Born in the United States and raised in Paris by a French father and Chinese mother, Jessica Fichot is a multicultural chanteuse, singing in several languages and playing a worldly blend of pop, jazz and folk. Her latest album, “Dear Shanghai,” is a collection of 1940s Chinese jazz. Fichot and her band perform at the Cotati Accordion Festival, this Saturday, Aug 22 at 11:30am.
Now based in Los Angeles, Fichot spoke with City Sound Inertia about how she tunes into her musical heritage for an authentic, yet accessible, chanson sound.
City Sound Inertia: So Jessica, you grew up in Paris?
Jessica Fichot: “I was born in upstate New York, but I moved to France when I was two years old, all my memories of childhood are from France.”
CSI: What was your relationship to music like as a kid?
JF: “I played piano, but growing up, I didn’t really listen to music in French, it was considered lame to be listening to French music when I was a kid, so I listened to a lot of music from the United States; Tori Amos, Madonna.
It was only after I moved back to the United States and went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, that I re-discovered French music, because I wanted to so something different, try to find my identity. And of course France is very much a part of my identity.”
CSI: And how did you start playing the accordion?
JF: “After college, I moved to Los Angeles and I put a band together performing my own French songs. I sing mostly in French, recently a lot more in Chinese, and a lot of different languages. And when I put my band together I was looking for an accordion player, but I couldn’t find one, so I bought an accordion and just played the right hand. I just got more and more into it and, to be honest, I barely play the piano now.”
I have always had a hard time accepting Rihanna’s extreme popularity. Her music, to me, is bland, and she’s not a good performer. The fact that she is a victim of extreme domestic violence who has since climbed back into the arms of her abuser, fellow pop star Chris Brown, sets a terrible example for others in her situation and actually upsets me.
I’ve never had a way to explain these confusing opinions until Sasha Frere-Jones apparently climbed into my head, organized my thoughts and wrote them for me in the New Yorker’s Dec. 24&31 issue.
He nails the social impact with this:
“With all this drama, it is difficult to think of Rihanna’s stated version of independence, of being a ‘Good Girl Gone Bad,’ as the title of her biggest-selling album would have it, is being the object of badness, being subjugated… What makes this attitude even more disturbing is that it seems to have served only to make Rihanna more popular.”
Without missing a beat, Frere-Jones flings more thought-goo from the cauldron of my stewed brain and it sticks on the wall in this elegant, concise phrasing: “She has an exceptional physical beauty married to an unexceptional, almost disengaged sense of performance–she may be the most successful amateur ever.” I’ve already applied this lightbulb concept to other pop stars that suck, like Lana Del Rey, Ke$ha and Nickelback.
And, as a good critic should do, he calls out the pop star for what should be an obvious “phone-it-in” moment, her “performance” last month on Saturday Night Live. “She moves, in Timberland boots and a fatigue jacket, as if she had perhaps beard the song a few times before. There was one bit that reminded me of dancing.”
Unfortunately the article is paywalled, only available with a subscription or by purchasing the whole issue. But it’s a luxury worth paying for, if for nothing else than Frere-Jones’ music columns.