Peter One Comes Home on First Album in 30 Years

Coming to life in a delicate thumbing of strings, dancing with the melody like timid light through passing trees, Peter One’s new album is a journey from start to finish, a journey home. The album, titled Come Back to Me, is One’s first in 30 years and finds the artist on his way to where he was always meant to be.

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Born Pierre-Evrard Tra, One was once a beloved folk singer from Cote d’Ivoire, known across West Africa as one-half of the duo behind the 1985 album Our Garden Needs Its Flowers. Along with musical partner Jess Sah Bi, their music became well-loved throughout the country, even soundtracking the BBC-covered release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990.

[RELATED: Peter One Announces Return to Music with First Album in 30 Years]

Shortly after, due to the growing uncertainties surrounding Cote d’Ivoire’s political landscape, One left his native land, relocating to the United States in continued pursuit of his musical endeavors first in New York, then Delaware, before landing in Nashville, Tennessee where he lives now. Along the way, however, a higher cost of living forced him to change direction. He became a nurse, and for the better part of 20 years has been living in relative obscurity, until now.

One is back to reclaim his place among the revered folk musicians, calling his own career “an unfinished job.” With the release of Come Back to Me, he describes feeling lucky, grateful, and rejuvenated, young again even, telling American Songwriter the album is a way for him “to show the world what I’ve been longing to show.”

One never stopped writing songs and making music during that time. “Ever since I landed in the U.S., I started learning from the music industry, how it works, and I started building my home studio slowly,” he explains. “I’ve been working in my home studio for all this time.”

As the music industry shifted with the digital age, so did One, learning new ways to make music during an ever-changing technological era. The songs themselves also started to take a new shape for One. He had built an early career in Cote d’Ivoire by crafting songs with a duet partner in mind, songs that were shaped by shared harmonies. “I had to start writing again on my own,” he says which also meant the reality of playing on his own, entertaining an audience on his own. But still, his determination far outweighed any inkling of trepidation.

It’s been decades of working and re-working, striving to get back to music. “My philosophy is that I have to do it because if you need something, you have to try,” he says. “If you don’t try, you lose in advance.”

In this journey, it was also important for the artist to find the “right people” and One says it took him a long time to find them. Around 2018, however, the right people found him. Brian Shimkovitz had started Awesome Tapes from Africa, a project which allowed him to share the music he had discovered while on a Fulbright scholarship in Africa. Among his discoveries was Our Garden Needs Its Flowers. Shimkovitz contacted One and Jess Sah Bi about re-releasing the album. With its re-issue, One was cast into the spotlight again, but this time, the glow extended beyond his West African home.

Since then, One has been steadily re-introduced to the world of music while being backed by some of the industry’s heavy hitters. He has toured as support for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, finding a fan in the revered frontman; he has been billed among the star-studded lineup of Willie Nelson’s most recent Luck Reunion; and more recently, he made his debut at the Grand Ole Opry.

One’s official return to music, however, comes in a follow-up album that has been 30 years in the making. Come Back to Me sounds like the artist never left in the first place as an effortless skill and a palpable joy connect each song. The album features a unique marriage of Afro-pop and mid-century country folk for a stunning collection of songs that express love and the need for people to come together while also touching on justice and equality. He explains he writes songs “based on what I see, what I experience, what I learn every day, what I witness from other people.”

Whether sung in English, French, or his native tongue, his songs are spellbinding, beautifully textured by his seasoned, yet crisp, tenor. His words drift up from a place deep within—each syllable weighted in emotion—where even if you don’t speak the language he is singing, you still understand.

“The goal is to communicate with the maximum amount of people,” he says. “When I started writing songs … from day one, I had an idea of not staying in the little box of the Ivory Coast. To me, music is universal, so you have to go out of your natural space … to reach people around the world.”

In all of this time, it was never stardom One was chasing. It was instead the connection he was after, the desire to reach as many people as he could through his music. When asked what now, where does he go from here? His response is simple because it’s the same answer as it’s always been: “Wherever my music takes me. I’m ready to go.”

Come Back to Me is out now.

Photo by Angelina Castillo / Big Feat PR

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