Wax Tailor's hip hop universe

RIVETING RHYTHM

Sensational: Wax Tailor (left)  during his performance in  Chennai recently (right). Photos by author

It has got a hint of melancholy, a surcharge of energy, and a strong thread of melody — all wound over a backbone of underplayed, but riveting rhythm. Add to this some of the most thoughtfully worded lyrics on the intricacies of life and living, and you have a heady musical mix that keeps ringing in your ears.

His music has been described as the ‘cinematic hip hop’ experience, and for several years now, French hip hop musician Jean-Christophe Le Saoût aka Wax Tailor has been swaying the world with his unique style of hip hop music. It began with his debut album, Tales of the Forgotten Melodies, that took the hip hop scene by surprise with its focus on melody. Since then, Wax Tailor’s signature styled music has been carving a new balance in the hip hop scene. His second album, Hope & Sorrow, did even better, selling over 80,000 records worldwide, besides landing him a nomination at the prestigious Victoires de la Musiques, as well as the US Indie Awards. Wax Tailor’s next album, In the Mood for Life, just about confirms the expectations that this very creative and very thoughtful musician has raised with his unique, soulful brand of hip hop music. And then, who can forget the lyrics or the strains of Wax Tailor’s Que sera, sera (What will be, will be). Incidentally, Wax Tailor scored the title track for the movie Paris by Cedric Klapisch. “For me, music has many layers, I want to say so much. My goal is to present my music the way I get it in my mind,” says Le Saoût, who recently performed in Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Delhi, as part of his marathon world tour comprising a whopping 200 concerts across the world, from Kansas to Kathmandu. “The schedule is back-breaking, alright. But what I really mind is that I haven’t had the time to explore the cities I have performed at,” says Jean, adding, “Unfortunately, I haven’t even had the time to buy music records from India, leave alone listening to Indian music live.”

Wax Tailor’s live performances in India throbbed with energy and he was at his warmest best in calling upon the crowds to step forward and sway to his potent music — a mix of strings, winds, djing, vocals and visuals. “I have travelled thousands of miles to perform for you; surely, you could step ten metres ahead,” he called out during a song, much to the crowd’s delight. That is Jean for you: no false airs, and always ready to connect with his listeners.

Even now, the young man (he is just 36 now) has already established a genre of his own in hip hop music, both in terms of production and song writing. In fact, Wax Tailor creates music the way film directors create their films — fashioning layers of elements that include journaling, images, vocals, and of course, music — all coming together to make powerful statements conceptually, instead of piecemeal. By the way, movie directors Le Saout admires include Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen.

In his songs, Wax Tailor likes to explore it all — philosophy, history, politics — and above all, the connect with the self. And under Wax Tailor’s direction, sting instruments which were just extras in hip hop music assume a more powerful role and in fact often carry the song through; as in the piece Dry Your Eyes, Go Without Me.

Wax Tailor’s strength lies perhaps in his ability to weave together a wide array of influences and orchestrate the cello, violin, saxophone and other soulful sounding instruments with throbbing drum beats. Instrument music and the vocals have their own place, neither diminishing the impact of the other, though Le Saoût does give vocals more footage than any other hip hop composer. “I grew up with the hip hop culture, and I am a big fan of the Beatles; their music was amazing,” he puts in.

Wax Tailor’s musical odyssey began in the early 90s. Then he was a rapper, composer, producer and manager in the group La Formule band. He graduated onto presenting his own hip hop shows in a Parisian radio station. And then, in 1998, he created the Lab’oratoire label to produce projects like La Formule. With the super success of his albums, life has revolved around the studios for the past five years for Le Saoût. “If not in the studio, I am on the roads,” he says.

So how did this ‘Wax Tailor’ tag come about? “I coined the phrase myself. I think it defines me perfectly. Wax is the stuff vinyl records are made of; and then, somehow, I feel a strange connection to the art of suit-making — the way tailors draw, snip and shape suits. I think the description holds good about making music too.”

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