Iness Mezel, over the Channel

New album Beyond the Trance


01/04/2011 - 

In her new Berber-rock album,Beyond The Trance,Iness Mezel sings mainly in French and turns to Britain for the production. The mixed-race, multi-facetted, independent singer samples the British way of doing things in an attempt to shrug off the clichés.

Iness Mezel always composes in the same way: first comes the rhythm and then comes the melody. At the conservatoire, she used to like playing some of the more bracing composers like Debussy, Bartok and Satie on the piano. When she reworked her voice, she looked to Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder for inspiration. Imbued with multiple influences, the French singer with Berber origins has just released her second album, Beyond the Trance, taking us beyond linguistic borders and musical pigeon holes, like a reflection of her own life.

Multiple assets

Multiple. Multi-facetted. Free. From an early age, Iness Mezel has been moving between the two sides of the Mediterranean, from town to countryside, speaking two languages, Kabyle and French. She has roots in two proud, mountainous regions: Algeria’s rebellious Kabylie and the wild French region of Auvergne.

She was born in Saint-Ouen to a child-minder mother and taxi-driver father, and the family moved to set up home in Algiers when she was seven, where the young Iness discovered her grandmother’s land of Kabylie: “Full of colour, nights listening to women sing, an atmosphere of celebration.” It is to there that she owes her poetic lyrics and sense of rhythm.

At nine years old she was back in France in the small town of Riom-Es-Montagne in the Auvergne, where her mother danced the bourrée in a folk troupe and where she discovered music. To start with, she tried her hand at just about everything and spent hours in the brass band’s locale. A few years later in the Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret, she started to play the piano seriously, but carried on researching, listening to everything she could get her hands on, and found her mixed race background to be an asset. She developed an interest in funk and rock and southern Saharan music, and in particular the music of the Senegalese Doudou N’Diaye Rose.

In 2003, she had her first solo experience with Len. Before that, she was in a band with her sister but she doesn’t want to talk about that time now, and we can be sure that we won’t know any more, since Iness Mezel closely controls her image.

British bet

Her big, dark eyes underline every word when she describes her desire to make an artistic break with France, at least for a while: “I decided to take a gamble on the UK and it worked. Here, I felt that I wasn’t being listened to on the multiple level of my personality.”

For her new project, she decided to work with a British producer to overcome the “ethnic” label that people are always sticking to her music in France. She had an image of some big bass notes, guitar solos and a brand-new sound and was determined to go right through with her musical revolution.

She was introduced to Justin Adams, Robert Plant’s guitarist and a spotter of musical talent, including Tinariwen and Juldeh Camara. He was from the rock world and knew about North African music, which made him a good bet. She speaks of him like a harvester who “gathered the fruits” of her work, but underlines that the arrangements are all her own.

Adams produced the album and placed all the strings. Clearly proud of their alchemy, Mezel analyses: “I think I worked with a really good ear in England. Over there, they know more about risk-taking and they’re not afraid to get people thinking.”

The album’s English title is a kind of dedication: Beyond the Trance. It is music that goes beyond not just trances, but also appearances and prejudice. She goes on, “For me, blending cultures is an interweaving of the things I base myself on to create my cultural and musical identity.”

She composes mainly in her mother tongue for this disk, “To sing in French is to lay myself bare, but what I really wanted was to be understood. For me, we’re in a type of regression: I needed to say things more clearly to get the message across. Kabyle is a language that swings, but not many people understand it.” So, she sings about freedom, womanhood and independent thinking in French.

On Amazone, the album’s first track, she sings, “I will vote, whether you want me to or not,” a feminist stance that, taken in today’s context, becomes a unisex anthem for freedom. The Arab protests deeply interest Iness Mezel and she says that Algeria’s refusal of authoritarianism is nothing recent. “I have never gone to sing in Algeria so as not to condone the powers there, because every concert has to go through the ministry of culture.” She hopes that Algeria will find profound change at its own pace, so that Iness Mezel will at last be able to play her Berber funk rock in the mountains of her father.  


  par Iness Mezel

Iness Mezel Beyond the Trance (Wrasse records/Universal) 2011
Concert on 2 April at Café de la danse, Paris

Eglantine  Chabasseur