Sélène: A Trip to the Moon with Sélène

MARTYNA KIELEK / Senior Music Editor

While Sélène Saint-Aimé is still to some extent in the “young and promising” category (she does not have a Wikipedia entry yet, which in 2021 probably does imply being a “rising star”), her talent is increasingly earning much-deserved recognition in the world of French jazz.

Just like many of the artists I intend to promote with my writing, Saint-Aimé is a beautiful example of musical diversity, openly talking about the mixture of cultures and styles that influence her music.

The singer, composer and bass player has Caribbean and West African origins. She studied in New York with accomplished jazz musicians such as Steve Coleman, Lonnie Plaxico, and Ron Carter. She is inspired by her many international travels, including Morocco, where she studied Gnawa, a local type of religious music.

To help you discover the beauty of her work, I would like to present two somewhat different pieces from her debut album Mare Undarum, out in 2020. Six out of the nine compositions featured are her original work, three are covers. The lyrics are inspired by the Greek mythology, particularly by the beauty of the Moon and its goddess… Selene.

The opening track Mare Undarum I begins like an a capella piece of world music, only to turn into a wild jazz improv by the end of it, with Saint-Aimé never missing a beat with her fabulous, versatile vocals (she has the rare talent of making technical perfection sound fun). Once I was done listening to it, I immediately had to listen again. No words can describe the uniqueness of this piece so let the music do the talking :

Paene Umbra : chez Rosa B. is what I imagine a love affair between two genres, charming French chanson and cheeky avant-garde jazz, would sound like. Some singers can perform powerful African chants, some are good at breathlessly whispering French poetry. Somehow, Sélène Saint-Aimé excels at both – while keeping the overall mood deliciously jazzy.

Interestingly, she did not begin to study music formally until she was 18 years old, causing some members of her family to worry that she was “too old” to make it. Eight years later, she got nominated for the prestigious French Victoires du Jazz award (2021 edition), in the “revelation of the year” category. It is never too late to follow your dreams… straight to the Moon.

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