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Exclusive: Stromae, International Man of Mystery

Who the hell is Stromae? This headline was plastered on posters all over SXSW—and if you don’t know who he is right now, it’s about time you found out. This Belgian singer most well known for his infectious dance track, “Alors On Danse” has the performance chops of a young Michael Jackson and the emotional depth of an artist well past his age. He affects audiences worldwide, although he only currently sings in his native tongue of French. He is captivating to watch on stage, acting out all of his songs and interacting with the crowd and his band in a way that musicians rarely seem to do these days. At the end of one of his most notable numbers, “Formidable”, he is feigning drunkenness to the point where he is carried off stage in a seemingly alcohol induced stupor. We had the delight of sitting down and chatting with this amazingly humble and polite artist, amidst the craziness of SXSW, right before he caught a flight to Brazil for his next performances.

Would you ever consider singing in English?

I’m not against it—no it’s more like it’s not genuine yet. Maybe one day, yes, but it’s not my mother language. If one day English is one of the most spontaneous languages I can use, yes, it’s going to be in English. But my English is not so good as you can hear. It’s difficult. But for translation, by somebody else, it’s okay, but for myself, it’s a bit difficult. It has to be genuine, and how can I be sincere if I cannot know when it sounds good, you know what I mean?

You have a lot of acting on stage when you’re performing. Do you have a bit of an acting background or schooling?

At school I had 2 hours a week of acting, but nothing more. At home, I was in front of the camera all the time. The most popular sentence in my family was, “Paul, go away from the camera!” I love to entertain, but not entertain in the way of put your hands up in the air, dance, okay, jump! Not only this way, but there are so many different ways to entertain. You can cry on stage and entertain at the same time. I think I’m an entertainer in this way. Life isn’t about just having fun, it’s everything at the same time. A bit of down and a bit of ups.

You’ve been doing a bit of fashion as well. Can you tell us what you’ve been designing?

What I’m wearing. It’s all part of my clothing line called Mosaert (an anagram of Stromae/maestro). The influences are African wax and English dandyism, so it’s a mix. It’s a bridge between those influences. We began with polos and socks, and the second capsule collection is with cardigans and in the next one we’d like to design shoes. It’s the beginning. We don’t want to create an empire or anything, just an identity, something that we cannot find anywhere. The fashion designer was Coralie Barbier. I’m not a fashion designer, I just have some tastes and she has her tastes and it’s a collaboration. She knows the technical things, the fabric, so it’s just interesting to discover this way of expression. I just had this idea to take this West African wax cloths and make it into more of an English fitting. But she was like– you can design your own modern African wax pattern, and so we began to work together. At the beginning it was just for me, I just wanted to have my own clothes and finally we just began to release the clothing line… and now it’s going to be available all around the world from the 24th of March.

One of my favorite songs of yours is, “Alors On Danse”. I’m also a huge fan of the remix with Gilbere Forte and Kanye West. How did that collaboration come about?

To be honest, I’ve never met them. We just asked. But it wasn’t really realistic, because it was Kanye… actually the label just asked me—do a list with some names. So, I put Kanye, Madonna, just crazy names… and actually the first name was Kanye West and he accepted to do the remix. So it was so beautiful, sometimes you write something on a paper and it happens.

So now that Kanye is crossed off the list, who would be your next dream collaboration?

Do they have to be alive? Cesária Évoria. She was a beautiful singer. She’s the definition of melancholy. I don’t know what she’s saying because I don’t understand her language, it’s Portuguese, but she made me cry when I saw her on stage. I don’t understand a word, but it’s not about the language.

That’s how I feel about your music! There’s a lot of interplay and nuance that we lose in translation. The song “Formidable” for example, what is the meaning behind that?

Does that word exist in English? In French, it’s not exactly wonderful. I don’t know if in English “wonderful” means only something positive, but the real definition of “formidable” is, at the same time something positive, but also at the same time, something completely terrible, but you don’t know which. But we say it in a positive way, usually. But there is the other definition that we’re not as familiar with. And that’s the song.

Download Stromae’s 2014 release ‘Racine Carrée’ here

Check out more of Stromae’s clothing line here

Stromae photographed for Milk Made by Koury Angelo

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