French singer mixes pop, Afrobeat and more influences in a winning combination
t’s a chilly October night, yet Jain has packed the mid-sized Brooklyn venue Warsaw with a mix of New Yorkers and visitors from her native France. Over there, she’s a phenomenon: Her 2015 debut, Zanaka, which blends pop with Afrobeat, is certified diamond, and her follow-up, this year’s Souldier, hit Number One on the country’s albums chart. The 26-year-old regularly plays multiple nights at venues like Paris’ historic Olympia and Marseilles’ Le Moulin, and she’s opened for Seal and Christine and the Queens. Here, though, it’s clear she knows how to work a slightly smaller crowd.
With a striking concert presentation and a set list full of dance-floor movers, she gets the crowd jumping, dancing and singing along. She does it all while alone on the stage: Like a DJ, she has a podium where she controls her music — loops she creates in real time, sometimes using a remote-control gauntlet she’s woven into her blue jumpsuit that looks like a high-tech Wonder Woman — and she’s enfolded herself in video screens and lighting arrays of pure color.
“You wanna be a staaaar, but you don’t know who you are,” she sings amid jittery synthesizers and a hip-hop beat on “Star,” off Souldier. Based on how confident she looks, it’s hard to imagine she’d be singing about herself.
Although Jain sings in English and is a smash across Europe and Canada, she’s still working on making a dent in the U.S. The video for “Makeba,” her song praising the late South African civil rights activist Miriam Makeba, earned her a Grammy nomination, and the song appeared in ads for Levi’s and Mitsubishi, but she’s still proving herself here. Judging from the Brooklyn show, she’s beginning to turn the tide. That’s partly because Souldier, with its rap and Arabic influences, reflects who she has become since her last record as much as where she’s come from.
“I wanted to talk about women, the star system and the technology that surrounds us and people that are trying to sell things all day long,” she says a couple of weeks after the Brooklyn show. Her voice sounds both confident and optimistic. “[Souldier] is a little bit more adult and engaged, and it’s mostly about our modern society.”
Jain has a unique view of the world, mostly because she’s lived all over. She was born Jeanne Galice in Toulouse, in the southwest of France. When she was nine, her family relocated to Dubai for her father’s work in the oil industry, which also took her to Congo and Abu Dhabi. It was in Pointe-Noire, Congo, where she lived from ages 12 to 16, that she began making music. Her big sister started playing guitar and taught her a few chords. Jain wrote “Come,” a catchy, acoustic foot stomper, and met a local producer who called himself Mr. Flash. He helped her make what she remembers as a “really cheap” recording of the song, and she uploaded it to Myspace. “I sent this demo to every major record company in France, and I had only one answer,” she says. “It was from the person who became my manager.” (She pays tribute to the man who kickstarted her career on Souldier’s “Flash (Pointe-Noire).”) [ . . . ]
Continue at ROLLING STONE: Jain: Artist You Need to Know – Rolling Stone