Ever listen to an artist for the first time and been tempted to compare their style to someone else you’ve heard before? I happened to stumble on Sarah Jane Rameau’s Soundcloud from a mention on Twitter, and after deciding to give her a listen, I thought immediately of jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday…and even Eartha Kitt. I was certain that she had been influenced by one or more of them.
Sarah Jane Rameau….[Photo Credit: Sarah Jane Rameau ]
Rameau’s thyme leaf-soft voice runs through this ballad entitled “Jardin D’Hivers”—Winter Garden on her EP Introducing…SJ. I could feel this warmth in her voice, and at the same time I thought I could feel this coldness, this sadness. I truly felt enraptured. For some reason, my mind thought of a conversation I had once overheard as a little girl at a salon. One of the patrons mentioned Josephine Baker and the black expatriates who had gone to Paris to escape racism in the USA. Up to that point, I had not been schooled on this part of history, and how ironic it was that I had to learn it in a beauty salon, of all places. I don’t know why this memory came up as I listened to “Jardin D’hiver”. Maybe, it was because I was thinking of these expatriates, leaving hot Mississippi, Detroit and New York for the cold of Europe, for the warmth that they couldn’t get back home. I wondered why this singer had written this song, and why she had recorded it, and what had inspired the lyrics.
Get this: Rameau herself lives in France, where she’s studying architecture. Also known as SJ, she describes herself as a “small individual, continuously discovering herself and striving to make this world a better place by using my favorite tools: art, music and architecture.”
Kreyolicious: Are Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday among your musical influences?
They are, but mostly Ms. Fitzgerald. She has a particular voice that really gets me all the time. But the men in jazz have really influenced me. They bring an energy that these women don’t have. And I think if a singer has both, he or she is definitely complete.
Kreyolicious: There is thing song that you sing on your EP called “Jardin D’hivers”. What made you record that track?
I am a big fan of Henri Salvador. His voice is very expressive, very theatrical. Through his lyrics, we feel quite full of feelings which perspire there. So when I first heard “Jardin d’Hiver”, which is a bossa nova genre, it really hits me to hear a voice so calming and soothing compared what he usually did. Oh! I love this song! It’s like silk on your skin…And I love bossa nova, so I thought, why not paying him tribute?
Kreyolicious: When you were putting your EP together, was the track selection difficult?
It was! I mean, a regular EP should have up to five songs. Mine has seventeen…So you get the picture! And since I’m a risk-taker, I dared published an EP of seventeen songs.
Kreyolicious: Musically speaking, what can we expect from you?
Oh! A lot of things! But I don’t like expectations; I don’t like plans…they sometimes lead to disappointments… I prefer surprises. I like to live my music on a daily basis. It changes depending on my mood, on daily lessons, and a lot of other factors. It might evolve into many other things that, I, myself don’t even know of. I just let the Universe do what He’s got to do with me and my voice and the path it has to take…But more concretely, I’m working on a new EP with really cool and talented collabs…Surprise!
[Sarah Jane Rameau. Photo Credit: JD Painson ]
Kreyolicious: If your EP had seventeen tracks, does this mean your eventual album will be a double-album?
Oomph…[Laughter] Let’s not talk about it…Although it’s not a bad idea…One day! [Smiles] But as I said earlier, my upcoming EP will respect the standards—five songs tops.
Kreyolicious: How do you care for your vocal cords?
I don’t really have a particular regimen for my vocal cords. I drink cold water—which is not good for them…oops…When warming up, I like to sing off-tune sometimes. It’s weird, but I think it’s leading me places I’d intentionally never go…But on a serious note, I drink tea with honey at night, and take jazz singing classes once a week. The rest of the days—after school—I sing in my little home studio.
Kreyolicious: Why did you choose music—of all things?
Ha! I didn’t choose music… Music chose me…When I thought I was the one who chose music, I had it all wrong, trying to control it and to lead it to places where it didn’t really belong…I wanted to be a superstar with flashing lights and paparazzi, living the “big life”…Well the dream that most of us has now…One day I woke up and realized that it’s not where I want to lead my life and my music… I took a leap of faith and thought of quitting then, that’s when I realized that music chose me. And it has chosen me to be the voice that helps, that encourages. I want to be the voice of the people, the voice of a change, of a better world.
Kreyolicious: Are your parents your biggest champions when it comes to your singing career?
Definitely! My father is my first mentor when it comes to music culture! I definitely owe it to him. And my mother—and all of her sisters—sing beautifully. Thanks to them, I learned music and rhythm since I was young. I am really blessed and lucky I have them to motivate me musically [up to this point].
SJ performing in Montreal, Canada. Photo Credit: Isabelle A. Jolicoeur
Kreyolicious: When was the last time you traveled to Haiti?
Last summer, to visit my family and friends. I also had the chance to perform with the Akoustik Band at Yanvalou and was also a guest at Bibi’s—Fabiola Coupet—Radio Show. Both were rad!
Kreyolicious: Have you ever been at a loss for inspiration?
Yes, I [have been]. A lot, actually. But when it happens, I meditate, I read. I go out for a drink with my friends…Refreshing the mind a bit.
Kreyolicious: A melody…lyrics…which usually comes first for you?
Definitely a melody. They come at anytime. [Laughter] You may catch me anywhere recording a voicenote, and be like, “What the h—“. [Laughter] Although the lyrics, when they come, I just write them down in my messy little notebook.
Kreyolicious: Creative people always have messy notebooks on hand. But you know what I read in this book by Austin Kleon entitled Show your Work? That writing on an electronic medium hinders creativity since it emphasizes perfection…Have you ever written a song on an electronic device?
I should definitely check up this book. [Laughter] But yes, true. Today, technology devices tend to “kill” inspiration. I’ve been there. I think I have approximately 15 apps for music creation in my phone—melody finders, apps that help finding what’s rhyming with what…you name it…But, I have never ever finished a complete song with their help…I tried, but the results are quite disturbing. My mind may like technology, but my subconscious likes the old method… and it always wins.
Kreyolicious: What advice would you give to an upcoming singer-songwriter?
Perfection is a process: Practice your craft everyday. Don’t be afraid of critics: swallow the good ones, analyze the bad ones. And the one I prefer: Be yourself and don’t forget to have fun while doing so.
Kreyolicious: Going back to your EP, I noticed that you have collaborations with other artists. How did those teaming-ups come about?
I strongly believe in collaborations and talent meshing. That’s when you come up with a very good “dish”—I must say. Everybody has his or her own specificity. Alone, he or she can do really good—but when together—it’s magical. It’s something out of this world. I always say it! When I work with another artist, whatever we come up with together—[however small] it may be—brings me goosebumps. Just like I believe in the artistic union, I also believe in the union of the social groups. I think that it is a step towards the progress and towards another degree of humanity. As we say, Linyon fè lafòs.