So in the last Qui? I wrote of a London-based folk group turning heads (and Saturn Vues). This time around, something a slightly different from every genre I’ve previously written about.
It happened in Ninkasi Ampère in Lyon last year, over their artisanal beer and fantastic fries. Qué Sera, care of Wax Tailor, came over their system and I finally had a French artist that delivered hooks and unforgettable (tales of…) melodies. It took roughly another year before the French produced another musician I felt the same about, unexpectedly from urban pop (pop urbain). Since little has been written about her in English, but a lot in French, here’s a brief introduction to Zaho.
Zaho broke in 2007 via a mixtape produced by DJ James. Featuring a popular remix of Timbaland’s Give It To Me with French lyrics, Tu Reconnais, the Algerian-born singer presents herself almost as a French Nelly Furtado. Substitute the Portuguese influence with Arabic, and the similarities show through. Zaho doesn’t slip into the mainstream pop mold, performing a duet with Idir, another Algerian chanteur, in the acoustic folk song, Tout Ce Temps (All This Time). A similar song, Halili, features another Algerian, Cheb Mami, in the paced violin-laced pop that’s helped Shakira numerous times.
Track 11 off of Dima: Hey Papi
Her first single, C’est Chelou, was released in February in France, a mix between R&B and hip hop about approaching a guy about a girl who’s been getting a little too close for comfort. It achieved constant airplay via NRJ France, as well as reaching high in the singles chart. The rest of the album features French rappers Tunisiano and Soprano. Despite the majority of Americans not being able to understand the lyrics, the music production will be very familiar to the land of KISS-FM. Dima diversely wavers between multiple varieties; ocean-waved, acoustic guitar pop (Tu Ne Mérites Pas) to mainstream R&B/rap of Petit Jeu. Throughout the album is a north African/Arabic influence, a fresh sound unlike current American pop/R&B, coupled often with thoughtful (not an afterthought) guitar.
While collaboration with an American artist would be helpful to introduce a French artist to Americans, Zaho presents one of the few French artists who could translate well given the chance.