Album review: ‘Zanaka’ by Jain

The entente-cordiale between France and England has often been sustained by musical exports – in particular, French female artists, whose songs frequently manage to charm us brits, as in fashion, with their particular mix of elegance and quirkiness.  In recent years, we listened to the mysterious Cuban-France harmonies of twin-duo Ibeyi, whose song ‘Stranger / Lover’ was masterfully remixed by English producer Mura Masa.  Then, the androgynous and gloriously eccentric Christine and The Queens arrived, winning hearts at Glastonbury with her own choreography and tailored suits.  Now that ‘Tilted’ has become a mainstay on the Radio 1 playlist, there’s a new feated French chanteuse on the scene: Christine and The Queen’s supporting act on tour, and all-round lover of ethnic beats, Jain.

25-year old Jain is already a massive success in France, where her debut album, ‘Zanaka’ (meaning childhood in Malagasy, her mother’s native tongue), went platinum following a suit of awards at the French Grammys, Les Victoires de la Musique.  Her appeal lies in an eclectic range of musical influences, drawn from an international childhood living in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the Republic of Congo, and older years spent enjoying the French electro and hip hop scene when studying art in Paris.


The result is an album that seems to swerve all around the globe, picking from reggae and African percussion, but still coming back to Jain’s French musical roots.  ‘Makeba’, the lead single from ‘Zanaka’, which Jain recently performed on Later…with Jools Holland, combines odes to South African singer and civil rights activist Miriam Makeba (“the real beauty of human rights”) with throbbing club-beats and fade-outs.  There’s nothing that sounds quite like this at the moment, and yet you can tell Jain’s ‘ooohe’ cries on ‘Makeba’ will soon become a very in-thing.

Tribal percussion and rhythms continue on the up-beat ‘Heads Up’ – Jain’s musical encouragement for a time “where fear is not a leader”, her upbeat message for a politically divided and traumatised France.  Unlike many albums, where the tendency is to skip weaker tracks, Jain’s ‘Zanaka’ is full of strong-contenders; all the more impressive considering that Jain hadn’t released any music until last summer.  ‘Lil Mama’, a consoling song about homesickness, has a soulful quality, enhanced by production duties from Kingston, Jamaica.  Reggae-vibes continue on break-up defence ‘You Can Blame Me’, showcasing Jain’s vocal versatility, as on the more classically French acoustic ballad, ‘All my Days’.  Closing disco song, ‘Dynabeat’, may seem to stray into Eurovision territory at times, but you would probably be unable to resist dancing to it.  Meanwhile, ‘Mr Johnson’ is an inspired dedication to grey-suit workers in Paris, dreaming to “walk away through these office doors” and find freedom in Jain’s retro electro-pop beats.

‘Zanaka’ is an endlessly positive album that takes in all the trials and tribulations of love, friendships, mundane office jobs, and living far from home, always responding with a colourful and intensely rhythmic array of upbeat musical messages.  No wonder the French public love Jain; as France looms to an uncertain political future ahead of next week’s election, her internationally-French music is a celebration of true multiculturalism – a literal ray of sunshine against far-right islamophobia and insularity.





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