The other side of Carla Bruni

With the political aspect of her life behind her, France’s former first lady is back to making music, and will be bringing her show to Tel Aviv next month.

(photo credit: REUTERS)
Many artists have to spend much precious time holding down a day job when they’d rather be spending their waking hours pushing along their creative processes.
Carla Bruni had a similar problem for over four years, although financial straits hardly entered the picture: Between 2008 and 2012, Bruni was gainfully employed as the wife of then-French president Nicholas Sarkozy, and most of her office hours were spent performing her official duties, as well as caring for her daughter, who was born in October 2011.
But now that she and Sarkozy are back to being regular French citizens, she can get back to the business of making and performing music, both in her home country and around the globe. The results of her post-presidential efforts will be unveiled here when she performs at Tel Aviv’s Habimah Theater on May 25 at 8:30 p.m.
In fact, the 46-year-old vocalist-guitarist had already gained fame before moving into the Elysée Palace, enjoying a highly successful nine-year career as a model before quitting the catwalk in 1997 to develop her musical talents. Her debut album, Quelqu’n m’a dit, came out in 2000, and by all accounts, it was an auspicious debut.
The CD sold well, and three numbers later reached a wider audience when they were incorporated in the soundtrack to Hans Canosa’s 2005 movie Conversations with Other Women. The title track also featured in the 2009 offbeat romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer.
Bruni’s second release, the English-language No Promises, came out in 2007, followed by Comme si de rien n’était in 2008. All told, the first three records sold over three million copies. Her artistic burgeoning output was recognized in 2004, when she won an EBBA (European Border Breakers Award) as one of the top 10 emerging acts of the year who accessed audiences outside their own countries with their first internationally released album. Her first “post-presidential” album, Little French Songs, came out last year to great acclaim.
In fact, music has been a constant element in her life from the word go. She was born to a Franco-Italian family in Turin, Italy. Her father was industrialist and classical composer Alberto Bruni Tedeschi, and her now 84-yearold mother, Marisa Borini, was a concert pianist.
“I probably would say that my first musical love was classical [music] because I heard it from my parents’ works,” says Bruni. “I loved Chopin, the Nocturnes which are only played on the piano, very simply.”
She feels that music is one of the more accessible art forms and naturally makes inroads on any infant’s consciousness.
“Music is a different art, because most of art you must learn before you get touched by it. You must learn how to read to appreciate poetry, or literature. But I think music and cinema are so incredibly accessible, because I remember being very young and falling in love with Chopin, and Mozart, too. It is easy for the music to get into your ear, and into your heart.”
There is, indeed, a highly romantic side to her work.
Her singing and playing style belong in the classic French balladeer chanson er singing style, and is reminiscent of the sounds of George Brassens and Georges Moustaki.
Bruni’s first foray into the mysteries of instrument- playing began with the piano, but she soon changed keys for strings.
“All us kids played piano, because our parents played piano so much, and we had pianos in the house and we could sing when we played them,” she recalls. “But when I was offered a guitar – I must have been about nine years old, and the minute I touched the guitar, everything changed for me. Piano is not so accessible.
You need to know on solfège [pitch and sight singing], and you need to practice every day. Guitar was more catchy, and easier to learn. It is very hard to play guitar very well, but it is much easier to play guitar if you don’t want to play so well, if you don’t want to be [late iconic Spanish guitarist] Paco de Lucia. But if you are just me, you get a lot of pleasure from the guitar very fast.”
Her classical upbringing notwithstanding, there are plenty of musical strands to her sonic offerings.
“Raphael,” from her debut album, for example, contains some bluesy departures, as does the No Promises track “Those Dancing Days Are Gone,” based on a poem by Irish Nobel Prize winner William Butler Yeats.
And there are rock sentiments elsewhere in her oeuvre.
“Everything was pressed into my soul when I was quite young,” she says. “We absorb the music when we are young. You can’t be 15 years old all your life, but what you hear at that age sort of marks you forever, like a tattoo, somehow. I listened to the French people, like George Brassens and Serge Gainsbourg, but I also listened a lot to Elvis, [Bob] Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and The Clash and The Beatles and The Rolling Stones a lot.”
Jazz and country music found their way into her developing musical consciousness as well. “I also listened to [legendary jazz singers] Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and also country people like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. I also listened to the blues and bossa nova, and Italian music. All these things are like a soup, a minestrone.”
The Stones influence comes through strongly in “Chez Keith et Anita” – the eponymous pair being Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and ex-wife Italian actress Anita Pallenberg – and there is a French context to the link. Richards and Pallenberg were a couple when the Stones relocated from Britain to the south of France in the early ’70s, and produced the landmark record Exile on Main St.
“That was a time of innocence,” notes Bruni. “I was very small in the early ’70s, so I don’t remember it, but I think it was a wonderful, free time.”
Poetry has also left its mark on her music. No Promises feeds off the work of an international array of leading men and women of letters, such as Yeats, 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson, Anglo-American writer W.H. Auden and 19th-century English children’s poet Christina Rossetti.
“I picked up two poems by Yeats, which are the most beautiful poems I ever read in my life. One is called Those Dancing Days Are Gone, and the other is called Before the World Was Made. I also used beautiful poems by Auden and also Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker.
It was a pleasure to work with all those genius people, even though they are all dead.”
Bruni got a little help with getting into the poems from rock singer Marianne Faithfull.
“Marianne loves poetry. She was the first person who gave me a poetry book, sonnets of Shakespeare. She told me I should read one every night before I go to bed, and that’s what I did. Reading Shakespeare gave me a very high perspective of poetry.”
Bruni’s Tel Aviv date will feature songs from all her albums, including Little French Songs. Her latest album is the result of a lengthy gestation period, including when she was the first lady.
“Yes, there was all the official stuff to do, and I have more time for music now. But I always found time to write and play music at night, when the kids were sleeping and my husband was sleeping. I never stopped making music.”
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