Released last April, Shola Adisa-Farrar’s debut album Lost Myself is an exploration of her eclectic musical self, under the spotlight of a renewed French jazz scene.
Paprika tea room in the 3rd arrondissement of Paris shares some common points with Shola Adisa-Farrar – both are welcoming, elegant and comfortable to be around. These are the same feelings one experiences when listening to Shola’s debut album Lost Myself, which has enabled her to mix her own musical references and the ones acquired through her new life in Paris. Jazz has been the staple element, and Shola has a good reason for that: “my voice and how I can use it have always been two important aspects to me, and I felt like in jazz, people really get to express themselves vocally”, she explains. This is how vocal jazz has imposed itself upon her. Just like Nina Simone, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Ella Fitzgerald, the American female singers that inspired her.
Paris as a Stepping Stone
And like some of them, this Northern Californian girl who studied Music in New York has been looking for opportunities to sing in the City of Light. thanks to its mythical jazz venues – Le Duc des Lombards, Sunset/Sunside, Le Baiser Salé, Paris can indeed still be regarded as one of the jazz capitals of the world. Le Duc des Lombards is the place where Shola got to perform, a few months ago. “It was really exciting to be asked to perform here”, she recalls. “Any time I’m able to perform and there’s an audience who wants to spend money and listen to me, that’s an honor for me.” And compared to the United States, where jazz represented only 1.4% of total American music consumption in 2014, France, with its 22% of jazz listeners seems to have offered a privilege springboard for Shola: “What I owe France is that I really started a musical career here”, she confesses. “I started to feel comfortable with my voice. And I think the French audience potentially is more open.”
« What I owe France is that I really started a musical career here »
But before that was another significant experience in Shola’s career as a jazz singer: Her shows given at Le Réservoir, where many artists such as Ben Harper, Placebo or Radiohead went on stage. “I looked at different places in Paris where I could perform and I saw Le Réservoir, where they have the Jazz Brunch on Sundays”, she explains. “I went to talk to Julien Lebrun, who organizes those, and eventually he booked me and it became more regular.” He even did more for her, since he signed her to his own label, Hot Casa Records: “That’s kind of how the album happened”, she says. Among the infinity of jazz labels in France – from collectives and independent labels to bigger companies such as Les Allumés du Jazz or Label Bleu – this one seems to be what best corresponds to her identity: Both find their roots in jazz, soul, African music, and even more.
Renewing the French Jazz Scene
“Travel makes the best part of who I am, so it always inspires me”, Shola asserts. And indeed, one can easily hear that Lost Myself is a patchwork composed of different parts of the world where she has been to, with references to Europe, Africa, the United States and Jamaica, where her family roots are. The latter has inspired the reggae influences in her song “What a Night”, that comes from a folk song that’s called « Linstead Market ». « I changed the lyrics and the meaning of it but any Jamaican knows that song”, she assures. Along with Californian group Rising Tide, Shola is part of these contemporary singers who renew the French jazz scene through original genres blends.
But this “exploring album” needed a “French touch.” Pianist Florian Pellissier brought it. She remembers meeting him through the label. Julien Lebrun said, « I think we need to work with a jazz man to help establish you somewhere, » and introduced them to one another. « Florian helped me write the songs. It was really a collaborative affair. Even though he’s French, he helped me rediscover jazz in a different way than I had before”. Collaborations between French and American jazz artists always bring out something interesting, and they are even encouraged through programs such as FAJE (French-American Jazz Exchange). A la Ibrahim Maalouf and Sting, Shola and Florian Pellissier are a compatible duet offering their various influences to serve French jazz.
France, the United States, and New Paths
“To be honest I didn’t set out to be a jazz singer”, Shola confesses. “I wanted to sing. So growing up, a lot of my references were soul and R&B, that was the kind of music that I primarily listened to.” Yet, no wonder she has ended up singing jazz. This musical genre is taking more and more risks, blending styles like never before: Singer/rapper Anderson . Paak and saxophone player Kamasi Washington are some good examples. They also happen to be the “dream team people” Shola would like to work with: “I like the idea of mixing genres. That’s something really interesting to me and I really want to do that more.”
And because she “do[es] not want to be strictly one thing”, she has already thought about what would change when she creates her second album: “Your music depends on what’s happening at that time, the country that influences what you create, etc. This is why I really think I want to create my next album in the U.S., specifically in Los Angeles because there are a lot of interesting things happening in music there.” Indeed, not only is L.A. one of the American cities that have the best-paying jobs in the music industry, but it is also part of those that have the most job opportunities in this sector. Yet Shola, who thinks that there is “more energy, more business” in the U.S., does not want to leave Paris, where there is this “calmness” that she needs: “I’ve always dreamt to have a bi-continental life. Being between the two places would be a really nice balance for me. And I think that’s in my near future.” Being between two places but also several musical genres – that is how Shola, along with other contemporary jazz singers, builds herself and her music.
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