Modern French music is underrated. This is perhaps not something I would have said before my year abroad in France, when my knowledge of French music was limited to Jacques Brel, the French café music CD that my parents were given and the music from Amélie. Not only was I mistaken in assuming that all French songs must, at some point, contain an accordion solo, I had also never heard of the majority of groups and artists that I later discovered. Is this because English music is superior? Hardly. Having spent the better part of a year in northern France, I have emerged older, wiser and much more musically in tune.
Like Racine’s plays, which are far less popular over here than Shakespeare is in France, French music has had a hard time crossing the channel. But that does not mean it’s not as good as its English and American equivalents. Au contraire: if Edith Piaf does not appeal to you then I have a few suggestions to make. The lively, sassy songs of Paris Combo make for brilliant listening, as does the rough and rugged voice of Gaëtan Roussel, lead singer of the band Louise Attaque. Noir Désir are even better – just don’t play their songs at a party.
If folk is your thing and you like it loud and drunken, try La Rue Kétanou (the name being a play on ‘la rue qui est à nous’, or ‘the road that’s ours’), and for those who prefer rap, sample MC Solaar and Java. Renan Luce is also pretty good – think Damien Rice, but better – as is Francis Cabrel, my secret 80s love. And there is always my old favourite, discovered in a French petrol station and hated almost universally by the French, especially when duetting with Céline Dion: Garou.
But if you’re really wanting to break yourself in gently, don’t panic. The chorus of Noir Désir’s ‘Aux Sombres Héros de l’Amour’ is in English, and for those seeking a really slow initiation, ‘Le Blues de Metz’ by M is sexy, sultry and has absolutely no lyrics at all.
So, French music really does have it all. And if you don’t believe me, make sure you’re in France for the 21st June, when both amateur and professional musicians take to the streets all over the country to perform and celebrate music. And for the record, an event as enormous as La Fête de la Musique is bound to have at least a couple of accordion players.