Friday, Mar 31, 2023

Songs of Pleasure and Pain

French singer and actor Zoe Simpson on the need to talk about women’s desire, writing music with girls from red-light areas, and how her mother’s untimely death has affected her music.

zoe zimpson, french singer, album, women standing, me too movement, amaravati, beatles, rickie lee jones, indian express news Zoe Simpson

(Written by Sameer Manekar)

With palpable anxiety and nervousness, French singer and actor, Zoe Simpson took to stage in the small town of Amaravati last week.

Performing for the first time in India, Simpson was “stressed” about getting through to the audience. But the moment her long-time friend Malcolm Crespin hit the first chords on his guitar and she began a song about a woman’s desire, it was no longer about understanding the lyrics. Soon enough, the audience was enchanted by her melodious and powerful voice touching upon desire, love, pain, and dreams
of women.

Coming out of a three-member band, Simpson’s debut album, Femme Debout (Women Standing) that released in February last year, is all about the women that she has known, seen, or read. The 10-track album takes the audience through varied subjects — from women’s desires to their pain, from their crushed yet alive dreams to the lovers’ heartache through the sanguinity of Crespin’s music. While Caresse-moi (Caress Me) took one through the story of women who want to be loved, the opening track Iphigénie (Iphigenia) was about a greek mythological character who is sacrificed by her father for the purpose of war, and portrayed the singer’s belief in “women still being sacrificed, put down, all over the world”. However, one track that stood out due to its inherent sadness was Novembre Sous les Cendres (November Under the Ashes), influenced heavily by her emotions after her mother’s death in November 2015, and terrorist attacks in Paris a day later. “My mother died on November 12. She had a heart problem, but she wasn’t sick. It was very sudden. And the very next day, there were the Paris attacks. It felt like the whole world was collapsing. The only thing I wanted to do was write. I was in a subway, and I just began writing what I was feeling, and it was connected to what all of us were living in that moment in Paris — this sudden shock, this incomprehensibility of things happening around us,” says the artiste, who also performed at the Shisha Jazz Cafe in Pune on January 10.

Having grown up listening to American singer Rickie Lee Jones and Beatles, Simpson was inspired by her grandfather to act, and introduced to the beauty and power of words by her grandmother. Talking about her inspirations, she says, “These are all the women I have known in real life — my mother, my younger sister, all the women around me. Wim Wenders’ film, Paris, Texas (1984) has a female character played by Nastassja Kinski; the story of Iphigenia and her sacrifice — these are some characters who have been my inspirations.”

zoe zimpson, french singer, album, women standing, me too movement, amaravati, beatles, rickie lee jones, indian express news Zoe Simpson during her performance.

Talking about her tracks that deal with women’s desires, she says, “Pleasure is freedom. It is not a sin, but one of the best ways to live and be happy. I don’t know why it should be kept hidden. We can talk about it as much as men can. It is in a way similar to the #MeToo movement. We have to fight for these issues. It is also important for the next generation of women and girls, for them to have this freedom of talking about pleasure and desires.”

During their stay in Mumbai, Simpson and co. would be visiting a Kranti, an NGO that works to empower women from the red light areas.


“Coming from France, I am very far from the lives of these girls. I want to meet all of them, to understand their lives, and maybe write a song together, and play some music,” she says with a smile.

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Simpson will perform in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Bhopal next week.

First published on: 12-01-2019 at 07:35 IST
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