sway implies a calmness and this album really transports the listener to a calmer place, like a Caribbean beach. Was that your intention when making Sway?

I am happy you feel like that about it. But Sway is first and foremost the harvest at the end of a cycle of years of deconstruction. Meaning that, at some point, I chose to fulfil the aching need to unlearn most of my own creative processes in order to reach a clear line. To purify musically so as to reveal bare moments of emotion. I made this album to soothe myself, to give and receive pleasure. It is an act of kindness that I granted myself.

The doo-wop vocals on 'Umbaka' are brilliant. Can you tell me about them?

'Umbaka' is sung in my invented heart language. This heart language aims at expressing feelings and emotions without the limitations of linguistics. Just as we used to do when we were children; though, now, in full consciousness.

What is your songwriting process like?

For Sway, I composed and recorded about 100 bits and pieces in my notebook, literally, my book of notes (giggles). The first concept I had for this album was to develop each track around a Haiku. A Haiku I would also have written. So I wrote many of them over a couple of years. In the end, I dropped the haikus and kept the structure of one main feeling per track. 'Umbaka', for example, was all about elatedness and elevation.

Will you be touring the album?

Hopefully yes! I admit that this is all I am thinking of these days. I can’t wait. I feel Sway has so much to offer on stage.

Do you have a favourite place to play?

I am hungry! I want to play everywhere in the world which will be totally facilitated by my use of the Heart Language. Everyone can understand, or rather, comprehend it. Everyone has a key.

On 'Away Alive' there is a contrasting sense of freedom and constraint when you sing the melancholic lyrics, “feeling slightly empty now your dreams have gone” then more empowering “be mindful now you’re strong”. Can you tell me more about the meaning of this track?

As the flood of images began to pour from all sides, the words of the chorus first came to my mind. Images of human migrations moved through me, dwelled and lingered within. All I could process was: 'They are Away! They are Alive!'. The most significant act of life is movement. 'Away Alive' is also about being elsewhere, but without being deprived, amputated from a part of oneself. This song also marks a meeting in resonance with the multidisciplinary artist (author-director-actress) Jule Japhet who is the co-creator of the track. Her story for this song is different to mine. It’s hers to share. The other dimension of the journey, shared with her, is interior. A journey within. This introspective movement allows us to anchor before entering into consciousness in communion with humanity.

You filmed the video with directors R&D in the Tunisian desert. Why did you choose that setting for the song?

The desert as an allegorical dream. An inner space where one seems initially lost, without reference or bearings, before finding, within, an anchorage point from which to walk. Without being swayed by mundane fluff. With a heart open to all encounters.