This originally appeared in the fall issue of The Journal of a Musician, run by George Lepauw, a world-renown classical pianist in Chicago. A renaissance man when it comes to music, the Journal seeks to provide remarkable insight into culture and music. I still am humbled to have been asked to contribute this piece to the fall 2010 issue. Please pick one or several up to help support the vision.
As our new decade continues to write itself, one of the distinct musical progressions of the prior was the emergence of female indie singer/songwriters. From Denali‘s Maura Davis and the gothically gorgeous Ilya, my discoveries shifted to Canada with Broken Social Scene and Stars. Regina Spektor and Emily Haines are attaining a level of recognition none of the previous singers achieved. Though what’s next? Let’s pull a reverse Christopher Columbus, since attention span and exoticism compel me to, back to the Old World land of perennial beauty for the next wave.
From the shores of Lake Geneva (not Wisconsin, but the postcard picturesque Swiss lake), before transplanting in Paris, comes a voice described as if the reincarnation of Regina Spektor within a dynamic, soulful violin. In fact, Madjo‘s journeys launched with classical violin before expanding to the plethora of instruments performed on her first release. The self-titled EP is a prelude to her full length album to be released September 13th via Universal Music France. Trapdoor was mixed in New York City after recording sessions an hour and a half from Paris in January.
“Trapdoor in a Wall” is the one-two opener and the lead single. Acoustic guitar and handclaps give way to Sébastian Lafarge’s light chugging percussion. The vibe is akin to turn-of-the-century black and white films; characters escaping on an unveiled adventure on the rails. “The words are back but I think that it’s too late. I don’t need them now I just need to explain. There’s so many why do I need those three. Count them all, maybe I should set them free?” The accompanying odd number track, “Le Monstre”, is the most similar title to the rest, albeit not. The traces of pop are removed save a tambourine and rising chorus leading to the end, replaced by a soulful B3 organ and wurlitzer. Despite the ominous title “The Monster”, Sébastian and Madjo evoke “Where The Wild Things Are?” with a light melody, accentuated by a chorused summit.
The magnetic charm of Madjo’s EP lies not only in her compelling blend of soul into the contemporary singer/songwriters of today, but that each song is refreshingly distinct yet harmonious. Her voice is the adhesive holding the cacophony of instruments together, as on “Je claque des doigts”. Snapping fingers (‘claques des doigts’ in French), samples, and percussion allude to a Jackson Pollock splattering of sounds that build upon one another to frame her voice. The alternating vocals soar as hums and punctuated laughs provide percussion. As a tribute to her musical roots, and to help those unfamiliar to either French paroles, the EP culminates in an acoustic cover of Lead Belly‘s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?”. Madjo’s rendition strips the backwoods angst of Kurt Cobain‘s cover down to a whispered anguish over a sole grief-stricken guitar. It does not achieve the emotional peak of Cobain’s, but nevertheless becomes a roller coaster with Madjo’s sage, seasoned voice.
Crafted from her diverse inspirations, the Franco-Senegalese Madjo crafted an EP as bold and distinctive as the summits and vales. While the musical altitudes and styles change dramatically, her multifaceted soulful singing consistently impresses. The versatility, picking and choosing a myriad of musical tidbits, makes her upcoming LP all the more anticipated.