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France's music prize: nominees

Oct 19

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Friday, October 19, 2007  RssIcon

The list of nominees has just been announced for the 2007 Prix Constantin, France's equivalent of the Choice, Mercury, Shortlist and Polaris prizes. The award, France's most prestigious for music, will be presented at a ceremony in Paris on 15 November. The shortlist announcement was made by this year's jury president, rai-rocker Rachid Taha.

The award aims to recognise the year's best new or emerging act. Unlike its Anglophone counterparts, therefore, it's impossible for an act to be nominated more than once.

You may have noted the qualifier 'emerging': an eligible act can have released any number of under-the-mainstream-radar albums during a long musical career - the only stipulation is that none of their recordings have ever attained gold disc status in France, i.e. over 75,000 sales. For instance, Phoenix were nominated for last year's prize on the strength of their third album, 'It's Never Been Like That'. If these rules had applied to the Mercury then past winners such as Suede, Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys would not even have been eligible for nomination.

Another peculiarity of the Prix Constantin is that it's not confined to French acts. The regulations only demand that the record have been released on a French label. It's not even necessary to sing in French. Again, last year's nominees included a case in point: German-Nigerian jazz chanteuse Ayo, who sings in English. Theoretically there's nothing in the rules to stop an Irish band from coming to France, making an album here, releasing it on a French label... and winning the Prix Constantin (it's more likely than an Irish band ever winning the Mercury, says you cynically).

So, who are this year's nominees? Well, you should all be familiar with Justice by now - surprisingly, they haven't reached gold status in France, despite D.A.N.C.E. being a huge airplay and dancefloor hit here. You might also know Keren Ann -  the Israeli-born Dutch-raised English-language singer-songer (there's this year's non-French exception) whose Leonard Cohen/Lou Reed-influenced fifth album (again, hardly a 'new' act) has received favourable reviews internationally.

As for the other nominees, the current French fad for female first-name-only acoustic singer-songers is represented twice, by Daphné and Rose. There are three male singer-songers; Renan Luce, Florent Marchet and Ours. Meanwhile, Kaolin are the only indie band on the list, an under-representation which should tell you plenty about French musical preferences as compared to English-speaking countries, where alternative acts dominate prize shortlists.

Abd al-Malik, Prix Constantin laureate 2006Last year's winner was rapper Abd Al-Malik (left) with his album 'Gibraltar', and this year there's another rap nominee in the shape of the fiercely political Keny Arkana (who, despite her first name, is a woman). The shortlist is completed by duo AaRON (dig the upper/lower case precision), who had a minor hit this year with a maudlin piano ballad in English called 'Lili'.

Another difference to Anglophone culture: French people don't bet on anything except horses, so we can't enjoy the traditional pastime of speculating on the odds of various nominees. Your blogger may be tempted to open a book on the Prix Constantin, were it not for the fact that it's impossible for an outsider to call the winner - last year's beaten nominees included Phoenix and Emily Loizeau, both of whom made albums we're still raving about. On verra.

The 2005 winner was Camille (with her wonderful second album Le Fil), who accepted her award with the legendary words "J'ai envie de faire pi-pi" ("I want to pee"). We're still waiting for a follow-up album from her - lately she's been performing choral works by Benjamin Britten in Paris churches, and she sang the theme tune to Parisian-rat-in-a-restaurant cartoon 'Ratatouille'. The Prix Constantin was not her only victory of 2005; she also scooped the equally-prestigious honour of this column's Best French Tune of 2005 with her single 'Ta Douleur' - here's the appropriately idiosyncratic video:

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Aidan Curran, based in Paris, has been writing for CLUAS since 2004. More info about Aidan...

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