Friday 27 June 2014

At the Django Reinhardt Festival

It was Thursday night, just after 10pm. Cyrille Aimée was approaching the end of her (despite the first name, she’s a woman) wonderful performance, her first at the festival, which is staged in Samois where she grew up.

Thus far she had just been singing and occasionally say a few words about what the next song would be about, and introduced the band (mentioning where she was from then). But with a couple of numbers to go –and to my everlasting regret I was not taking a video at the time- she began with “Here’s for a little story. I was coming to this festival as a child, to listen to the music and eat some churros…” and went on to tell everyone –having said that half of the audience was her family, which would mean a rather inclusive definition of the term as the venue was packed, with many people standing- about the first time she’d sung in public, which because of the rain ended up being in a bus (the gipsies’ caravans were too small), and how seeing the changed looks on peoples’ faces she had come to understand what music was all about. She could just about manage to thank “you” (probably meaning the alleged half of the audience who she claimed as her family, namely the people of Samois) as the reason why she could be there now, as surging tears of emotion were making it very hard for her to talk.

Rapturous applause rescued her, which kept going for long enough to endanger her final numbers (there was another act, Thomas Dutronc, shortly after). The moment was so wonderfully genuine. When she managed to talk again, it was to dedicate the song to the Gipsies, who had brought her so much (Samois is a Gipsy stronghold, which brought Django there where he lived and died, and thus now the festival), not only their music but their outlook on life, with their everlasting joy from exploring the new things that life constantly brings. At a time where many politicians in Europe seem willing to rubbish them, it was a lovely message to hear. Festival schedule prevented an encore. The crowd try to make the point that rules were welcome to go take a bath in the surrounding river Seine. She did come back, and it was clear that the question had been asked during her time backstage, but she had to confirm that, really, it would not be possible.

Two hours later (and maybe beyond, but I had to catch the last shuttle), she was still chatting away on the island, telling many a kid that she had known them as toddlers, asking questions about how things had developed for them, while Thomas Dutronc, not the most paranoid about safety cordons, was filling his stage with random members from the audience that he invited to come and dance to the sound of his music. Samois during the festival is one place where you can go and hug one of the main acts in congratulation and be invited by a virtuoso to jam away with total disregard for your claims of incompetence. It lives at the beat of a music that is not so much anachronistic as achronistic –timeless. Meanwhile, after having engaged in some duet scatting with an American jazz singer I met in the shuttle with Dutronc’s concert as backing, I was leaving the island with a CD that looked like I had, in a spout of megalomania, signed it myself (though she sings as Cyrille Aimée, she signs “Cyrille”), and a strong determination to be back. 

Come to think of it, she must have underestimated the composition of the crowd. If one half of it were maybe not family then, most of them surely are now.

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