Jeanne Galice, better known as Jain, is the French singer-songwriter behind ‘Makeba’, the song in that Levis ad that made the world sit up and take notice. Although she’d been learning music since she was nine and penning songs since the age of 16, it was the ad that cleared a path to fame for her, and Makeba earned a Grammy nomination along the way too.
Jain’s first album, Zanaka (‘child’ in Malagasy), was shot across the globe, featuring a cover that portrays her as a pop goddess. She wears only black and white, possibly as a gesture of racial solidarity. Her lyrics are easy to understand, captivating and thought provoking – almost poetic.
Her music is happy and chirpy and her music videos for the first album were a riot of colours. Unlike Zanaka, her new album is less colourful, yet more diverse. With the exception of ‘Alright’, the videos for this album only show song lyrics, amplifying the power that her words have on listeners and viewers.
In Zanaka, Jain attempts to bring Africa to the fore. Souldier is more about her pulling the world a little closer to herself through a patchwork of ten songs. To learn more about her latest work, I spoke to Jain over Skype.
The simplicity of her lyrics is echoed in how Jain explains things. She is calm, slightly shy and speaks English with a French lilt. In this interview, she sat down with us (over Skype) to share a little something about her new album, her inspirations and everything in between.
Let’s start with ‘Alright’, the first song that was released from the album. What is it about? You have used solid colours – red, blue and white – the colours of both the French and American flags. Is there a statement hidden there somewhere?
(Laughs) No, it’s not a statement. Blue is the colour of dreams and hope. The song is about Utopia and how to be strong as a woman. It is important for me to write such songs and support women in the fact that they are independent and don’t need to be in a relationship to be themselves.
Comparing the first album to the second, what’s the meaning of the transition from black and white to blue, red and white?
My first album was all black and white, which I really wanted to change. This album is about creating a safe place for people where they can find refuge, a kind Utopian bubble. The colour of dreams is blue and red symbolises strength and force. So, for me, combining the two was really meaningful and important to create the uniform of a “souldier”.
I read somewhere that the album is dedicated to people of different sexual orientations. Is that true?
Well, there is only one song about it, Souldier. I wrote it after I watched the news on the television about an incident in a nightclub in Orlando where 40 people were killed by a man, I wanted to create a kind of soldier that fights with love and flowers.
Is there a tinge of both the personal and political in your songs?
They’re not really about politics, more about social things as a citizen, you know. Politics don’t really inspire me to make songs but what inspires me are the rights that we have and what we need to be equal. For me, this is a big deal so I want to bring some love and some hope to people who are listening to the album.
How did the idea of equality get so ingrained in you? Is it because you have stayed in very diverse parts of the globe?
I think it’s my parents who educated me that way. I have two big sisters. There are a lot of strong women in my family so equality and feminism were always things that we talked about. They were just something that I grew up with, so they’ve become a part of my own values.
Is it a coincidence that half of the songs in the album use the word ‘soul’?
(Laughs) That’s true. I didn’t have the name of the album in the beginning. While I was listening to the songs of the album, I noticed the word ‘soul’ a lot of times. It became the impetus for me to use the title Souldier.
The name Jain is the name of a religion in India. How did you arrive at it?
(Smiling) I didn’t know really that when I chose the name. You see, I was 16 years old back then. I was searching the internet for a good suggestion and I found a sentence (a spiritual quote from Jainism) which was quite beautiful. Also it was close to my original name, Jeanne, so I chose it.
Do you have any plans to perform in India?
I hope so. I would love to actually. I receive a lot of comments that I should come to India and perform. I hope one day I can because I love Indian music since it has a very particular rhythm. I am always interested in learning from the music of other countries.
Speaking of which, does the song ‘On my Way’ use the tabla?
Not the tabla but something similar – the Arabic drum. It’s not exactly the same but it’s similar.
What are your influences? Your lyrics are characterised by simple words that can say so much.
As a child, I listened to the songs of Bob Marley. I liked his use of simple and universal words. That’s what I like in music, for it to be universal. I want everyone to understand what I am saying.