It takes just a few seconds of listening to Jain to know that you’ve stumbled on someone special. Pick a song – any song – from the Parisian’s glorious, globe-trotting debut album, Zanaka, and the effect is the same. Instantly, you’ll be startled, smitten and smiling.
It’s not often that the term citizen of the world truly means just that – but for Jain, also known as Jeanne Galice, it’s an undeniable truth. The twenty six year old French born multi-instrumentalist had, by the time of eighteen, lived in France, Dubai, Pointe Noire, and Abu Dhabi. Leaving her birthplace of France at the age of nine, her father moved his family first to Dubai for three years. But her passion for beats had already taken genesis; aged seven on her way home from school in the south-west of France, she had passed a drum class and fallen in love. Having mastered the drums, when her family then moved to Dubai, aged nine, she picked up the traditional Arabic percussion instrument of darbuka, and her future as a melody maker had begun to take shape. It wasn’t until the family moved once again, this time to the Congo-Brazzaville, to a coastal city called Pointe-Noire, that the need to program beats and record them took shape.
Aged just 16, and armed with a slew of songs, she found a recording studio in Congo owned by a mysterious producer called Mr Flash. His tiny studio was so small that artists literally had to queue up to record. “He was mainly doing hip-hop artists at the time, I was his one French artist that he did pop songs with, a first for him,” she recalls. Having started to write songs, and record them with Fruityloops, Jain found solace in songwriting and programming – and while the shy teenager tried to write a classical guitar song in a reggae mood, writing lyrics of her friends she’d left behind in Abu Dhabi, she also accidentally wrote her first hit, “Come”.
Without realizing it, or trying to purposefully to understand it, she had picked up a mish-mash of influences. ‘When you walk down the streets or get in a taxi you just hear local music. You don’t know you’re hearing it but it’s in you. So when I first sat down to make songs, there was just this, reggae Congolese vibe that came out.’ Her teenage years in the Congo were a happy time – after school hours were spent learning to surf on the beach, and music was a constant. ‘I really grew up as a musician there,’ she says. It’s a place where music was made to dance to, you’d just have to bring music out on the street and you’d see people grooving. ‘It was always about dancing and being happy.’
With a handful of songs on Myspace for the world to hear, sixteen-year-old Jain spent her summer holidays emailing record labels and management companies. She only got one reply, and her manager was found. He introduced her to her producer, Maxim Nucci, also known as Yodelice, a French singer-songwriter who, like Jain, also performs in English. He remains her producer to this day. The pair recorded “Come” in two hours, it was their first song together and although Jain would take a two-year pause, to go to art school in Paris where she studied Graphic Art, the synergy remained. “I was eighteen and I told myself I had two years to make it happen. It was an easy decision to do music over art. I recontacted Maxim and played him some new stuff and he liked it.’
Having returned to Paris, she had a lot to learn, for every Daft Punk song her peers had been listening to, she’d been listening to Northern Soul in Abu Dhabi, for every Justice remix they’d played, she’d been listening to Reggae in the Congo. It’s never too late to find a new influence, and while they don’t really make an appearance on her first album, Zanaka (which means child in Malagasy, a tribute to her mother who is Franco-Malagasy), they can definitely be heard on her second, Souldier.
It’s in part due to “Come”’s somewhat overnight success that has given Jain the license to do what she wanted initially, to travel with her music. After performing the song live at the French Grammys, Les Victoires de la Musique – the song was number 1 the following day and within a couple of months had hit platinum sales in France, before her unique pop sounds washed over the rest of Europe – “Come” went Diamond in France and Platinum in Italy and Poland, with Zanaka going quadruple Platinum in France.
Rhythm is a natural starting point for each album, with Jain often making beats at home. Lyrics come after, spontaneously on the first album, which she reflectively says now is a little naive. With Souldier she set out to be more involved with the lyrics and make them reflect the music in their universal-ness, writing them purposefully in broken English, ‘words need to travel a lot, because I travel a lot, I use English when I travel. I want my music to travel and I want to travel with my music,’ she says. And while to an English speaker they might not sound as if they are in anything other than English, the underlying message is that communication is king.
Souldier is a masterpiece; from nods to Bollywood on “On My Way”, (Abu Dhabi has a large Pakistani and Indian population) to a comedic Inspector Gadget riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Ed Banger compilation, (“Inspecta”), to the Manu Chao referencing “Feel It”, the album opens the musical doors and windows and shakes up the status quo. ‘It’s often quite hard, particularly in Paris, with multiculturalism. I want to open myself up, rather than close myself to things, which is what we so often see in the world,’ she says. ‘My music is a bubble of utopia, I want people to go inside it an feel good.’
Having honed her live set playing acoustic cover versions of Lady Gaga and Amy Winehouse, before finding her feet and opening for Christine and the Queens (‘our music is very different but I learned a lot about how hard she works’), she has settled on performing something that is midway between live show and DJ set, with the simple ambition of making people dance – referencing her teenage years in the Congo once more. ‘My music is about utopia, and healing, (“Souldier” was in part written after seeing the news reports on the Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub), and you need visuals to get into the music. Inspired by surrealist painters like Magritte and Breton, she chooses to represent herself visually with unrealistic images which transport the listener to her paradiscial bubble.
Ten years after she left the Congo, she hasn’t been back – Mr Flash may have no idea of his French pop prodigy’s success. ‘He didn’t have a cell phone and he doesn’t have Facebook. I don’t know if he has heard my music,’ she laughs. ‘But I’d love to go back and show him.’