In France, a Revolution on the Pop Charts France has produced remarkable music over the years, from the emotive chanson of Edith Piaf to Serge Gainsbourg's iconoclastic work to the electronic melodies of the band Air. But these days there are so many young artists stirring the charts that it seems like French music is in the process of reinventing itself.
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In France, a Revolution on the Pop Charts

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In France, a Revolution on the Pop Charts

In France, a Revolution on the Pop Charts

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Over the years, France has produced all sorts of remarkable music. From the chansons of Edith Piaf at one end, to the electronic music of the band Air at another. These days, as music critic Chris Nixon tells us, French music is in the process of reinventing itself.

(Soundbite of song, "Marly-Gomont")

Mr. KAMINI ZANTOKO (French Rapper): (Rapping) (French spoken)

CHRIS NIXON: That song by the rapper Kamini was the number one single in France during February, a celebration of rural multicultural life in the country. It's indicative of the increasing pride France is taking in its homegrown music.

On one end of the spectrum, that's been around for decades. Johnny Hallyday, who began in 1960 as the country's answer to Elvis. At the other end is Emilie Simon. Her big break came when she wrote the soundtrack for the film "The March of the Penguins." Her follow-up album, "Vegetal," became one of the best-selling discs of 2006...

(Soundbite of song, "Fleur de Saison")

Ms. EMILIE SIMON (French Singer): (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: ...proving she was more than a one-hit wonder. Catchy, with a beguiling naive cuteness, it captured French hearts.

(Soundbite of song, "Fleur de Saison")

Ms. SIMON: (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: Emilie Simon isn't the only artist to break through. Camille, a former politics and literature student, became a sensation when her second album sold almost half a million copies in France alone. Her adventurous style, part Bjork and part her own dangerous imagination, makes beautiful use of her voice.

(Soundbite of song, "Assise")

Ms. CAMILLE DALMAIS (French Singer): (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: One French singer who's never gone out of style was the late Serge Gainsbourg. He was provocative, brilliant with lyrics, and a musical chameleon. He was probably best known internationally for this song, 1969's orgasmic "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus."

(Soundbite of song, "Je T'Aime ... Moi Non Plus"

Mr. SERGE GAINSBOURG (French Singer): (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: But his influence at home has always run much deeper than this single hit. But there, he's regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, continually challenging the norms throughout his life. His daughter, the celebrated actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, recorded with him when she was just 13.

Last year, she released her debut CD, "5:55". With some big-name British and French help, she crafted a record that became an immediate critical and commercial success. Continuing the family tradition, it's something that squeezes together art and pop.

(Soundbite of song, "Tel Que Tu Es")

Ms. CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG (French Singer): (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: While Gainsbourg looks coolly to us, Cali's music is more emotional. His anthems hart back to the 1980s for inspiration. From his debut in 2003, his star has risen. His passionate, widescreen sound is ineffably French, but it also transcends language to deliver a very satisfying jolt of vibrant music.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. BRUNO CALICIURI (French Singer): (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: On these days, homegrown French music isn't limited to pop, rock or even more traditional chanson. France has a large immigrant population, mostly from former African colonies, and they've added colors and textures to music. The Algerian rai sound has been part of the mainstream for a decade, as artists like Khaled and Faudel have become major stars. But a new, young generation of immigrants who've come of age in France have brought fresh cross-cultural fusions.

(Soundbite of song, "L'Alawi")

NIXON: In the southern city of Montpellier, for instance, you'll find Les Boukakes. With members from France, Tunisia and Corsica, they bring a pan-Mediterranean perspective to their heartfelt rock 'n' roll. With a nomination for a BBC Radio 3 World Music Award, they've become a presence on the world music scene. And when you hear them tackle this song, "L'Alawi," it's easy to understand why.

(Soundbite of song, "L'Alawi")

BACHIR (Vocalist, Les Boukakes): (Singing) (French spoken)

NIXON: You get a sense of a growing energy in French music. Whereas individual artists have broken out here and there in the past, these days, there's a sense that it's ready to burst beyond the borders and take the world by storm. It's some of the most interesting and varied music in Europe today, stepping happily away from the cookie-cutter sounds that dominate other countries.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Our music critic is Chris Nixon.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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