- An Anthology of French and Francophone Singers from A to Z: 'Singin' in French' ed. by Michaël Abecassis and Marcelline Block
Michaël Abecassis and Marcelline Block's edited anthology introduces the reader to 151 of the best-known and most successful popular music singers of the French and francophone world. The editors explain that their aim is to take French song seriously and to explore the way in which the form 'appears to be a vector of cultural, social, and stylistic values' (p. xii). Specifically, they have collated portraits of 'the greatest singers of the French language, who have constructed the musical landscape' (p. xiii) of la francophonie, as a means of exploring the extent to which such singers and their associated musical genres 'influence the French language and nourish our collective imagination' (ibid.). The singers represented in the volume, then, are varied and cover a range of genres, time periods, and geographies (including chanson à texte, rap, yéyé, chanson réaliste, and rock and roll, from the 1880s to the present, and from France, Belgium, Canada, and Algeria, among others). Each singer has a short encyclopaedia entry, accompanied by a caricature by artists Jenny Batlay or Igor Bratusek. The entries vary in length but all have been written by academics affiliated with universities from around the world (primarily the UK and the USA), independent scholars, and translators. Little information is provided about these contributors, other than their name and affiliation. Entries tend to take the form of an extended biography, with emphasis often on key moments in the singer's career, such as the release of popular albums and the dates of successful concert tours. There is unfortunately a lack of consistency in the provision of additional references for each of the singers: not all entries provide an additional bibliography, which would guide the reader towards supplementary sources to flesh out what is here a necessarily brief introduction to the singer in question, the significant aspects of their career, and, sometimes though not always, the predominant themes of their songs. In this context, whilst the cultural, social, and stylistic aspects of each singer's œuvre are explored, as per the aims of the anthology, the specific influence of these singers on the French language and on the collective imagination is often dealt with only briefly. Readers seeking an explicit account of this influence will have to look elsewhere, building their own bibliography using the names of the present contributors as a potential starting point. The Anthology, though, is first and foremost a mini-encyclopaedia, and will in this context be of use to undergraduate students of French and francophone culture, as well as to researchers into French popular music, for whom the collection constitutes a useful starting point, particularly in the case of those singers who are less well known in the anglophone world.