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CULTURE

Stromae: 5 things to know about one of France’s best-loved artists

He's one of France's best-loved artists, despite being Belgian, but is less well known in the anglophone world. As his releases his first album in nine years, here's why you might like to know more about Stromae.

Stromae: 5 things to know about one of France's best-loved artists
Stromae at the 37th Victoires de la Musique, the annual French music awards ceremony, earlier this year. (Photo: Bertrand Guay / AFP)

1 Multitude is his first album in nine years

Stromae’s mix of dancey beats, quirky style and hard-edged rap lyrics took him to the top of the charts in more than a dozen countries in the mid-2010s.

But then the Belgian-Rwandan star, real name Paul Van Haver, all but disappeared from the limelight – after suffering crippling burnout towards the end of a gruelling world tour in 2015. 

It has been nine years since his last album, but he returned on Friday with Multitude. 

The album has already garnered rave reviews. 

2 He has struggled with severe depression

In January, when he started promoting the album’s first single, L’enfer (Hell), he was praised by the director general of the World Health Organisation,  Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, for raising the subject of depression and suicide.

“Thank you @stromae for raising the difficult topic of #suicide on your latest album. So important to reach out for help if you are struggling and to support those who need help,” Dr Tedros wrote on Twitter.

The single is an unflinching examination of his experiences with depression and his battle with suicidal thoughts – “If it helps some people want to get help, that’s great,” the singer said in an interview with AFP.

But the album’s opening track Invaincu (Undefeated) demonstrates that he’s now revelling in his reborn ambition.

3 His 2013 hit Papaoutai was the most-watched music video on YouTube that year

It was watched 161 million times that year in France alone. But, like L’enfer, and many of his other tracks it has a harder, more emotional side.

The song (Papa, where are you) references the Belgian-born singer’s struggles growing up without his architect father, who was killed in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994.

In his latest album, Riez (Laugh) compares the fame-and-fortune dreams of a singer, with a migrant’s dreams of papers and a square meal, while in Fils de joie (Son of joy) he imagines life as a prostitute’s son, confronting a client, a police officer and a pimp.

“The subjects that have nothing to do with you are sometimes easier to talk about,” he told AFP. “[Fils de joie] came from watching a TV show about the children of sex-workers. I was really moved by the violence they experienced.”

And there’s the very personal ode to his three-year-old son, Rien que du bonheur (Nothing but happiness)… It’s less about unconditional love, and more about having to mop up vomit.

4 His name is verlan

In 2001, he appeared as a rapper called Opmaestro, though he later changed his stage name to Stromae, which is “Maestro” with the syllables switched around in the French slang known as verlan.

READ ALSO Verlan: France’s backwards language you need to learn

In fact, “verlan” itself is an example of verlan, as it’s the French word “L’envers” (reverse) in reverse.

His first hit, as Stromae, Alors on danse (So We Dance) became a hit while he was working at radio station NRJ in Brussels in 2008. The station’s music manager was so impressed he broadcast it, and it caught the public imagination – with celebrities including Anna Wintour and then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted fans.

He signed with Vertigo Records, a label of Mercury Records France (Universal Music Group), soon after. By May 2010 Alors on danse had reached number one in Belgium, France, Sweden, Greece, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark, Romania and the Czech Republic.

5 Next stop: America

He has his eyes set on one challenging goal: breaking America.

A major test comes next month when he headlines the Coachella festival in California.

“It wasn’t my ambition in the early days to sing in French in a place like the US, which isn’t used to listening to music in another language,” he said.

“But I’ve always listened to songs in English – not always understanding them but still being moved. I told myself it might work in the other direction.”

Coachella, he admitted, will be a challenge: “I’m crossing my fingers, we are trying to be fairly ambitious with the show. There are some robotic arms involved: too much wind and we won’t be able to use them.

“I’m trying not to think about it too much.” 

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CULTURE

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

From old rockers to classic cinema, fireworks to modern theatre, here are some of our favourite French summer festivals.

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

JUNE

Festival de Nîmes

Starting mid-June and running through to July 24th, the Festival de Nîmes has brought modern music to the famous Roman Arena. This year, Gorillaz, Deep Purple, Gladiator Live, Kiss, Sting, Black Eyed Peas, Stromae and Sexion D’Assaut are among the headliners.

Fête de la musique

You will scarcely be able to move for musicians in France on June 21st, as villages, towns and cities are alive with the sound of music, celebrating the sheer joy of live performances and the breadth and diversity of musical genres.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the annual national, nationwide midsummer’s night festival. At l’Olympia in Paris, for example, Angèle, Pomme, Franz Ferdinand, Benjamin Biolay and Parcels are all performing in a series of concerts that will be broadcast on France Inter.

