Artists to Watch This Year:
SHE may well count Otis Redding and Cypress Hill among her influences...
but when it comes to the Parisian’s stunning music you are reminded of nobody else but her. Jain’s songs have no future agenda or past nightmares: it is situated in the here and now. Her debut album, Zanaka, (released in 2015) created vacillation and amazement in critics. Each intricate, intimate number creates smiles and stun: performing at various ceremonies (including the French Grammys) she reduced grown humans to infantile simpletons. The reasons she makes my run-down is because of that beguiling, romantic quality: the dichotomies, consistencies and eccentricities that make Jain one of the most sought-after and unique talents to grace 2017.
Jain’s country/touring-mate Christine and the Queens (Héloïse Letissier) created one of last year’s finest singles in Titled. There is a great love for Gallic music and the inexplicable beauty, sophistication and soul-touching revelation other nations cannot achieve.
Whether Christine and the Queens has an album in her this year remains to be seen but Letissier remains one of music’s most striking and inspiring personalities – chosen as one of BBC’s ‘100 Women’ in 2016. The same qualities and attributes can be applied to Jain: an exciting, luminous personality that has a vintage charm and colourful aesthetic. In a music world of greys and blacks; dull, faceless bands and generic, processed Pop puppets - having the likes of Jain in our midst is a much-needed shot of life and character. Jain’s sunny, rhythm-heavy songs have been taking her all across Europe the last couple of years – I shall get onto her touring plans in the last segment of the feature.
There are many reasons why Jain should be on everyone’s list of ‘Artists to Watch’ this year. She has a lot of inspiration brewing: life on the road could only have inspired her mind. Jain will be eager to get back into the studio and put some of her adventures and travels onto tape. She mixes African rhythms, Electro. and Reggae; Hip-Hop and Pop into her music which stems from a varied and multi-genre upbringing. This is all reflected in Zanaka: one of the most impressive and accomplished debuts from any artist in the last few years. The songs on the album are a diary of the singer’s life (from the ages of sixteen and twenty-three). Including periods in The Republic of Congo (her father’s job relocated the family there) and the U.A.E.; this itinerant upbringing is directly fed into the music. From charting songs Come - it reached number one in France in 2015 - and Makeba - going in at number fifteen last year - to HOB (Lily Allen-meets-Groove music); Heads Up’s sheer drive, continent-spanning, cross-pollinating party-eruption – there are a couple of political songs on the album to add more texture and weight. Like Christine and the Queens (I shall not mention her too much more) there is that range and authority no matter what genre is performed; no matter what subject is being addressed.
Going back to 2015, and before we look at where Jain is heading, the Toulouse-born singer spoke with Indie Current where she described her relationship with Africa and its importance:
“Congo is the place where I discovered music and rhythm, we always listened to a lot of African singers at home, so it’s where I’m musically born and it’s where I found myself. So it’s a very important place for me and it influenced me a lot on my own writing, in the melody, the lyrics, and everything”.
Back at the time of the interview (October); Jain was listening to artists like Kendrick Lamar and Hip-Hop: it is startling, when you see her, that such music would be in her regular rotation. Maybe that is just lazy stereotyping but, when it comes to Jain, you must not make assumptions. You only need to learn about her childhood and constant travels to understand how much the world and other cultures has given her – how that, in turn, influences her music. She is a shining example to other musicians about the importance of travel and an open mind: your songs are afforded a much wider palette; different cultures and instruments; a whole new world of sound and possibilities. I urge people to look at interviews Jain has conducted because it gives you a sense of where she has come from and how her music career has come to be. Speaking with Black on the Canvas, she described her music as “eclectic, joyful and sincere”. Promoting her E.P., Hope, Jain explained how she wrote the record across three countries and explained how the music video for Come, which had been viewed over one-million times up to that point, came together:
“I worked with Greg and Lio, two very talented guys here in France. I wanted to find this idea of multiplication, visual tricks in the video and they came up with tons of great ideas, inspired by painters like Magritte…It was so interesting to see and to be part of this experience, we really have a lot of fun making it”
The video reminds me a bit of Michel Gondry (the legendary director who has created videos for the likes of The White Stripes and Daft Punk) but that goes to show just how much work and attention Jain put into her earliest work. Not wanting to create something ordinary, predictable and forgettable: the film is arresting, hugely impressive and visually scintillating. In addition to revealing lesser-known facts about herself (“I have a bad memory with lyrics, so before every concert I rap very fast all my lyrics…”); it is an illuminating interview that showed where she was back in 2015.
