Stromae | Belgium
A slang variant of the French language, in which syllabic inversion is used to create a coded version of the original.
Example: Maestro can be split into two syllabic components: Mae- and -stro. The Verlan argot rearranges this into…
Stromae (neé Paul Van Haver).
My first encounter with the Belgian composer/producer/musician was in his official video for Formidable. A slender character is seen stumbling, apparently intoxicated, through the streets of his capital city. My second encounter was of the same song sung live on the French evening news and talk show, Le Grand Journal. Yet again, the long legs seemed to deny fate’s attempt to entangle themselves, as the artist slings himself across the stage, seemingly beyond the realms of sobriety. Regardless of my growing suspicions that this man felt it was his duty to rekindle the late Winehouse’s stage theatrics – nothing could prevent my ears from absorbing the insistent twang of Formidable’s backing synth. Nor could I disregard those melancholic lyrics, underpinned by swooping melodies, combining tragedy, sadness, and yet a hint of hope as, once more, the chorus takes off with the ascending “Formidable”. I then stumble across an English interview and am pleasantly surprised by Stromae’s perkiness, intelligence and general positive radiance. It turns out that, behind the scenes, the artist is quite a mismatch from my initial judgements. Age 12 saw his introduction to classical theory behind the drum kit, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that Van Haver focused his attention purely towards music, and released his first album “Juste un cerveau, un flow, un fond et un mic…”. This marked the start of what would become Stromae’s musical career.
However, without doubt, what catapulted him into the European limelight was his 2010 hit single Alors on Danse, from the album Cheese. Originally stimulated by hip-hop, yet determined to create his own stamp on the music; Stromae fuses genres including pop rock, electronica, and techno music, quoting fellow Belgian-based artist Technotronic as inspiration. The lyrics are highly focussed on addressing real life issues such as divorce, “money problems… the study, the work…” and a reminder that we should not “forget to dance.” Stating in interviews his surprise at the support he received, not only from nearby countries such as France, Holland and Romania, but also his homeland, it is evident that Stromae also values close-knit relationships, saying that real friends are “at the beginning, and they will be there at the end too.” It is here that we reach the heart and soul of what Stromae is about. Realism, contrasted against the backdrop of delusional 21st Century lifestyles. The former indicates an origin from a more historic musical period (Chanson Française has been quoted by the artist himself), whilst the latter gives evidence to his immersion within a sugar-coated-photo-shopped popular culture. Lyrics from Te Quiero stand out in this respect: “… we have to play those silly games… jewellery, kisses… sweet words and low blows, insults, hits and so on and so on…”
But perhaps what underpins all this, at an even more fundamental level, is pure passion.“If you can do it 24 hours without sleeping, I think that’s your job!”, is his advice to younger generations hoping to pursue a similar path, and shuns the notion that fame is a valid motive. Performances, interviews, lyrics, and the music itself symbolises a man who has stories to tell, ideas to convey and puts the music before all else. Indeed, his latest album Racine Carrée (2013) was received with huge acclaim throughout Europe, reaching Platinum in both Belgium and Switzerland. Stromae has struck a resonant chord with his listeners, who are only too keen to absorb his musical energy and lyrical topics. Visit his website for information on tour dates and future releases.