Rétro C Trop 

For three days between Friday, June 24th, and Sunday, June 26th, at the appropriately aged Château de Tilloloy, Hauts-de-France, there’s the ‘festival of old rockers’, this year featuring sets by Alice Cooper, acoustic ska band Tryo, Status Quo, Simple Minds, Madness, OMD, The Undertones, and Les Insus – you may know them better as 80s hit-sters Telephone.

Joking aside, previous festivals have featured the likes of Sting, Stray Cats, Tears for Fears, and Scorpions – so they know actually do know how to rock out at the 17th-century chateau. And also how to pace themselves…

Nuits de Fourvière

From the beginning of June  through to July 30th, the spectacular Gallo-Roman theatre at Fourvière hosts 60 equally spectacular performances of theatre, dance, music, cirque. There could surely be no better venue to watch Midnight Oil on July 14th.

JULY

Z’accros d’ma rue, Nevers

Theatre, circus and music are in store at Les Z’accros d’ma rue in Nevers in July, as they have been since the opening event in 1999. Most of the shows are free

The La Rochelle Film Festival

Rugby fans have rediscovered La Rochelle this year, but cinema-lovers should not ignore the Charente-Maritime resort between July 1st and 10th, as it hosts its 50th film festival, which this year pays tribute to the legendary Alain Delon.

Some 21 films featuring the French actor with eyes of ice will be screened during the festival. There’s also a retrospective of the films of the 50s queen of Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn – including Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Sabrina, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other highlights include a day of Brad Pitt films, five films from Bulgarian pioneer Binka Zhelyazkova – whose works were frequently banned in her home country, and a celebration of the centenary of the birth of Italian visionary Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Festival de Carcassonne

Deep Purple, Orelsan, Rag n Bone Man, John Legend, Sexion D’Assaut, Calogero, and Jack White are among the acts gracing the music, theatre, arts, dance, comedy and cinema festival in the historic city between July 5th and 31st. Comedian Gad Elmalah will also perform, and there are numerous free off-festival performances.

Pause Guitare

Julien Doré, Orelsan (again), Bob Sinclar and Mika headline the four-day Pause Guitare programme. The relatively little-known music festival that routinely punches above its weight, runs from July 6th to 10th in the World Heritage city of Albi, southwest France.

Festival d’Avignon

No rundown of summer events in France would be complete without mentioning the Festival d’Avignon, which runs from Thursday 7th to Tuesday 26th July.

Celebrated Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who’s currently banned from leaving his country, has been chosen to open the theatre festival. Whether he’ll actually be there remains to be seen, but the opening ceremony on July 7th kicks off three weeks of performances from some of the world’s leading stage performers across a range of disciplines.

Pyrotechnic Art Festival

Not satisfied with the bright lights of its Film Festival in May, Cannes turns on the lights again for its summer Pyrotechnic Art Festival, which runs from July 14th to August 24th. 

Nice Jazz Festival

Where would you find sultry chanteuse Melody Gardot, influential bassist Marcus Miller and punk’s grandad Iggy Pop on the same poster? The Nice jazz festival, which runs from July 15th to 19th. 

They’re not the only performers joining in the fun on the Riviera. Some 33 acts are taking part in the Festival proper, while several more are performing in the Off festival programme.

Fête nationale

July 14th marks France’s Fête nationale, known as Bastille Day in the Anglophone world, which is a public holiday. The big military parade is on the Champs-Elysée in Paris but most towns do something to mark the occasion, with concerts, parties and fireworks displays. 

AUGUST

MiMa 

MiMa is the International Festival of Puppet Art, held from August 4th to August 7th in the medieval town of Mirepoix, Ariège. The festival is open to young creators as well as artists who influence and update the recent history of puppet theatre, an inventive art with many faces. The line-up showcases a variety of techniques, with glove puppets, string puppets and marionettes portées.

Festival du Bout du Monde

The darkly named End of the World Festival takes place from August 5th to August 7th at Landaoudec Prairie on the Crozon Peninsula in Brittany, a few hundred yards from the wild Atlantic ocean. The wonderful Ballaké Sissoko is on the programme this year, as is the drum-and-trumpet fusion of Gallowstreet, as well as Julian Marley and Selah Sue.

Rock en Seine

Stromae, Rage Against the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Jehnny Beth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, London Grammar, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Crawlers, and Baby Queen are among the numerous acts lined up for this year’s annual and mostly family friendly – if you don’t mind Zack de la Rocha’s swearing – Rock en Seine festival at Domaine national de Saint-Cloud.

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