France’s rising star Zaho de Sagazan makes her UK debut to a packed audience in London.
Zaho de Sagazan is one of the most talked about new artists on the French music scene. In March, she played a packed-out show at the Zénith arena and two weeks later released her debut album, La symphonie des éclairs. Heralded by the French press, the record was acclaimed for its nods to 80s synth-wave and her uniquely alto voice.
It’s safe to say the past year has been transformative for the 23-year-old, and the reality is perhaps still sinking in.
She opens with a piano rendition of La fontaine de sang, which flows into the more dynamic Aspiration.
“I’m very stressed.” She admits after the song ends, looking up and out at the audience for the first time since arriving on stage.
“But it’s okay.” She smiles self-consciously and wraps both hands around her microphone.
This is her first ever UK show and she seems keen to make it a memorable debut.
Joined by two other musicians on synths and drums, Sagazan’s music takes on an otherworldly quality on stage. The whining theremin, particularly, during Mon inconnu and Je rêve adds an eerie depth.
Sometimes for new artists, it’s a challenge to fill a 60-minute headline slot, but this show leaves little lacking – a testament to the quality of her album. An extended version of Ne te regarde pas unspools into riveting free-form synth improvisation. Even in slower tracks, such as La symphonie des éclairs, the chords thrum with an unreleased tension.
Part of Zaho’s enduring success is credited to her lyrics. Poetic and profound, they touch on melancholy, unrequited love and self-worth. Tristesse, for example, a track that personifies depression as a figure hiding in the shadows, is particularly powerful. Even the sound of the word, Tristesse, hints at something beguiling in a way that the English translation, Sadness, lacks. The performance is a highlight of the show, spiraling into manic performance art as she darts from one side of the stage to the other “Qui va là? Tristesse, dégage de là!” (“Who goes there, Tristesse get out!”).
Zaho de Sagazan is both an engaging and entertaining performer, she dances, theatrically twirls her wrists, and kick-boxes the air. She often talks between songs, apologising for her English, but determined to relay the meaning of her songs to non-francophones (although the audience is mostly French.)
Sometimes Zaho’s desire to ensure everyone understands spreads into the songs. During Ne te regarde pas, she translates spoken parts. While it’s a commendable feat to translate your songs live on stage, something of its haunting essence is lost in her translation. With such strong material, hopefully in the future she’ll have more confidence to stick to the original French.
She closes with crowd-pleaser 99 Luftballons, and new song Dansez. “I can dance like a crazy woman but it’s more fun if we dance together,” she declares and leaps into the crowd. It’s a surreal feel-good, almost tongue-in-cheek, end to a show that’s until now set an intense and noir ambiance.
Zaho de Sagazan is many things, but predictable isn’t one of them, and that’s precisely what makes her such an exciting new talent.