Lycinaïs Jean

She has the look of today’s youth—pierced, tattooed, androgynous—and the soul of romantic poets through the ages. She blends her music but refuses to blend herself, or calibrate her career arc according to market forces. And therein may rest the spark of the singer-songwriter’s prodigious talent. On her debut eponymous album, Lycinaïs Jean (“Jean” pronounced as in Billie Jean), with roots in Guadeloupe and Martinique, now living in Paris … More Lycinaïs Jean

Dafné Kritharas: Djoyas de Mar

Every sea is a timeless highway of hope and sorrow, and Dafné Kritharas has combed the Aegean for telltale echoes. Though focused on tides from the 1920s and 1930s, her crosscurrents run deeper: In 1492, the multicultural Ottoman Empire welcomed Jewish refugees from Spain, creating Ladino-speaking communities across the eastern Mediterranean. The sun set on pluralism with … More Dafné Kritharas: Djoyas de Mar

Koum Tara

Like most urban settlements, Lyon began with people and currents from other places—Roman refugees camped at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers. For two millennia the rivers have framed the city’s heart and in recent years La Confluence, France’s largest urban renewal project, has transformed the area near the original encampment into a vibrant residential, business and cultural hub. Now Lyon is home to another kind of convergence, a dazzling … More Koum Tara

Cocanha: i ès ?

Occitan, mother tongue of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lionheart, had a literary golden age in the 12th century and produced the great singer-songwriters of the Middle Ages, the troubadours and trobarises. It was still widely spoken in southern France in 1904 when the Occitan poet Frédéric Mistral won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but the 20th century was hard on the storied Romance language (nearest relative: Catalan). Though commonly … More Cocanha: i ès ?

Florent Nouvel: Le Nouvel Album

Florent Nouvel has a child’s sense of wonder and a director’s flair for composition. He simultaneously reveals and fabricates—his Facebook bio describes him as “le plus grand chanteur” of France (6 feet, 6 inches, or 1.99m)—and in fabricating illustrates larger truths with fine details. He writes catchy French chanson melodies, with deft touches of swing, bossa nova or jitterbug rock, that animate … More Florent Nouvel: Le Nouvel Album

Ensemble Mze Shina: Odoïa

If Early Music transports us to medieval times, then Georgian polyphony, stretching back more than 1,600 years, is communal song in primeval form. UNESCO declared this tradition an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity and, like more modern sounds (jazz, bluegrass, tango), Georgian polyphonic singing has in recent years spread outward from its home in the Caucasus Mountains. The Ensemble Mze Shina (Georgian for “inner sun”) emerged in … More Ensemble Mze Shina: Odoïa

Vaiteani

A Google search of literature featuring Tahiti turns up novels by 46 authors, only one of whom is Tahitian: Most of what the world knows about the fabled island is filtered through foreign eyes. The singer-songwriter Vaiteani Teaniniuraitemoana acknowledges that some stereotypes of her home island are positive, but she sees all simplified images as reference points to be checked against experience. A good starting place is her eponymous debut … More Vaiteani

Toto Bona Lokua: Bondeko

Bondeko, the work of three prodigiously gifted artists who mix voices and compositions to produce a dreamy, multi-layered sound, is a transcendent microcosm of the musical diversity of Africa and its Diaspora. The singer-songwriters—Gérald Toto (Paris-born guitarist/musical director with roots in Martinique), Richard Bona (Cameroonian bassist, who commutes between Paris and New York) and Lokua Kanza (Congolese guitarist based in Paris)—first … More Toto Bona Lokua: Bondeko

Eskelina: La verticale

There’s a vein of Pygmalion to Eskelina Svanstein’s career in French chanson—just substitute divergent nationalities for social classes and assign more harmony to the goal 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 … More Eskelina: La verticale

Bab El West: Douar

The concept of Bab El West’s first full-length album was born in Brittany when Habib Farroukh spotted a road sign for the town of Douarnenez. The Moroccan-born singer-composer and two French-born band mates compared notes and discovered that “douar” has almost the same meaning in Breton (land or domain) as in Arabic and Berber (village). Thus emerged the enchanting, imaginary hometown-homeland of their music, at the crossroads of … More Bab El West: Douar