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Neighbor Spotlight – Didier Leplae

by Ellen C. Warren

Didier Laplae

Didier Leplae. Say it aloud. Accent the last syllable of each. It rhymes. It even has a certain rhythm. Which, in this case, is perfect, as Didier lives in a very musical world.

“I’ve always had an interest in music and I’ve always been into recording music, but at some point, a friend of mine and I started doing it professionally for soundtrack work,” says Didier. “I do it a little less than I used to, but I make music for films and TV shows.” 

For many years, he and Joe Wong worked on projects together. Probably the most recognizable would be for the Netflix series called “Master of None.”  There were some smaller budget projects, including the political series of films, “The Yes Men.” The team has done several of the “Adult Swim” cartoons on Cartoon Network including “Super Dale” and “Ball Masterz 9009.”

“One of the last things I worked on was a documentary film called ‘A Home Called Nebraska’ … about refugees who have been resettled in Nebraska. It’s by a couple who are filmmakers, George and Beth Gage. It turns out Nebraska welcomes more refugees per capita than any other state in the union.” The refugees come from many places but the most predominant group of late are the Yazidi’s who have been a target of genocide by ISIS in the Syrian War. (The film is just beginning to be shown this month.)

Didier was involved for several episodes in a locally written and produced show called “Milwaukee Kitchen.” You can view this fun and quirky cooking show, taking place mainly in our own Riverwest, on YouTube. Not only did Didier create the soundtrack, this multi-talent has been the chef of the show. “I cook a lot,” he says. Produced by his friend, Paul Druecke, it is acted by a plethora of our local talent. (Didier has had to leave the project behind momentarily but plans to put it back into production again someday.)

In 2006, LePlae moved his studio from its former location on Locust Street to its present location on Center. Lining the walls of his studio are several stringed instruments, some familiar, some not so. The guitar is his main instrument, but he also plays bass, the Turkish saz, and dabbles in many others, including the oud.

Over the years he has been involved in many bands. Currently he plays in a few. He plays lead guitar in Jonathan Burks band. “All of the bands I’m in play out … at least occasionally.”

His Turkish saz, an ornate wooden teardrop-shaped stringed instrument with a long neck, is what he plays in Gnarrenschiff (German for ship of fools, but with a G added), a three-piece group. The sound is rich, “otherworldly and hypnotic.”

“Peeper and Le Play started as a collaboration between myself and Zack Pieper.” Asked for a description of the music, Didier tried to explain it by saying, “We sort of play I guess somewhat experimental kind of dance music or something like that … We have a band. It’s kind of a little hard to describe because every song is a little different I guess.” Go to ActivitiesArchive.com/artists to check out Peeper and Le Play more of the amazing diversity of music and film in which Didier has been involved.

Didier has long been sharing workspaces with his brother, Xav Leplae, the esteemed Riverwest Radio station manager. With Xav, Peter Barrickman and Andy Kaiser “we started doing live jam music and broadcasting it as a radio show,” calling it Barbouille Hymn. “It’s morphed over the years,” says Didier, “and we’ve done some live shows with that band, too. That’s why I say it’s somewhere between a radio show and a band.” They took a hiatus from performing but are in process of returning. You can catch it on Riverwest Radio (104.1 FM or online at RiverwestRadio.com) the first Sunday of every month at noon.

Some of the eclecticism and worldliness of Didier’s artistry has been informed by his adventurous life. Born in Milwaukee to a French mother, Genevieve, and a Belgian father, Luc, he visited Europe regularly as a child, living for a short while in Belgium. He is bilingual with French as his second language.

He speaks a fair amount of Mandarin, as a result of spending his sixteenth year going to school in China. Many film projects in India have helped him learn some Hindi. His Turkish is also a result of film locations. Thai was added to his repertoire when he visited his wife, Kiki, who was living in Thailand off and on for a couple years. On his visits to see her they explored Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos and Burma. A favorite, Burma, he describes as exotic and cut-off from the rest of the world — the people so eager and the food so fantastic.

Kiki and Didier share a love of language. A teacher of English as a Second Language and French, Kiki also works as a translator, translating French to English. Her other languages include Thai, Spanish, Italian and a smattering of many others.

Didier grew up in Shorewood but was drawn to hanging out in Riverwest from early on. He has lived in the area for fifteen years with Kiki to whom he’s been married for five.

Ten years ago, the couple purchased a home in Harambee. The lot next door came up for sale, so they have been planting fruit trees and got in on a program that helped them plant some other trees to accompany their giant spruces. Two cats and a dog complete the family.