Colette Magny

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31 October 1926 – 12 Juni 1997

Born in Paris during the interbellum between two World Wars live was touch for young Colette. After the second World War she became interested in the left movement. At the age of seventeen she started to work as a secretary for the Unesco which gave her the opportunity to travel, especially to poorer parts of the World. This sculpted her ideas and perspective.

Musically she became influenced by early blues and jazz musicians, some of who flocked in Paris in the fifties. Especially American female blues singers Odetta and Bessie Smith would be an influence on her work. In the existentialist movement gathering around St Germain Colette started making music mixing blues and gospel music with French chanson and socially engaged lyrics. Her debut ‘Melocoton’ (1963) immediately caught the attention. Also due to her stage persona, Magny was unusually large for a French woman. Her overnight popularity also placed her in the bizarre situation of performing at the Olympia with popular teen idols Claude François and Sylvie Vartan later that year. After her debut album she became more and more pre-occupied with global problems resulting in the fierce protest album ‘Vietnam 67’. Released during a turbulent time, the Student protest of 1968 are a turning point in French history, singers like Magny and Ferré turned the sentiments into poetry. In 1970 her album ‘Feu et Rythme’ received the Grand prix de l'Académie Charles Cros. During the seventies Magny’s stayed socially engaged (sometimes hinting towards radical) with ‘Repression’ siding with the Blank Panther movement in the US, ‘Chili – Un peuple crève’, made with Maxime le Forrestier and Mara as a protest against the regime in Chile and ‘Village visage’ about poor circumstances in the French countryside (recorded with Lino Léonardi and the Dharma Quintet). Elements of free jazz (FI: Repression was made entirely with Afro-American jazz artists) became more and more common together with text bits from Aragorn, Rimbaud and Labbé. Her radical nature and difficult music also resulted that radio hardly picked up on her music any more. As a second career she also started to work as a painter. In 1984, after one more attempt in music, her label ‘Chant du monde’ ends her contract. No other record company is willing to publish her albums due to her anarchistic lyrics.

After a period of silence she returns in 1989 with the album ‘Kevork’ build around her worries over the ecological destruction taking place. The kevork is an African bird called the guinea fowl. The album is released on her own label. The album stays without much success. On 12 June 1997, after a long sickbed, she collapses in a hospital in Villefranche-de-Rouergue (Aveyron). She is taken to hospital but too late. Her death is hardly noticed by the media although fellow musicians mourn the loss.

On the web:

- Fanblog about Colette: http://colette-magny.over-blog.com

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What do we think:

DB: Radical indeed, Magny is a thunderstorm on La Douce France. She herself stated in an interview that if she would have a musical family Leo Ferré would be the father, Catherine Ribeiro the daughter and Bernard Lavilliers the son. If you have any knowledge of these three artist you’ll know what to expect. Double that expectations and you’ll come close to what Colette is about. With a voice to wake the dead, build like a tank, she rams her lyrics, music and opinions down your throat. Far from easy listening she is an European original with a complete unique signature. It is a shame she is hardly remembered in France, let alone Europe.

Recommended albums:

♪♪♪♪♪ - Melocoton - 1963

- Frappe ton coeur - 1964 

- Vietnam 67 - 1967

- Magny 68-69 - 1968

- Feu et rythme - 1970

♪♪♪ - Répression - 1972

- Transit - 1974

- Chili - Un peuple crève - 1975

♪♪ - Visage-Village - 1976

- Chansons pour Titine - 1984

♪♪♪♪ - Kevork ou le délit d'errance - 1989

♪♪♪♪♪ = outstanding album, an absolute must-have
♪♪♪♪ = great album, highly recomended
♪♪♪ = nice album
♪♪ = be careful, requires listening before buying
♪ = best to be avoided


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