“I make music with all the ingredients that interest me, and make a kind of soup, hoping that it doesn’t make you throw up.”—Stromae
As Stromae kicks off his US tour, his new American fans might be wondering about the influences that inspired him to create his unique style of music. And what influences will he be exploring in the future? Here are nine ingredients in Stromae’s “music soup,” starting with the earliest music of his childhood.
Growing up, little Paul Van Haver heard a lot of Congolese rumba at family parties. Papa Wemba, Koffi Olomidé, Franco Luambo, and Zao were popular artists. While it was just background music at the time for him, these childhood roots came to the foreground as he composed his most recent album, Racine Carrée. Zao’s song “Soulard” made a particularly strong impression.
Family get-togethers in Stromae’s childhood were also heavy on the salsa music. Discovering the music of Ibrahim Ferrer and the Buena Vista Social Club was a personal turning point for him. His song “Tous les mêmes” reaches back to these Latin roots. Here’s the Buena Vista Social Club with “Chan Chan,” one of Stromae’s particular favorites.
Stromae heard Mozart’s music at the first classical concert he attended. He was about 12, an age when most would find classical music boring, but it had a real emotional impact on him. He particularly appreciates Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D Minor.” The name of his label, Mosaert, gives a nod to the Austrian composer (Mosaert is also an anagram of Stromae, and of the word “maestro”).
Stromae found that “Bizet was always running through my head.” The result of that earworm is his song “Carmen,” which is an adaptation of “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (Love is a rebellious bird) from Bizet’s opera “Carmen.”
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora, known as the “Queen of Morna.”At first, young Paul thought of Évora as “parents’ music,” but he eventually recognized the dignity, melancholy, and honesty in her voice. Seeing her live, Stromae found himself nearly in tears. Évora performed barefoot and was known for taking onstage cigarette breaks during her concerts. She’d sit at a little table with a glass of water. Stromae pays homage to her in his own live performances by taking a seat at a table onstage, slipping off his shoes, and having a drink. Her song “Angola” is a current favorite, and “Ave Cesaria,” a tribute to Évora, references “Sodade.”
After he went to a performance of this British percussion group when he was about 12, Stromae immediately knew he wanted to “do something like that.” He drummed with kitchen utensils and took lessons in percussion, acquiring his first drum set in his early teens.
Introduced to rap music by friends at school, Stromae observed that hip-hop was “drums with words, which was really interesting for me.” Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, and the Public Enemy his older brother listened to were early influences. Although he eventually rejected the superficiality he saw in most rap and hip-hop, he embraced the genre on his second album by rapping “AVF” with French hip-hop artists Maître Gims and Orelsan, who co-wrote the song. Orelsan also co-wrote the lyrics for “Ave Cesaria” and “Carmen” with Stromae. Here’s a 2011 clip from Orelsan, “Changement”:
Stromae has said, “When I was 16, I only listened to him [Jacques Brel] and hip-hop.” The crown prince of the francophone folk-music style called chanson had a striking influence on him. So much so that Stromae’s been called a new Jacques Brel, or even “Brel 2.0.” The parallels include witty, brutally honest lyrics; a shared Belgian identity; and a penchant for smartly conservative suits and ties. Stromae has resisted comparisons to the great Brel. But it’s impossible to ignore the way they both populate their songs with characters and then squeeze every drop of energy into telling those characters’ stories.
Stromae says, “Plenty of people have compared my music to his but if there’s one thing I most identify with him, it’s his vulnerability. I like the way he was always honest about his failings.”
Here’s Brel with “Ces gens-là” from 1966:
Eurodance/ New Beat
In 2009, Stromae decided to take his career in a new direction, combining his talents as a rapper with dance music. The 90’s dance music popular in Belgium when he was young had a strong influence on Stromae. Technotronic, based in Belgium, had a worldwide hit with “Pump Up the Jam”:
And here’s Belgian new beat group Confetti’s with “The Sound of C”:
Stromae is a fan of Rick Ross, who he called “a specialist of the genre,” and also appreciates the newer evolutions of trap music that combine the genre with electronic elements, as in Baauer’s “Harlem Shake”:
What ingredients can we expect in Stromae’s future musical soups? He spent 10 days in Bolivia earlier this year and says “I’m really inspired by the groove over there.” Or maybe we’ll hear Japanese influences, he says. “I want to put every influences from everywhere to do something that we aren’t used to listening to.”