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Americas

California's Coachella festival shows the 'French Touch' is alive and well

media French singer Heloise Letissier aka Christine and the Queens or Chris poses on the red carpet upon her arrival to attend the 20th NRJ Music Awards ceremony at the Palais des Festivals, in Cannes, southeastern France, on November 10, 2018. Valery HACHE / AFP

This year’s Coachella music festival in southern California opened over the weekend and this year features a number of French acts that show that the ‘French touch’ music wave is alive and well.

Decades after the breakout of dominating French house acts like Daft Punk, a fresh crop of Francophone pop stars are internationalizing their appeal with music that travels.

Art-pop provocateur Christine and the Queens played a top outdoor stage at Coachella after doing a smaller set three years prior, and found a crush of fans old and new welcoming her with open arms.

She along with internationally known DJ Snake topped a laundry list of nearly a dozen French acts that descended on the festival -- including rising world pop singer Jain, veteran artist Charlotte Gainsbourg and electro-pop duo Polo and Pan.

Aside from some indie acts, like Phoenix, such a prominent lineup of Francophone music hasn't been seen stateside since the late 1990s and 2000s.

That was during the house music craze, often referred to as the "French touch" genre, which saw Daft Punk, AIR and Cassius sweep the club scene with their disco-tinged tracks.

‘Mutations are allowed’

Sporting menswear-style pleated trousers and an oversize red button-down atop a ballerina-like bodysuit, Chris -- born Heloise Letissier, the pansexual artist formerly known as Christine now goes by Chris -- oozed athletic sensuality as she pumped the energy with her stagecraft and banter: all of it in English.

"What a time to be alive," she shouted into the arid desert night to reverberating cheers. "This is now a safe space."

"Mutations are allowed -- we are free to break the law."

The bold statement referencing her newfound freedom and gender fluidity can also apply to her genre-bending art.

She has voiced feeling boxed in in her native France, saying in recent years she has wanted to "assert hybridity by traveling, by singing in English."

She has recorded several of her hit singles in both English and French, a bid to reach a wider audience.

"In France -- I was not really French to them," the daughter of academics born in the country's western city of Nantes told AFP prior to her show-stopping performance.

"I like to work on broken mirrors and many identities," she said in her near impeccable English.

"English allows me to be more international, French stays that language that I love to work on," she said, noting the fortune of Latin artists who are beginning to meld Spanish and English and still touch the public at large.

Singing in English

For Jain, the 27-year-old pop star who blends electronica and Afrobeat influences, singing exclusively in English is "natural."

Born Jeanne Louise Galice in Toulouse, she said her language choice helped her nab a spot at the premier festival and also facilitated the booking of her US tour.

"Even if it's not a perfect English, it really helped me to be able to travel," the songwriter told AFP the day before taking the stage in a bright blue catsuit with red trim.

But in her home country, Jain said it poses a "disadvantage," pointing to a law there demanding radio stations give French-language music more than a third of total airplay.

But the singer, who in her youth lived in both Congo and Dubai, said that when she began making music as a teen, many of her friends didn't speak French.

 
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