Voice of the People

Zaz posing for her new album © Yann Orhan

Zaz posing for her new album © Yann Orhan - Credit: Archant

Singer-songwriter Zaz tells Peter Stewart about following in Édith Piaf’s Parisian footsteps

Zaz is not your average rock singer. While many stars will happily profit from selling their merchandise at concerts, the Tours-born musician adopts a different stance. Wherever she is singing in the world, Zaz encourages local businesses to promote and sell products that will directly benefit and raise awareness of the area. “I love to help people and I want to support them as much as I can,” she says.

Through the Zazimut initiative, she has backed groups raising money for children’s projects and the homeless, and supported tastings and sales to aid exploited coffee farmers. This selfless approach makes the 35-year-old singer stand out from the crowd in the showbusiness world and is, she says, “a healthy way to mend a society which has become superficial and individualistic.”

Zaz – real name Isabelle Geffroy – developed a love of music from a very young age. “Although I didn’t listen to lots and lots of music at home, my parents did attach great importance to having a musical education.” She was enrolled in the Conservatoire de Tours at the age of five, where she learned to play a variety of musical instruments until the age of 11 and one teacher’s passion for music was so profound that it inspired her to want to become a musician.

The singer’s own style derives from a mixture of jazz, soul and acoustic styles; one which she claims stems from her eclectic tastes while growing up. “I was influenced by all sorts when I was a teenager; the French rock group Noir Désir, the Spanish singer Concha Buika with her blend of jazz, flamenco and soul music, and the Cameroonian jazz artist Richard Bona.” Many have compared her to France’s greatest popular singer, Édith Piaf; “I can see why people do that,” she says. Like Piaf, she draws on chansons françaises, adding her own contemporary touch, and shares the playfulness for which Piaf was renowned.

But the biggest similarity between the two chanteuses has to be Zaz’s love for the French capital. “I have been living here in Paris since 2006 and just love the cultural mix. The city exudes a special energy which I wanted to convey through my songs.” With this in mind, she put together her latest release, called simply Paris. “It wasn’t an album that I had all planned out,” she admits. “I received requests from fans abroad to make use of old chansons françaises and decided that I could rework them with a Paris twist.’

With the help of veteran American musician and producer Quincy Jones, she came up with a range of jazzy showstoppers including Champs Élysées and La Parisienne, the latter dealing with the struggle to conform to society’s expectations. Asked to nominate her favourite, she replied: “All of them have a special importance for me, but if I had to choose, it would be Paris sera toujours Paris, as it is quite a fast-paced, lively song and the words bounce out of my mouth.’

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What makes her music so popular is the social consciousness which underlies her songs. “I love people and want them to be happy,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “It’s so easy to be selfish and inhuman in today’s world and through my songs I try to communicate the importance of making life a happy experience.”

The singer’s social responsibility doesn’t stop here; she plans to start working on a fourth studio album later this autumn with a number of different artists. “I’ve got lots of ideas on the go,” she says excitedly. With a fan base drawn from the four corners of the world, finding inspiration for new songs hasn’t proved difficult. “If some of my fans are affected by a particular illness or personal experience, then I can put it in my songs and everyone can relate to it.’

For Zaz, musical success is not about personal accolades. “There are so many intelligent things we can do in life to make society function properly and using my media personality to raise awareness of matters affecting my brothers and sisters is just one of them.”

Zaz’s album Paris is now available. The singer is performing three concerts in and around Paris in January. www.zazofficial.com