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

Idir: Ici et Ailleurs

How many goals can one album achieve? Idir, the soft but steadfast voice of Berber/Kabyle culture, may not have posed that question when he conceived Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere), but a partial list would include putting his native language—which has long struggled for official status in Algeria—on a bigger stage; expressing his love for the French soundtrack of his 40-year exile; and, not least, adding a new chapter to Charles Aznavour’s storied career … More Idir: Ici et Ailleurs

Kanazoé Orkestra: Miriya

It’s unlikely Donald Trump has heard Kanazoé Orkestra’s stirring debut album, but when he told a group of African leaders that he has many friends “going to your countries, trying to get rich,” he unwittingly validated the exploitation lament in the album’s lead song, Fantanya (Poverty). “Why is Africa poor?” asks the lyric, written by bandleader Seydou Kanazoé Diabaté, “Here we find gold and diamonds, but they go abroad/We grow coffee…/We grow rice…/But there is hunger” (video 1). Born in Burkina … More Kanazoé Orkestra: Miriya

Flavia Coelho: Sonho Real

She is innocent and wise, a nomad and a poet, an alchemist of styles whose music is more colorful than the sum of its parts. Flavia Coelho, a girl from the slums of Rio de Janeiro who sang in the Paris métro and emerged a star, had none of the resources but all the energy and talent she needed. On Sonho Real (Dream Come True), her third album, she mixes elements of forró, ska, reggae and dub, spins … More Flavia Coelho: Sonho Real

Pauline Croze: Bossa Nova

When bossa nova swept the world, no country was more receptive than France. Marcel Camus’ Oscar-winning film Black Orpheus—music by Tom Jobim and Luiz Bonfá—channeled the Brazilian wave to new audiences. French artists translated and sang bossa nova anthems, and some composed original music in the genre. Sixty years later, the beat goes on. After three solid albums of pop/folk groove, French singer-guitarist Pauline Croze has taken on the bossa nova canon with poise … More Pauline Croze: Bossa Nova

Sous Les Quais: L’âme ronde

You won’t soon forget the three artists of Sous les Quais. Frédéric Flouret (deep vocals, guitar), Romain Jamard (an accordion he calls his “third lung”) and Benoît Grelier (sonorous cello) offer street corner French chanson—early twentieth century style—and typically perform their songs in a stage-set living room crammed with flea market finds, down to their vintage suits. Fred’s lyrics are mostly about love’s weight and complication, but the band’s optics carry a cheeky vein that perhaps … More Sous Les Quais: L’âme ronde

Karpatt: Angora

Long one of France’s most popular bands, Karpatt—singer-songwriter Fred Rollat, guitarist Gaëtan Lerat and bassist Hervé Jegousso—paint scenes of life’s adventure and grind, using an intoxicating mix of Gypsy jazz and French chanson, with touches of folk and rock. On Angora (named for the Paris bar where many of the album’s 13 tracks took shape), they share tales of survival, melancholy, nostalgia and a Central American journey. Salvador is a story of resilience … More Karpatt: Angora

Elle&Elles: Kalenda

Marijosé Alie is a journalist, author and singer-songwriter. Her daughter Fred is a painter with a background in architecture—and a singer-songwriter; younger daughter Sohée is an actress, dancer—and singer-songwriter. After years of singing together at home, mother and daughters mixed their talents and experience into Kalenda, a dazzling mini-world rooted in Martinique and, like the island, flavored with ingredients from all over. Their blend of languages (Créole, French and English) and genres … More Elle&Elles: Kalenda

Souad Massi: El Mutakallimûn

Dylan and Marley, Fela Kuti and Ramy Essam— musicians can move the world. Likewise Souad Massi, Algeria’s greatest female singer, who grew up on American music, relocated to France following death threats earned in a political rock band and knows well the struggle of Europe’s Muslim minorities. El Mutakallimûn (Masters of the Word)—her sixth solo album—draws inspiration from al-Andalus, the Muslim-ruled kingdom in Spain that was once a beacon of science, literature … More Souad Massi: El Mutakallimûn