Eskelina: La verticale

On the Street Where You Sing

Listening Post 141. There’s a vein of Pygmalion to Eskelina Svanstein’s career in French chanson—just substitute divergent nationalities for social classes and allot more harmony to the goals of student and teachers. The story opens with a Swedish girl singing on the street in a French town. She hands a demo of her music to a renowned composer (Christophe Bastien); he eventually calls, and enlists a lyricist (Florent Vintrigner); the three rendezvous, composer and poet begin sculpting French songs to the experiential contours of their muse/partner. Her first album, Le Matin du Pélican, wins a load of prizes, including the prestigious Prix Georges Moustaki. Now Eskelina is back with La verticale, ravishing, assertive, intimate, still working with Bastien/Vintrigner. In a warm, clear soprano, she evokes innocence and doubt, mischief and melancholy, wisdom and love, on a folk foundation with flourishes of jazz manouche and tango. One minute she’s tempestuous in L’emmerdeuse (The Shrew), exploring a relationship’s dark side (video 1). Then she’s reflective in Cuba, dissecting the fading romance of revolution (video 2). Charlie Townsend recalls the stepfather who introduced her to France, and the moment she realized she could always count on him (video 3). Maya is a 12-year-old’s poignant take on shuttling between parents (video 4). The 13-track constellation also includes Les trois garçons (The Three Boys), an audacious saga of sexual chemistry à la Georges Brassens; the love song Quelqu’un comme toi (Someone Like You, with Eskelina’s music and lyrics); and the title track (perhaps best rendered as “Upright and Wrong”) about humankind’s all-too-natural and largely unethical dominion over the animal kingdom. Unlike Eliza Doolittle, Eskelina isn’t passing for something she isn’t—critics have noted a je-ne-sais-quoi charm in her accent. The extraordinary thing isn’t how she blends into her chosen language but how much she stands out. (L’Atelier du Pélican)

 

L’emmerdeuse: “When I’m not feeling good, and it happens sometimes
When my bile flares up and takes charge
Either I feel guilty, or I feel like a victim at large

When the animal in me returns
A rodent outside and a weasel within
I sit at the back of the room
And start with that first glass of gin

Our troubles make me want to drink, and drinking makes me want to drink
And drinking makes me crazy
I’ll do anything to anyone
I ‘ve already lived without you, without rules
What does it matter when you come back?”

 

Cuba: “All the stars are floating over Cuba/It’s dawn, and Havana goes away
Fading like the images of Che Guevara

We can no longer hold on/To memories suspended in the future
They fly away, disappear/Without leaving a forwarding address
Memories relieved of their stress

Will the cigars hold on to/The taste of the revolution?
Will the proud mambo and rumba/Still make me fall in love?”

 

Charlie Townsend: “Charlie Townsend had a nice mustache
My mother invited him to stay/So he stayed

It seems like light years have already gone by
I no longer remember it like it was yesterday
I’m talking about you Charlie, my stepfather
I got your postcard from England 

I fought him/I wanted him to shut up
To he mind his own business
So he was silent
But with this card/That I wasn’t expecting
I have the sweet feeling/That he was always there”

 

Maya: “My family broke down/Then recomposed
Half in Paris, half in the country
And the Saint Lazare train line
Which takes me from one end of the world to the other
From end to end, between father and mother
According to the calendar/Of the High Court

In Paris I have hip-hop classes/I’m in 6th class at Henri Bergson
My best friend is Louise/And we think that adults
This is our view
Would do well to grow up and learn to say, “I forgive you”
Like Louise and me/When we argue
We don’t make it a big deal”

 


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