Poly-culturalism is at the heart of everything Jain does and (Jain) was keen to reflect the various cultures she witnessed through her music. She is equally touched by what is happening in France and Europe – the Electronic music and how fearless and bold new artists are – so you get a conglomeration of Africa and Europe in the music.
In Toulouse, where Jain was born, there is a rich local scene that influenced her from the very start. Kid Wise is a name she often brings in and an artist that comes highly recommended. If you think her name is an abbreviation of ‘Jainism’ then you are (sort of) half-right. Jain is, as she has said in interviews, not a ‘Jainist’ but espouses messages of peace and unity through her music. She is someone who wants to promulgate a finer ethic and encourage the listener to embrace the good; purge what is bad/corrupt. Just before I come to look at her tour dates and 2017 possibilities, I have been perusing an interview she conducted with Zadig & Voltaire (a fashion website who described Jain as a “Pop Princess” in their piece.
PHOTO CREDIT: PIXELLE PHOTOGRAPHE
In it, the magazine probed Jain and asked her whether she was a “free woman”. The reply was quite simple:
“I hope so! Musically, I constructed myself at the same time that I was following my parents in their travels. I started playing the drums, then Arabic percussions in Dubai but it’s in Congo where I lived that my artistic project took form. I was 16. I wrote my first songs at this time, but I wanted to wait: I wanted to be sure of what I was doing, of what I will be presenting to the public”.
Jain went onto reiterate how she creates a Pop melting pot and does not follow easy conventions and conform to pack mentality – what the big labels want; something that is disposably radio-friendly. Her music idols were unveiled (Radiohead and Daft Punk among them) and her relationship with tribalism and native groups (“They are my roots. For a long time I was wondering where they were, geographically speaking, until I found out that it was my family and friends: no matter where I live, they are home”). One of the most important questions, and best answers from Jain came when asked whether the ‘musical’ Jain differed from that of the ‘at-home’ Jain.
“No, Jain is an exacerbation of what I am – like a close-up. When I put on my home made black and white dress, it is to better reveal a side of me. I choose the very graphic black and white, because this absolute contrast sums me up. To accompany my music, which is colored, I wanted something more austere”.
Most of the press attention levied towards the French musician occurred in 2015. She has a huge fanbase (tens of thousands across social media) but remains a lesser-known quantity in the U.K. and U.S. Jain has expressed desires to tour more in America and Britain but spent most of the last year (and 2015) promoting her music across Europe. The fact she has such a loyal and growing army of supporters in France has kept the young artist busy. That looks set to continue unabated as we head into spring; just look at her tour dates. Throughout February, Jain plays venues across France and Belgium; that continues into March – until 12th where she heads to Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley. The North America dates are crucial and seem to signal new material is forthcoming. It has been over a year since her phenomenal debut, and the fact a bi-continental tour is afoot, suggests some fresh material might be premiered there. Jain travels across California and Oregon before reaching Canada on 27th March (Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver). There are more U.S. dates in April where she will play the Rock & Roll Hotel (in Washington D.C.) on the 9th. It is an exhausting and far-reaching next few months but Jain would not have it any other way: she loves being on the road and reaching new audiences.
Whereas her 2015 output was influenced by home and childhood, mixing African beats and rhythms with French passion and Tolousian vibrancy, one wonders whether U.S./North American tours and her influences, including Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead, will see a British-American alliance – more Hip-Hop and Alternative threads coing into her work. I can feel, looking at Jain’s social media feeds, there is excitement for this year and what lies ahead. How that materialises itself is down to the musician herself but you feel like a new album is in-the-works. What form that will take will be exciting to see: there are few other musicians that have accrued such a mass of fans after one album. It is a testament to the uniqueness and magic Jain provides the people. She is not just one of the most interesting artists I have come across but among the most daring. Never compromising or demurring: her music is a symphony of emotion and wild imagery; all manner of themes and possibilities explored. Music requires more like her so, for that reason, she is someone I’m tipping for 2017 success. Considering the affection and popularity Christine and the Queens – last mention but here is a comparable artist with similar D.N.A., mind – I would not be surprised to see Jain getting festival bookings in the U.K. very soon. Whether she allows herself some time to rest is anyone’s guess: it seems like the road is a very safe and inspiring place for her. There might be labels and record companies, seeing someone like Jain come through, having lofty ideas: changing her image or making her more Americanised or Anglicised; maybe songs that are chart-accessible and Pop-y. That will never be because, with an artist as rare and strong as Jain, you have someone who will inspire many others and leave jaws hanging. In ending this piece, a phrase (common in English; I’ll translate, fairly well, into French) applies rather succinctly to Jain…
ON ne change pas une équipe qui gagne!