BlackBook Exclusive: French Songstress Mai Lan’s Fave Places in Paris

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It takes a particular skill to effectively cross genres like electro, hip-hop and pop; but for French songstress Mai Lan (Chapiron), that’s exactly the point. Well known in France for her groundbreaking, self-titled 2012 debut album, she pushed boundaries by reimagining hard-core rap tracks as lullabies. Her videos show her stood in front of French châteaux, rapping about vampires. Seriously.

No surprise then, that Anthony Gonzalez of M83 heard some of her new tracks at a listening session in LA, and couldn’t resist her mix of “childish chanting vibes, a really soft warm voice, but with a flow almost like rap.” The duo went on to collaborate on four tracks, including the opulent, visceral single “Go!”. According to Mai Lan, “[Anthony] is one of the ones I like writing with the most. It is levitating.” The collab actually opened the door for her own journey across the Atlantic to the States, to connect with an entirely new audience.

Her new solo album Autopilote sheds the acoustic guitars from her earlier work. In Mai Lan’s own words, on this album, she “wanted it to be very strong in some way. There is a lot of space on the vocals to be really alive. It’s very simple. A big bass, a big beat and voila!”

 

 

She also seamlessly combines her Vietnamese and French heritage. Raised by a family of artists and musicians, she was encouraged to experiment at an early age; in fact, it was a song – “Gentiment Je T’immole” – in her brother’s 2006 horror film Sheitan – that launched her music career.

Written and recorded mostly in Brooklyn, Autopilote is “maybe more an urban album, really city-ish, you can feel the subway, a little bit of anger and stress, but also you can chill on it too. And it’s really fun to dance to with your friends. But all the deepest parts of all the songs are really personal.”

How does she feel about her new American audience?

“The French people don’t care what I say,” she explains, “but when I write in English there are a lot of jokes, little wink wink. All those kinds of things that nobody can see in France but only English speakers understand.”

Back in Paris after a recent world tour, we asked her to reveal her most inspiring places in the City of Light.

 

Mai Lan’s Paris Favorites

Le Bois de Vincennes

It’s a forest at the door of Paris, where I like to go for some calm and fresh air. It’s huge and very packed. When you walk in there, you can suddenly totally forget you’re in the middle of a city.

Centre George Pompidou

It’s the museum of modern art in Paris, also called Beaubourg. They always present dope exhibitions with interesting points of view. And the permanent collection (Rothko, Francis Bacon, Yves Klein, Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Christian Boltanski) is awesome. Even the building – by exalted architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers – is amazing, all covered with multicolor tubes. It’s in the heart of Paris, right by Les Halles. (Editors note: the rooftop restaurant Georges has spectacular views and great people watching.)

 

Dong Huong

My cantine in Belleville, this is where I can find the Vietnamese dishes I love, just as if I was in Saigon. It’s exactly the same tastes, smells and atmosphere. I always have the pho ga – it’s a soup with rice noodles and chicken broth.

Le Septime

For good gastronomic french cuisine, this is the place. The menu changes every night depending on what chef Bertrand Grebaud finds at the market (which might include canard des landes, veau de lait cru). It’s a little hard to get a table, as it’s always fully booked in advance – so you’d better call early.