Postmedia may earn an affiliate commission on purchases made through links on this page.
Luke Van Haver sat in his hotel room above Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon talking about his brother Paul’s party the day before — the first of two sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden — and he was still stoned. You may not know the name Paul Van Haver, but many know his stage name, Stromae.
Stromae is the biggest francophone pop star on the planet right now. This utterly unique artist from Brussels — born to a Rwandan Tutsi father and a Flemish mother — first hit the top of the charts in most parts of the world with the electro-dancing earworm So We Dance in 2010, then went truly global with his second album, 2013’s Racine Carrée.
It first ran Madison Square Garden in 2015, but as Luke Van Haver pointed out on Tuesday, fans spoke a lot of French on that show seven years ago. This time it was a much larger Anglo crowd. There are also dates in many other North American cities including Toronto, Washington DC, and Boston.
The Belgian singer is also huge here in Quebec. It exceeded four evenings at the Bell Center – an unprecedented feat for a French artist not called Celine Dion. The Friday and Saturday shows are sold out; There are a few tickets available for Sunday and December 14th.
Luc Van Haver is his brother’s artistic director and the executive and creative director of Stromae Mosaert’s record label. When asked to try to explain why Stromae is more internationally successful than any other French-speaking contemporary artist, Van Haver was initially reluctant to answer.
“It would be very absurd of me or Paul to think we have an explanation for the Stromae phenomenon,” he said. “I think it would be presumptuous to say that I have a recipe for why a Belgian artist who sings in French is touring arenas in the United States.”
But he has some thoughts on the matter – “begin to explain.”
“First, the focus is not just on the message that Paul sent, but also on how to get it across,” Van Haver said. “So when we release a single, like L’enfer from the last album, it is very important for us to produce strong images that work with the message of the song, that will speak to the audience even if the audience doesn’t understand French.”
Hence the powerful accompanying video for The Hell. It begins with a close-up of Stroma’s eyes, then the camera gradually pulls back to show his entire face, then his entire body, as he sings this very personal song that clearly chronicles the difficult emotional times he went through. Between Racine Curry and so many year.
He fell into a deep depression at the height of his success and stopped performing. This eight-year gap and the hell he went through is recounted in Hell: “I sometimes had suicidal thoughts / And I’m not proud of it.” ).
C’était l’idee of Luc Van Haver de clencher L’enfer en faisant apparaître son frère dans l’émission d’information du soir la mieux notée de France and en mençant soudainement à chanter the chanson poignante au milieu d’une interview with avec Presenter.
But it’s not just the photos that have made Stromae a star. Essentially, this is how the dark and often sophisticated lyrics – very much in the tradition of the song – contrast with highly original dance music that blends elements of electro, hip-hop and afro-pop. He goes even further in Multitude, which borrows from African, Portuguese, Caribbean, and Latin American music, all accompanied by incredibly catchy beats.
“The musical story of the new album is how it brings together the sounds of contemporary pop and folk music from around the world,” said Van Haver. “We didn’t want it to be a carbon copy of Bulgarian music or Peruvian or Algerian music, but we wanted to create a mix where you hear the influences, but it’s still something from today. That’s what Stromae is about: trying to create music that’s an artistic statement, in the music, in the lyrics, in The visuals, they have to be completely original and fresh. That’s what excites us.”
Stromae has collaborated with Coldplay and the Black Eyed Peas, performed on US talk shows including Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, and of course had several offers to make an English-language album. But that won’t happen, Van Haver said.
“Allours en dancy was a hit all over the world in French,” he said. Paul then realized: “I could make the whole world dance while he sang in French, which is the language of my heart and my way of staying true to myself when I write. And there was a lot of pressure to sing in English.” But Paul never gave up his philosophy that he would only sing in French and that he would not He offers an English version of any of his songs in an attempt to break it in the United States.
“Paul was always very firm about it, and here we are, selling out places in the States with French songs.”
vain November 25-27 and December 14 at 8 p.m. at the Peel Center. Friday and Saturday shows are sold out. For tickets and more information, see evenko.ca.
Review: Stromae at the Bell Center in 2015
Review: Stromae at the Bell Center 2014