Keren Ann Zeidel

by  Sam C. Chan
Keren Ann ZeidelJune 28, 2006

Keren Ann Zeidel (mostly known as simply Keren Ann) is a French singer-songwriter who is currently devoting equal time between Paris and New York City. I discovered her a few months ago during my exploration of the French musical scene. I recommend these 3 sites for exploring and discovering artists with a style that fits your taste:

To me, Keren Ann is particularly fascinating beyond her musical talents. For starters, her parentage and childhood: She's born in Israel, to a Russian Jews father, and a Javanese Dutch mother. Right at birth, she's got the unique quad-heritage/genes from Russia, Israel, Java (island) and Netherlands. She spent her childhood living in both Israel and The Netherlands, until age 11, when her family moved to France. Now at 31, she basically grew up as a French woman with a Dutch and Israeli childhood.

Keren Ann became somewhat popular in her adopted homeland of France among the young audience, and is starting to achieve a following in the United States. Two years ago, she came to New York City to expand her career in the U.S. market. She speaks seemingly impeccable English and assimilates very well into American culture. So, she is now an Americanized French woman, who retains her Dutch citizenship, with Israel being near and dear to her.

Her allegiance, perspectives, and wisdom transcend boundaries of sovereignty, religions and geographic distance. Naturally, she's a source of admiration and inspiration for the young (at-heart, or in chronological age) multi-cultural crowd. She has an on-going musical collaboration with an Icelandic group. She also speaks Hebrew and many other languages. In an interview with The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, she stated:

I am very attached to Israel as a country...  [However] I don’t go by religion or nationality. I just go by being a human being. I can’t handle the responsibility of representing a particular community. I can only represent my personal thoughts and beliefs.

Bravo, Keren Ann!

As an artist, she's quite versatile and multi-talented. She's among the new generation taking the less-than-conventional approach to music production. Her Manhattan apartment also doubles as her recording studio. She operates her own sophisticated digital recording equipment and sends off the results to sound engineers for further refinement and mixing. The benefits are beyond productivity and logistical efficiency. In an article in The New York Times, she told the reporter:

It's also different when you can record your own vocals and nobody hears you. You can confess more. If I had not done 'Nolita' this way, it would have been less intimate, less naked.

Keren Ann wrote almost all of her pieces herself, with occasional collaborations with other artists. The lyrics are clearly partially autobiographical. In addition to the usual reference to matters of the heart, there is the frequent theme of dislocation and issues arising from long distance relationships. Her keen observations are nicely captured and conveyed in her succinct style. I personally find it very vicarious and easy to relate. Her voice is very mellow, clear and soothing. Her style is very genuine and down-to-earth, and free of gimmicks and excessive devices. Her singing is best described as emotionally subtle, almost "detached" at times, and yet very effective and paradoxically expressive.

Keren Ann Zeidel: Sam's Picks - La biographie de Luka Philipsen, and La disparition.At first glance, some of her works could appear monotonous and unexciting to some. However, I came to appreciate that "taste great, less filling" effect very quickly. A lot of her songs are what I'd call "un-love songs" (love songs minus the overdose of cliché), which are much more appealing to those who are in a  stable and sustained post-infatuation phase of the romance cycle.

Her genre is a cross between folk and jazz, and maybe a bit of pop. A few of her pieces are richly arranged. Overall, they consist of mainly an acoustic guitar, backup by violin accompaniments. Often, they begin with beautiful guitar arpeggio chords. I should also point out that she got her influence from Françoise Hardy, Joni Mitchell and Suzanne Vega.

I did a lyrics translation (French to English) of her 2000 debut CD La biographie de Luka Philipsen. The reference to "Luka" is a homage to her mentor and friend―American folk singer Suzanne Vega. I plan to write a formal critique of her first 2 CD releases, which are in French. Her 2 subsequent CDs are half French and half English. Stay tuned.


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