Prominent French Musician and Producer Hector Zazou Dies at 60

Hector Zazou
Hector Zazou


French composer and renowned world music producer Hector Zazou died this morning in a French hospital. He had fallen seriously ill earlier this year and had to cancel several performances during the summer. Zazou was 60 years old.

Zazou was a legendary figure in contemporary French music. He was born in Algeria, the son of a French father and a Spanish mother. Zazou was an open minded musician who was comfortable working with classical, ambient electronic, pop, and world music. Some of the musicians he collaborated with include Björk, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, John Hassell, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carlos Núñez, Khaled, Lisa Gerrard, John Cale, Siouxsie, Bill Rieflin, Manu Dibango, David Sylvian, Suzanne Vega,  Peter Buck, Jane Birkin, and Lisa Germano.

The album “Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses” (1991) blended century-old a-cappella songs with shades of contemporary music performed by Zazou and occasional collaborators such as Jon Hassell, Manu Di Bango, Richard Horowitz, Ryuichi Sakamoto and John Cale. The following year Hector’s “Sahara Blue” was released. The album was based on the work of the French poet Arthur Rimbaud and performed by the Sahara Blue Orchestra stars David Sylvian, Bill Laswell, Khaled, Dead Can Dance, Gérard Depardieu among other guests.

Inspired by the musical folk traditions of the Northern Hemisphere, Hector’s next adventure was “Songs From The Cold Seas” (1995), a literal journey through Siberian Shamanism, Scandinavian folk songs, Japanese ballads and Greenland mythology featuring an impressive cast of musicians including Värttina, Tokiko Kako, Suzanne Vega, Björk, Siouxsie and Jane Siberry.

Released in 1998, “Lights In The Dark” – an exploration of ancient sacred Celtic music from the 12th century featured some of the most beautiful Irish voices (Katie McMahon, Breda Mayock and Lasairfhiona Ni Chonaola), a gospel choir and guest appearances by Mark Isham, Carlos Nuñez, Caroline Lavelle or Peter Gabriel. A successful tour followed in France (Printemps de Bourges), Italy and Switzerland (Montreux Jazz Festival).

Recorded with American singer Sandy Dillon, “Las Vegas Is Cursed” (2001) saw the return of Hector Zazou to electricity and experimentation.

In 2003 Hector Zazou composed an original soundtrack for Carl-Théodor Dreyer’s “la Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” while his new album “Strong Currents” was released, a collection of acoustic songs that was the fruit of several years of work (with Jane Birkin, Lisa Germano, Laurie Anderson…).

Spring 2004 saw the release of “L’Absence”; an electronic twin of “Strong Currents”. He was then commissioned by ciné-mix and Le Forum Des images in Paris to compose another original soundtrack, this time for Robert Flaherty documentary “Nanouk Of The North”.

Hector Zazou’s inventiveness as a producer led him to work with numerous artists among them Tibetan singer Yungchen Lhamo (Real World Records), Galician piper Carlos Nuñez, Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan (Yol Bolsin, Real World Records), Italian band PGR (“Per Grazia Ricevuta”, released by Universal, was hailed as a masterpiece by the Italian press) and among others.

His most recent releases are Corps électriques (2008) and his project with Swara:
In the House of Mirrors (Crammed), release this month. “The sounds of the musicians are taken to a sort of “hall of mirrors”, explained Zazou about the new recording, “where, just like in Orson Welles’ movie “The Lady of Shanghai”, the sound is reflected from one note to another forming a sort of dune that pushes the musicians to dive under the surface, directly towards the heart of sound”.

In the House of Mirrors was recorded in Mumbai (Bombay) with Uzbek Toir Kuziyev on oud and tambur, and Indian musicians Milind Raykar on violin and Manis Pingle on “Indian slide guitar.” In addition, the album includes guests such as Spanish piper Carlos Núñez, Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet, Diego Amador on flamenco piano, Hurshid Oripov on ney, Hungarian Zoltan Lantos on violin and Indian flute player Ronu Mjumdar.


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