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French cabaret tradition hits Chinese stage
By Jie Jie (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-03 07:08

The most popular French names among many Chinese are arguably Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton or Sophie Marceau, at least that was until some seven months ago when the Year of France was launched in China.

Today, the list has grown as the year-long campaign of cultural communication has brought the Impressionists paintings, unique architectural works, best contemporary French movies, Jean Michel Jarre's electronic music, the ballet Opera de Paris and many others.

In mid-May music lovers will get to know a new name, Patricia Kaas, arguably the most successful French singer of the last 20 years, as well as the trademark figure of French chanson music - the traditional songs of the bars and cabarets of France.

Quite a few Hong Kong pop singers in the late 1980s rearranged her songs. Among these, the three-man band Grasshopper's hit song "Half a Heart" is the most popular.

On the world tour to promote her latest album "Sexe Fort," the 39-year-old singer will perform in Shanghai on May 13, then Beijing's Great Hall of the People on May 15 and Hong Kong on May 18. The two-hour long concerts will feature most of the hits from Kaas' 17 year career.

"I felt so excited when it was confirmed that I will sing in China, the country I have been long looking forward to performing in. I'm so curious about your big country, which is totally new to me," she said.

"I would like to share my songs and my passion of French chanson music with Chinese audiences who, maybe don't know much about me.

"French style is always in fashion. However, French music is a different matter," says Kaas, acknowledging, "the language has been a major barrier for many people who don't speak French to appreciate my music."

Besides the unfamiliar tongue, Kaas accepts her commitment to cabaret songs might also have been a hurdle in achieving more visibility outside France.

"Typical French melodies are very traditional and part of our cultural heritage," she says. "These might be hard to transfer and to be understood by people outside of their original context.

"However, according to my experience of performing in South Korea, Japan, Viet Nam and Cambodia, I believe that in China there are people who love French songs," she adds.

Kaas was born in the mining town of Forbach, in the East of France in December 1966. Her German mother and French father, a miner, discovered the vocal talent of the youngest of their seven children at an early age and greatly encouraged her to sing.

By the age of 8 the young girl had already performed in miner's clubs, singing covers of songs by then French stars, as well as belting out American classics such as "New York, New York."

Kaas first made her mark on the French music scene in 1988 with the song "Mademoiselle chante le Bluse." The same-titled debut album soon proved to be phenomenally successful, selling an incredible 100,000 copies within a month of its release and earning her first gold disc.

The next year, the debut album earned her "Female Newcomer of the Year" award at the "Victories de la Musique," the most prestigious awards in the French music world.

The young singer's fame rapidly spread beyond her native France, her album selling incredibly well throughout Europe, as well as rocketing to the top of the album charts in Quebec, Canada and also Japan.

The following years, saw her bring out numerous acclaimed albums. Kaas was soon an established star and innovator of French cabaret and one of the most popular performers in the great tradition of the French chanson, spiced, in her case, with pop, blues and jazz.

Kaas' sultry voice and somehow melancholy songs touch upon her private nature, define her identity and trace her homeland. Through singing, she has liberated her sensuality, unveiled her sensitivity, cried out her femininity.

Not withstanding her success in the recording studio, Kaas still feels most at home on stage which lends itself to her innate vocal and interpretive gifts to create the intimate performer-and-audience bond that defines her style.

"What I like most is to perform on stage," she says, "to get in contact with the audience."

(China Daily 05/03/2005 page7)

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