PRINT December 2008


Brigitte Fontaine

Cover of Portishead’s Third (Mercury Records, 2008).


1 Portishead, Third (Mercury Records) The 1990s outfit came back this year even better than before, with great new sounds yet the same strong charm. Beth Gibbons’s voice is un enchantement. You can listen to it all day and night.

2 The Gossip, Live in Liverpool (Sony BMG) Beth Ditto is a bullshot. She is a bomb. Her music is very rock ’n’ roll, but her voice is thin, high, powerful, and all gospel, making the group follow her lead like a crowd of flies. Have you noticed that both Ditto and Portishead’s Gibbons, unlike other female singers, do not act like whores?

3 Wasis Diop (musical director), Koulsy Lamko (writer and executive producer), Zé Manel (composer), Bintou Wéré, un Opéra du Sahel (Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris) For this first opera ever to concentrate on the Sahel region—a strip of land stretching across northern Africa—fifty dancers were accompanied by several musicians and actors speaking in various Sahelian languages. The show’s direction, music, and choreography were unforgettable.

4 Areski Belkacem, Le Triomphe de l’amour (Polydor Universal) Belkacem, my favorite compositional partner, has made only a few solo recordings since the ’70s, when we first began our collaborations. On this album, he offers a kaleidoscopic blend of very French music and Berberian (his family roots) modal melodies and rhythms. His voice is simple and beautiful.

5 Mariza, Terra (EMI) A very pretty woman with closely cropped blond hair and black eyes, this young Portuguese singer of fado is so good—sad, as the folk tradition requires, and yet also merry.

 Nina Simone performing at the Pan-African Festival, Algiers, Algeria, 1969. Photo: Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos.

6 Nina Simone, “Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux,” A Single Woman (Elektra/Asylum) The lyrics of this song are based on a poem by Louis Aragon, and its despairing words stir me. Her voice is both strong and gentle—I only met Nina once, but it was a long, tender meeting.

7 Carla Bruni, Comme si de rien n’était (Naïve) She married the awful and incompetent French president Nicolas Sarkozy, but in spite of that fact, Bruni here recorded something naked and honest. While there is nothing on the album that knocks you on your ass, she sings all right.

8 Alain Bashung, Bleu pétrole (Barclay Universal) Even with words that are little more than gibberish, this sorcerer charms me every time. The musicians on this record are wonderful—particularly Marc Ribot on guitar—but their music is even better onstage, where the sound will suck you in. Bashung is a great artist, though it’s sometimes a pity that he knows it all too well. Bises to him.

9 Pietra Montecorvino, Napoli Mediterranea (L’Empreinte Digitale) This beautiful Neopolitan fairy is truly amazing. Her voice is strangely husky, sometimes bellowing and sometimes low. She sings like a girl who has slept in the streets for a long time. But it may only be Neopolitan technique.

10 Sonic Youth and Brigitte Fontaine, Unpublished records This year I rediscovered two unreleased pieces I recorded seven years ago with Sonic Youth, whom I adore. I regret that my ex–record company refused to hand over the rights to these songs for the group to use on a CD and DVD.

Brigitte Fontaine is a singer of avant-garde music. During the course of her career, she has employed numerous musical styles, melding rock ’n’ roll, folk, jazz, spoken word poetry, and world rhythms.