I won’t lie. When I love something, I tell everyone around me about it. Parfois, it includes a post on Facebook with an accompanying link or video. When I truly love something, I tell everyone around me in a more casual manner. Perhaps a video, perhaps well-placed shuffle plays when they’re riding in my car and thus unable to change the radio (only one Parisian DJ amie is allowed to take over that surround sound system). Last autumn an email came by my way with a certain video. I did not know her name, nor what it meant; all that attracted me were the myriad of colors of chalk. The colorful stop-motion real-life animation of the videos was not only matched, but overwhelmingly surpassed by the exceptionally vibrant vocals behind that unknown name of a singer. I can’t tell you how many times I watched the video, for videography purposes, for the colours, and for the punctuated, soulful voice behind the French singer’s voice. Needless to say, I was truly hooked.
Information is hard to come by in English on the singer, and thankfully language skills lent a helping hand amid interviews and write-ups en français with her. Influenced by the likes of The National, Sufjan Stevens and more classic Memphis Minnie and Joni Mitchell it’s easy to get the impression she is more anglophone than francophone in style. It’s what attracted several friends to her music when I played it for them. Not only that, but her 2009 self-titled EP was musically diverse and refreshing with her blend of English and French lyrics, accompanied by a phenomenal Lead Belly cover. That was then, and on September 10th, 2010 the Franco-Senegalese singer from Evian-les-Bains released her debut full-length Trapdoor. Would a year honing her craft an hour from Paris betray the promise held by that 2009 EP?
“Leaving My Heart” and “Le nid des 100 soucis”, the first couple of chansons, instantly give an indication of how the album unveils itself; songs in English (8) intertwined with songs in French (4). Should you be curious, but apprehensive in plunging into French music, this structure works wonders in eliminating those apprehensions and winning you over. “Leaving My Heart” enters casually with its Wurlitzer piano, an indication to those aforementioned soul influences that, following finger snaps, saunters into a bridge with shouts, laughter, and all manner of unconventional interjections over a jazzy chorus. The soulful piano, bright melodies, and ’60s pop elements (e.g., tambourines) translate phenomenally into French, as on the play-on-words “Le nid de 100 soucis” (Nest of 100 Problems OR The Problem-Free Nest). The vocals in the verses alone present why the voice behind the songwriter is so gorgeous; its smooth and simultaneously rough texture. Yes, colours reign once again, and catchiness, but it was that singing that moored her talent in my mind given the progression of time.
“Heading for Trouble” and “Mad Mind” are the two tracks that tested what happened outside of Paris and in New York City, where she polished the recordings. The former is dreamy, as a morning mist in a wooded grove opening up to a gradually rising sun that evaporates into a clear, harmonious chorus. The basic song strips many past pop elaborations, leaning more towards her eclectic songwriter side (Björk). “Mad Mind” attempts to reconcile the two styles; the slower tempo, exploratory with soulful indie songwriter pop. The end of the first verse shows Madjo stretching her voice unlike before, attaining a height not yet matched. It transforms, trading texture for smoothness the higher the notes she reaches. Julien Vasnier sneaks forth, supplementing those little noise nuances with his phenomenal beat-boxing; an impressive element on stage.
“Le cœur hibou” is unlike any other song that this Haute-Savoie songstress has released before; the first truly differentiating song if you compare it to her wonderful EP. Stripped down, it focuses on the drum-heavy beat and wispy, ethereal voices encircling her symphonically. You can barely hear the guitar plucks as your ears are tugged, urged from one side to the next by mystical whispers. It is only equalled by “Catch the Bird,” a melancholy, poignant song previously released via studio footage in April 2009 and since re-recorded for Trapdoor. “Time to time, I feel happy though where is the light?” is one chorus that has never ceased to remain embroidered, colourfully, in this listener’s memory then and now with the finished album.
I’ll be frank. I am quite partial towards the region around which Madjo grew up before leaving to Paris to pursue music. I spent more than week in nearby Sciez, and visited Evian by bike with one of several good French and Swiss friends in Haute-Savoie. Yet from the beginning, I couldn’t have imagined an American soul-influenced singer/songwriter could emerge from the shores of Lake Geneva that runs parallel in this writer’s mind to the likes of Amy Millan or Adrianne Verhoeven (or Emily Haines for others). Should you and I ride in the same car together, I would have used one of those artists to ease you right into Madjo through one of her English songs…avant que je te prenne par surprise avec l’autre monde de ses chansons.