Being left paralyzed by the same motor-neurone disease that incapacitated Stephen Hawking has not kept one French hip-hop artist from making music – with nothing but his eyes. Guilhem “Pone” Gallart, a founding member of French rap collective Fonky Family, first fell ill with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2015, and it has left him bedridden and on permanent life support.
But with the aid of software that tracks his eye movements to imitate the actions of a mouse, he is able to compose and write, as well as speak with a computer-generated voice. It has resulted in a mini-album of dreamlike electro beats, “Listen and Donate”, released last week, and support from one of his musical heroes, British songwriting legend Kate Bush.
“If there’s a message… it’s that’s anything is possible,” Pone told AFP. It took him almost four years to get back to making music after he fell ill. “It’s not that I didn’t want to, but I was busy with other things, like survival,” he said. “When the specter of death disappeared, thanks in large part to a tracheotomy, I rediscovered the desire to write music, but I didn’t think it was possible with just my eyes.”
‘Stronger than before’
ALS is a motor-neurone disease that results in the loss of muscle control, affecting the ability to move, speak, eat and breathe unassisted. But technology has reopened possibilities for Gallart, who is in his 40s. “I have rediscovered the Pone that I knew before,” said his wife Wahiba. “And even stronger than he was before.”
The results are there to hear on his new album, which, as the title suggests, hopes to raise funds for an organization, Trakadom, that helps chronic patients to receive care at home. Pone set the charity up with two doctors, with the aim of training more carers for at-home support. “Talking about this with doctors, nurses and carers, I saw there was a serious lack of training, and that many of them wanted that opportunity,” he said.
Pone himself is on an artificial respirator, but lives at home in the Tarn region of southwestern France, with his wife and two daughters. His first return to music was a 2019 album “Kate & Me”, dedicated to his love of Kate Bush’s music and including “It’s Me Cathy”, a reworking of her classic “Wuthering Heights”.
He didn’t know what to expect when he sent her the album. But Bush wrote back, saying she loved the music and giving him the right to sample anything from her catalogue. “She’s an immense artist and in my top five alongside Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, Notorious Big and Claude Nougaro,” Pone said. “(When I got her letter), it took my three days to recover,” he said. – AFP