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Hong Kong gigs

French indie folk duo Brigitte ready to paint Hong Kong red, white and blue

Pair cook up a heady blend of indie folk, cabaret and '60s flower-power pop

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, 7:18am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, 10:55pm

Something special happened when the two members of French indie folk duo Brigitte met for the first time. Sylvie Hoarau and Aurélie Saada, who make their Hong Kong debut on May 23 as part of Le French May, were both musicians playing with various bands, but a strange kind of alchemy took place when they met 10 years ago.

"We really love each other," says Saada. "We live in the same neighbourhood, and we met because we had friends in common. There was a bass player we both used to play with, and 10 years ago he invited me to have a drink at her place. I'd seen her around, and playing in bands, and I really wanted to meet this girl because I really liked her spirit.

"And then when we met, something really natural happened. I asked her if she wanted to write songs with me. We were both doing music before, but we were kind of losers in music, and we were thinking of stopping and maybe opening a restaurant together.

"We spent one year writing songs in my dining room with my baby around. We didn't want to go on stage at that point; it was something really intimate. We had a lot of freedom, and it was surprising for us. We'd felt before that we weren't as free as we could be.

"What I was doing wasn't personal; it wasn't me. I was in bands with guys, and I was frightened of talking about what I liked, and Sylvie was the same. But with Brigitte we can write the songs we want to write, and wear what we want on stage. We did our first show in a little art gallery, and people were like, 'Wow'. And our little baby was born. Everything has been so busy since then."

Their little baby, showcased on albums "Et vous, tu m'aimes?(2011) and "À bouche que veux-tu(2014), is a strange mix, equal parts off-kilter folk, cabaret, easy listening and 1960s flower-power pop, with influences as diverse as jazz, nursery rhymes and disco, all accompanied by the duo singing in harmony.

Watch Brigitte in concert

Named after various icons called Brigitte, most obvious among them Brigitte Bardot but also former porn star turned radio host Lahaie and singer-songwriter, actor and author Fontaine, they are determinedly high-concept, a band that's also an idea, their retro stylings adding to the old-school glamour of their characteristic look. As much a visual proposition as musical, and as influenced by filmmakers as other musicians, Brigitte do everything themselves: writing, performing, producing, designing their costumes and directing their videos.

Contrasting with the band's polished exterior, their personal, emotionally raw lyrics hold nothing back, with a lot of songs about romance and sex, from perspectives both powerful and vulnerable. Saada says their message of empowering femininity and the fully rounded female characters they present come from years of experience.

"I don't think we could have written these lyrics 10 or 20 years ago. They're about what we've lived in our lives, about the way a woman can have many faces, both strong and fragile — about the paradoxes in women. We're not a feminist band, or maybe it's a sweet feminism — it's about loving women, not spite against men. It's about choosing not to choose between women's many identities. We just try to make music that's true to us. It's why we decided to sing in French instead of English."

When they do venture into English, such as on English Song from "Et vous, tu m'aimes?", it's literally translated from idiomatic French — delivered in heavy French accents.

Brigitte are also known for their frequent covers of sometimes unexpected source material: Survivor's Eye of the Tiger, Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C.'s Walk This Way, and, ahem, George Michael's I Want Your Sex.

The duo first came to widespread public attention in France in 2010 with a slinky, breathy remix of Ma Benz by French 1990s hardcore hip-hop group Suprème NTM.

Although this is their first visit to Hong Kong, Brigitte have toured Asia before, including Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Laos. In the last of these, says Saada, it was brought home to her by a local journalist that while their music is not specifically feminist in intent, it can nonetheless provide a powerful example.

"In France we say we're not feminists, but what does this mean? This journalist told us that it's really important what we say and do — being really sexy while talking about trying to live our dreams and be mothers. So it's more than just music sometimes."

Touring and recording commitments mean the duo have been too busy to open that restaurant, but in Saada's case those culinary inclinations have taken a different direction — one that should be fed by her visit to Hong Kong.

"I'm writing a book about food. When I tour, both France and overseas, I like to buy the regional specialities of wherever we are, then on Sunday night I always have 15 people round and cook a meal with them. Everyone's said I should write a book about it, so I am."

Brigitte, May 23, 8pm, Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, HK$100-HK$380, HK Ticketing. Inquiries: 3752 9965