Picture the smokiest, most bohemian Paris cafe of your mind and Brigitte Fontaine is performing in the corner accompanied by a motley trio of folk jazz musicians. Iconic yet still underground, she’s the French singer-songwriter who captured the New Wave chic of the 1960’s and then twisted her signature sound into something strange and beautiful over the following decades. One of her albums is definitely the coolest piece of vinyl in your hipster friend’s record collection.
If Fontaine has a musical trademark, it synthesizes elements of jazz and folk into the French chanson style. Yet the genius of Fontaine, who began in the experimental Parisian theater (and really, never left it), resides in her constant need to bring new ideas to her music. Spoken word poetry, Middle Eastern rhythms especially in her frequent collaborations with the French-Algerian musician Areski Belkacem, electronic synthesizers, primal screams and animal noises: in the “average” Fontaine song, if such a thing even exists, nothing is out of bounds. Even her most pleasant songs seem to deconstruct the divide between harmony and cacophony. The contradictions in her work fold inwards, creating an intricate Möbius loop.
No playlist could capture the entirety of Brigitte Fontaine’s career, but we hope this gives you a sense. As a young chanteuse she sang like an old soul. As a mature artist, she sparkles with playful, rebellious youth. She’s the rare solo diva who constantly collaborates with other artists.