02 11 2008


Hector Zazou
Formative producer of world music

* Garth Cartwright
* The Guardian,
* Wednesday September 24 2008
* Article history

The French musician Hector Zazou, who has died aged 60, was best known as a producer of albums that combined the work of popular western musicians with that of folk musicians from Africa, Asia and Europe. He was both influential and controversial, with critics suggesting that he turned ethnic music forms into easy-listening kitsch.

He was born Pierre Job in Sidi Bel Abbès, in north-western Algeria, to a French father and a Spanish mother. The family joined the diaspora of pieds-noirs (Algerian-born Europeans) moving to France and settled in Marseille, where Job embraced the new 1960s musical upheavals while studying classical composition.

He began to play with experimental rock-jazz fusion outfits, but it was not until the mid-1970s that Zazou (he had by now adopted this name) began to record. Debuting as half of ZNR, a duo with Josef Racaille, he played the violin and keyboards and produced their 1976 album Barricades 3, which demonstrated Zazou's desire to mix and match musical forms, with rock, jazz and chamber music colliding.

Another ZNR album followed in 1978, before Zazou's 1979 solo debut La Perversitia. In the early 1980s he established his sound and reputation. Working with Parisian-based Congolese singers, he began creating electronic dance rhythms around their singing. Taken up in New York and Paris discos, these could be seen as formative recordings in what is now widely considered world music. In the late 1980s, he began mixing classical composition with electronics; hailed as a studio enfant terrible, he was compared to the British experimental musicians/producers Brian Eno and Peter Gabriel.

Zazou enjoyed his greatest commercial and critical success with three albums that allowed his eclectic tastes to roam widely. Les Nouvelles Poly-phonies Corses (1991) featured Corsican male choirs, and Sahara Blue (1992) was a celebration of the centenary of the death of poet Arthur Rimbaud.

By the time he recorded Chansons des mers froides (Songs from the Cold Sea, 1993), Zazou was signed to Sony, with access to a huge budget. He spent it travelling through the frozen tundra, where he recorded surviving Inuit and Siberian folk singers. Back in Paris, he added electronic backgrounds and brought in a variety of western singers, including Björk and Siouxsie Sioux, to complete the album. "I wanted to have a musical sound where everything would be part of a whole and where it's difficult to identify individual sounds," Zazou told the journalist Paul Tingen, "... and the instruments are a part of the colour and texture of [the] whole picture."

While Zazou's output sold only modestly, it found a devoted audience and he continued working on an ethnic/electronic formula, releasing solo projects and producing lush albums for the Tibetan vocalist Yung Chen Lhamo and Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan for the Real World label. On his most recent album, In the House of Mirrors, due for release next Monday, he collaborated with Indian and Uzbek instrumentalists.

Zazou is survived by his son.


Strange rock, neo classical compositions, world music (from Africa to Central Asia), string quartets, pieces for wind instruments, voices or synthesizers, Hector Zazou had a surprise waiting with each new record, showing his passion for the most unexpected mixes. From the album Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses (1991) till Quadri+Chromies (2006), the list of the musicians and singers who have worked with him is amazing : Jon Hassell, Manu Di Bango, Ryuichi Sakamoto, John Cale, Caroline Lavelle, David Sylvian, Khaled, Lisa Gerrard, Suzanne Vega, Bjork, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Peter Buck, Jane Birkin, Lisa Germano, Laurie Anderson but also Asia Argento and Gerard Depardieu. Hector Zazou was a member of Slow Music (with Bill Rieflin, Peter Buck, Robert Fripp, Matt Chamberlain and Fred Chalanor). His album with Katie Jane Garside called Corps Electriques was released in 2007. In the House of Mirrors featuring uzbek and indian musicians plus many guests is now available.


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