While polarizing politicians push for more border control, French singer, Jain, is making a moving case for blurring boundaries and dancing in the streets. Her debut album, Zanaka, which recently went gold, blends a host of different musical styles and global influences into rhythmic tracks that we can’t get out of our heads.
Jain’s signature sound was cultivated from a nomadic life – as a teenager her family traveled for her father’s work. One move set the family in Congo. It was there that Jain first noticed the unifying power of music and began to write songs. Later, the family moved to Dubai and Abu Dhabi and she picked up Derbuka, an Arabic style of percussion. In France, Jain was taken with electro and pop. She soon combined contemporary electronic sounds, earnest songwriting, and worldly rhythms into her current special blend of “melting pop.”
The Untitled Magazine talked to Jain about her new album, family travels, and how she came to find her wide-reaching sound. Check out the exclusive interview with photography by Indira Cesarine and catch Jain on tour in Europe this winter.
The Untitled Magazine: What was the inspiration behind the title of your debut album, Zanaka?
Jain: Zanaka means “child” in Madagascar, It was a homage for my mother who is half French half Malagasy. I began writing the album when I was 16 years old.
UM: How would you describe your sound in your own words?
J: I started to compose my first songs in Congo, in Pointe Noire, a little town in the south. There was a lot of music all around the streets. Music was the way to share time, to dance. That’s what I wanted to do, make a sound that could unify people and make them dance together.
UM: You call your music “melting pop,” what does that mean to you?
J: Melting pop means there are lot of different influences like reggae, electro, hip-hop, and folk influences from Congo and Abu Dhabi, where I lived. While it is still mainly pop, it’s a mix of different sounds and different cultures.
UM: You are from Toulouse? How did you get started with music?
J: I was born in Toulouse, but I only lived there for two years before I moved to Pau, a town in the southwest of France. That’s where I started drums for two years. When I was nine we moved to Dubai and I started learning Derbuka, an Arabic percussion. My music really started with rhythm and then a few years later I started to compose my own songs.
UM: How did you end up living in Dubai, Congo, and Abu Dhabi?
J: My family moved for my father’s work. It was really intense and enlightening. I was a teenager, living outside of my country and the gap of culture between France, Dubai and the Congo was something amazing to experience. Although sometimes it was hard to leave friends and places to move to a foreign city, I loved it.
UM: How have those particular places each influenced your sound?
J: I think every places really influenced me. Dubai and Abu Dhabi were where I learned percussion and the Congo was where I started to write. France is where I listened to a lot of electro and pop. Every city and every place has it’s own sound. I think that’s the richness of music.
UM: Who are you biggest musical influences?
J: When I was 14, I discovered a live recording of Otis Redding on the internet and I found him so amazing. I’m a big fan of his.
UM: What was the inspiration behind your hit song, “Come?”
J: “Come” is one of the first song I ever wrote. It’s about friends, love, and the fact I had to leave them both for another country. It’s a quite nostalgic song but with a very joyful sound.
UM: Tell us about your track “Hob?” what does that mean to you?
J: Hob means love in Arabic. It’s a songs for my friends, I wanted to tell them that I’ll always think about them. It is also an acronym for ‘Her Own Business”.
UM: What about your track “Makeba?”
J: “Makeba” is an homage for Miriam Makeba, the South African singer that rocked my childhood. She was this figure of force and unity. Growing up, I realized that a lot of my friends didn’t know about her, I found it sad so I made a song about my love for her.
UM: You have been very busy on stage recently – Can you tell us about a recent performance that stood out?
J: There were a lot of memorable moments on stage, in France and in the US. Being lucky enough to travel with my music is something so important to me. I really can’t choose a performance that I prefer.
UM: What were some of the highlights of opening for Christine and The Queens on tour?
J: It was an amazing experience. I’m so happy for her and for the success she has abroad. She has opened doors for French music and seeing her live was incredible.
UM: What can we look forward to next from JAIN?
J: New sounds and a lot of freedom I hope!
Photography by Indira Cesarine
Fashion Editor Indira Cesarine
Hair by Joseph Maine
Makeup by Daniel Avilan