Igit: the 'freak entrant' of France's 'The Voice' comes to Dubai
The French singer, who made his name as an audience favourite on the reality show, tells us about his new solo show in the emirate
Musical reality TV contests get a lot of flak for commodifying music, dumbing down audiences and promoting uniform mediocrity. But occasionally, the plucked-from-obscurity concept shifts the spotlight on to an unknown artist who would otherwise toil in the shadows.
One unfashionable outsider anointed for overnight fame was Igit, a rakishly suited blues and folk-influenced “chanteur francais”, who was propelled from the kitchen of a Parisian brasserie to stages and studios where he has starred alongside Jane Birkin, Catherine Deneuve and Alain Souchon after competing as the self-described “freak entrant” on the French version of The Voice: la plus belle voix.
Sporting the slanted porkpie hat of a bygone era, the bearded misfit, born Antoine Barrau, impressed judges – and won a devoted public following – with his husky delivery of vintage American blues standards by Ray Charles, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Little Willie John. Igit will perform a stripped down, solo acoustic show at Alliance Francaise Dubai on Saturday, March 16.
“You cannot be authentic and say ‘the TV and all those things, I’m not going to go there’, and at the same time say, ‘it’s a shame that people don’t listen to this music any more’,” he says of his overnight success. “As long as you’re content that what you do is authentic, there is always a fickle approach to going to the TV to show this music and broadcast it to the mainstream public, and a broader audience.”
Life after 'The Voice'
Having first taken the stage name Igit in his teens, he was a seasoned 29-year-old when he joined the show in 2014, having spent the preceding decade busking with his guitar, and playing low-paying bar gigs as part of a trio.
“I was a full-time chef in a small brasserie in Paris, dedicating all my free time to music,” he says. “We were touring in very small cars, making just enough money to pay for the petrol, playing for fun and really wanting to get more professional, but not knowing how it goes.”
Perhaps concerned about doubts over his credibility, Igit made this sentiment startlingly clear shortly after leaving The Voice by releasing a brave cover of Non, je ne regrette rien – translated as “No, I don’t regret anything”. The music video for the cover began with footage of Igit on the show, displayed on a weathered TV set, which the real-life Igit pointedly turns off before beginning to howl Edith Piaf’s trademark number. And what should he have to regret? Igit’s appearance on The Voice opened important doors and helped him build associations with two of France’s most famous living female singers.Igit was in the kitchen the day he received a phone call from the producers of The Voice, who had stumbled across a video of him busking. When they offered an audition, he spent little time deliberating and he holds few regrets, whatever compromises lay ahead. “I didn’t think very long – I was almost 30, I was still trying to do this and still nothing happens, so why not go there and see what happens? The Voice allowed me to become a full-time musician and live off my music, so I could never regret going there, or I’d probably still be a cook doing shows in bars,” says Igit, who reached the show’s semi-final.
In 2017, Igit was invited to sing Serge Gainsbourg’s parts alongside the late songwriter’s long-time collaborator and romantic partner Birkin, as part of a televised symphonic retrospective Igit calls his most nerve-wracking performance.
Finding his own voice
Less terrifying were the repeated encounters with actress Deneuve, with whom he recorded the moody duet Noir et Blanc for his debut album, Jouons. “I had this song I’d written before, and I really liked the theme of having an older woman talking to a younger guy, sharing their experience, and I had this idea that Catherine Deneuve would be great – I called my agent and we kind of laughed about it,” he recalls.
“The fact is that she watches The Voice and she really liked me on the show, and she really liked the song, it was actually quite easy. She’s really free, a free thinker, a woman with nothing to prove. And she wanted to do that.”
Perhaps in a bid to distance himself from the derivative crooning of The Voice – which also included copying the styles of Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Julio Iglesias – Igit’s official releases have been entirely self-written. With the mainstream backing of Parlophone, the shiny electronic pop EP Les Voiles (2015) was followed two years later by Jouons, which mixed chanson charm with a pop sheen.
In January last year, Igit launched an unsuccessful bid to represent France at the Eurovision Song Contest – eventually finishing fourth in the Destination Eurovision televised selection process – with the traditionalist song Lisboa Jerusalem heralding a new orchestral style. It’s this Jacques Brel-esque sonic approach which Igit is tracing on his forthcoming, self-released second album. “The first EP was really produced, Jouons was kind of a mix between the two, and now I’m heading towards something which is all totally unproduced, all real instruments playing together.
I guess I’m getting older and setting myself apart, trying to reach authenticity,” adds Igit.
Last summer, Igit was also invited to perform at the storied Festival d’Avignon, which prompted the creation of the theatrical solo storytelling concept show – readily compared to Springsteen on Broadway – which the singer will bring to Dubai. A prolific songwriter who composed more than 60 tracks in preparation for his last album, Igit hopes to leave his five-date Middle Eastern tour with new material for his next release.
“Dubai is a place that’s talked about a lot in the world – so you always have a fantasy about this place, these magnificent buildings in the desert,” he says. “I’m sure I will have some inspiration to write some songs when I’m there, because it’s a pretty crazy place, so hopefully I’ll come back with a song or two in my suitcase.”
Igit performs at Alliance Francaise Dubai at 2.30pm on Saturday. For tickets, visit www.afdubai.org/concertigit
Updated: March 14, 2019 12:42 PM