Stromae, Hammersmith Apollo, London — review

The Belgian singer combines exuberant stage-craft, chansonnier vocals and techno tunes

Sad Fun Star: Stroame

On Stage: Stroame

The British parlour game of naming 10 famous Belgians is about to get easier. To the list of Tintin, Magritte, Poirot and, um, the other ones should soon be added Stromae. A huge star in French-speaking countries — his 2013 album Racine Carrée outsold Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in France — he now has his sights set on the English-speaking world. If his Apollo show was anything to go by you wouldn’t bet against him succeeding.

Stromae’s real name is Paul Van Haver. He has a Flemish mother, while his father was a Rwandan architect who died in the 1994 genocide. His mixed upbringing was apparent in the opening song “Ta Fête” which set brash dance music against the singer’s declamatory voice, like Jacques Brel serenading a techno club. An African guitar motif was threaded into the mix too.

The variations continued throughout the set. There were cabaret routines, rapping, Afropop and a version of his big hit “Alors On Danse” that quoted the dance act Faithless, one of Van Haver’s numerous inspirations.
On “Formidable” he morphed into a drunken chansonnier, singing in the forceful style of another influence, Johnny Hallyday. “Moules Frites” was pure Eurovision kitsch with the singer flouncing around the stage in lipstick, planting a kiss on his keyboardist’s bearded cheek, and delivering bawdy Belgian national dish-themed lyrics with a sing-song African chorus.

If all this sounds unbearably arch — and Van Haver undoubtedly has the capacity to annoy, an exuberant show-off reminiscent of UK act Mika — then it didn’t seem so on stage. The production values reflected his platinum-artist status, a dazzling display of images and lighting. The four backing musicians wore a surreal uniform of hats and shorts, amplifying the idiosyncrasy of the occasion. Meanwhile Van Haver went from cardigan and bow tie to a Rwandan flag-themed outfit for his touching lament for his father, “Papaoutai” (Papa, Where Are You?).
All these many changes in tone were carried out with remarkable command. Van Haver’s voice was powerful while his manner was easygoing as he bantered with the many French people present. A boo rang out when he announced his intention to speak in English. Trop tard: the Anglosphere awaits.

Source:Ludovic Hunter-Tilney|

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