Why you should care
Because music is life.
Every other week, our Performance editor shares what’s happening in her earbuds.
Foreigners know France for art, wine and couture — but ask the average person to name a French musician, and you’re lucky if they can cough up Edith Piaf. Here’s a minor remedy.
Little known outside the Francophone world, Nekfeu, the rap name of 25-year-old Ken Samaras, is a contemporary must. The first track, whose title translates to “Fuck the Clones,” is the anticonformist anthem of 2015. The theme is familiar — everyone is playing a part so they can fit in and make a buck; most people are all about comfort and not rocking the boat. The writing is what stands out, almost as much as the artistry of Nekfeu’s rapping. (As for the name Nekfeu, Nek is Ken backward, in keeping with verlan, a type of slang that reverses syllables. Feu is fire, and also the name of his June solo debut.)
Benjamin Clementine, the 27-year-old North London singer-songwriter who just won the Mercury Prize, got his start as a musician when he moved to Paris at 19. The self-taught multi-instrumentalist busked on the métro and in the streets, where he also slept. I include tracks from Antony Hegarty and Nina Simone, to whom he’s often rightfully compared. Listen close — Clementine is one of the great voices of our time, and he’s just getting started.
Georges Brassens is one of France’s most prominent postwar poets. After ditching a German labor camp in 1943, the infamously shy anarchist with tricky-to-translate lyrics went on to release some 16 studio albums, all untitled. He’s spawned dozens of doctoral dissertations, covers and other tributes. Next time you’re in Paris, look for the Brassens mural in the Porte des Lilas métro station.