Band of the Day

2013.02.17

Cecile Hortensia

A French folk singer inspired by starting a new life in Phoenix, Arizona
The dawn's brilliance, feel it in your veins. See the colors painting the sand.
lyrics from This Is My Home

Cécile Hortensia, who was born in Nancy, France and now lives in Arizona, fuses her French roots with her adopted American culture in a bilingual, bi-cultural collection of songs. Each of the 12 tracks on Papillons explores a different side of the daring journey she took, seeking to find adventure in a new cultural perspective.

Papillons is a project that lies at the cultural intersection of her two homes of France and America. Written/sung in both languages, and spanning a time frame that includes both stages in her life, listeners will get a rare glimpse into the journey of her cross-cultural transition. The loneliness, the excitement and the freedom of this journey are brilliantly captured in each song.

Every song on her debut album speaks to a particular point in her journey, giving listeners a rare look into different moments in time. In the song “La Nostalgie du Temps Present (‘Nostalgia of Present Time’)”, Hortensia was inspired by her belief that happiness can be found in fleeting moments, but you must be intentional about collecting them. The songs “My Runaway” and “No Man’s Land” discuss the desire to flee from present reality. Songs like “Les Papillons Dans L’estomac “, “Vers les étoiles”, “Your Person” and “Le Dormeur de la Nationale” are inspired by life, love and loss. “These are universal themes that affect each of us, and I tried to express them in a global language... the language of music,” says Hortensia. Some of these songs were directly influenced by her new home. “Cactus Road” is the name of a street in her Phoenix neighborhood. Byrd Baylor, a poet whose work often reflects desert themes, inspired the song “Coyote”, an allegory about man’s life. “This Is My Home” celebrates nature’s beauty and mystery.

Though she wrote this particular one about the Arizona desert, she says it could easily have been written about the mountains in her French village. “Rolling Down The Route 66” is a humorous tribute to the ‘American Wild West’ myth.

Papillons was produced by Frenchman Olivier Zahm, a collaboration Hortensia believes was made effortless by their shared language and cultural background. “We are from the same generation and share the same musical culture and references, so when we mentioned some French or European artists, songs, and ambience, we immediately know what the other is talking about,” she explains. “It definitely made the recording process easier.”

She also saw wisdom in his advice, “Musicians know their instruments. We have to let them bring their talent and personality to the studio.” She shares how she gave the musicians, including Billy Cioffi (Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Turtles), John Rickard (Johnny Cash, Faron Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Shea Marshall (member of blues band The Sugar Thieves), the vibes of each song and then let them propose their part. Then it became a collective process to create the sounds and recordings she felt fit each song. Hortensia notes “At the end I don’t know if it sounds more French, European or American. The songs were born French but we surely wanted the American feeling to grow up and go outside. I like the fact that there is not one clear leaning; I think it makes the music the perfect expression of my journey.”

Cécile Hortensia’s songwriting is poetic and delicate, beautifully combining the two places she calls home. The primary thematic influence in this album is her journey of starting a new life in a new country, where she was confronted by a new environment, a new language and a new culture. “I always liked the idea that you can run away, move forward, try to find yourself elsewhere and give yourself a fresh start”, she explains, “but at the same time, I know it is a chimera. You simultaneously have to deal with your roots and past that shaped who you are, and ‘Papillons’ is the result of this musical journey.”