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Isabelle Boulay

Interview with Isabelle Boulay on her latest album Merci Serge Reggiani

By Marie Decreme

Isabelle Boulay tells us about her latest album, Merci Serge Reggiani. An opportunity to look at her twenty-year career, the Quebec singer is very famous in Canada, France and Belgium.

FranceInLondon: How did you come up with idea of covering Serge Reggiani’s repertoire? Why his music?

Isabelle Boulay: I have always loved this artist. I used to perform two of his songs, Ma fille and Le petit garcon, when I was twenty. And last spring, I realised I was always having one of his pieces that kept playing in my head, never the same one. At that time, I ran into some people who advised me to sing Reggiani again. One day, in a bookshop, a 80-year-old man came to see me and said: “I have heard you on the radio singing Serge Reggiani’s songs. You should make an album of them.” I thought about it. He is a performer who meant a lot to me. And it is my job to perform, he is my role model.

FIL: You have had the chance to sing with him, ten years ago, how did your meeting go?

IB: I sang with him a year before he passed away. His producer knew I liked him a lot, and he offered to arrange a meeting. I was very moved. I went to his flat, boulevard Suchet in Paris. When I got to his place, his wife and pianist were there. We talked a lot, and then he said: “What if we got to work”. I understood that I had just had an audition. We started singing, and he told me to come the next day to the Palais des Congrès. It was magical.

FIL: What memory do you have of these moments you shared with him?

IB: I remember his wife was with him all the time; she was staying backstage. Every time he was finishing a song on stage, they looked at each other, and by nodding she was telling him he had succeeded his performance. Once I got to be on stage with him, I felt privileged in the middle of this exchange of love, of these intimate looks.

FIL: How do you remember him, what kind of man was Serge Reggiani?

IB: He was honest, lucid. He was a meticulous, demanding person, also very sensitive. When he was looking at someone, we could see mischief that children have. His child’s eye had never left him. It transfigured him, and made him look like a kid.

Isabelle Boulay's latest album

FIL: In this tribute album there are also words and music from iconic French singers such as: Moustaki, Marnay… How do you approach such a repertoire, how do you rearrange it? Do you have to imitate, or lose the original?

IB: You have to respect the original form, the classicism of the songs. Great craftsmen worked on them. You must project the songs in today’s world, but with the respect of yesterday’s forms. I think that the key is to find people like Philippe B or Benjamin Biolay.

FIL: One more collaboration with Benjamin Biolay, you two are inseparable!

IB: Benjamin Biolay knows how to respect other artists’ work. He does that naturally. And I went to Philippe B because I felt he would understand what I wanted to transmit. And they managed, through the creation of the album, to project the songs as I had imagined.

FIL: Twenty years ago, you were singing The world is stone as Marie-Jeanne. Luc Plamondon, Cabrel, Bruel, Reggiani… You have met incredible people during your career. What would be the most memorable event of the last two decades for you?

IB: I remember the day I learnt Cabrel was thinking of me for his shows. I was about twenty-three or twenty-four, I was doing a photo shoot in Montreal. When my manager came to see me and said “Good news, you are going to do the openings for the Francis Cabrel concerts”, I jumped up and down in the hallway! I wanted to scream, but I could not – the news had to remain confidential. I was so glad, there was no happier girl.

Another incredible memory: when Johnny Hallyday invited me to sing with him, on his tour of the French stadiums. He was sixty. For me he was still the legend I was staring at when he was at the gym we shared with the Starmania team. He is one of those people who have this great aura. You have not seen him but you know he is in the room. So his invitation was incredible.

FIL: When you started in the business, did you imagine you could be who you are today, at 42 years old?

IB: I think I have realised things that have been beyond my dreams. I really love my job; it is vital for me. But I can tell you, I am still dreaming today.

FIL: We can tell you are passionate. What is next for you?

IB: I am going back to my chair in The Voice in Quebec at the end of October. At the same time, I will tour with other artists to perform Jacques Brel’s songs. I will also be playing in France, next December, then in Switzerland and Belgium. In March, I am doing an exceptional show in Paris, with four musicians, a piano-voice cover of Reggiani’s songs.

Isabelle Boulay in "The Voice"

FIL: After Les Grands Espaces and Merci Serge Reggiani, a next album in mind?

IB: I would love to work on original songs to explore folk music even more, a real part of me.


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