After completing the equivalent of three world tours in the space of four years, it was time for Zaz to take a break. A Zaz-style break, full of energy and passion: not only did she produce the album Gipsy Traffic for her guitarist Guillaume Juhel, she created a socially responsible festival in Crussol, Ardèche, and found time for some travelling, away from the tour itinerary.
And so the album was made, with both creative urgency and the patience of an artist sifting through the many song proposals she received. Her last album of original songs, Recto verso, dates back to 2013 and it's clear that her vision of the world has been profoundly reshaped by her travels and her encounters.
No brief was given to the songwriters, not even a clear direction. She simply wanted songs that were right for her, that fulfilled her need for incarnation, transparency, and honesty, through the good times as well as the bad.
Zaz is not afraid to admit it: it's not always an easy process. Though millions of listeners and viewers are regularly moved to tears, or energised by her songs, she works cautiously and tentatively, discarding and rewriting until finally she is satisfied with her songs.
Listening to Effet Miroir, you wouldn't necessarily know which songs are her own work and which were given to her by others. The album's opening track, Demain c'est toi (Tomorrow it's you) talks about a future child. "These are my words", she says, but they were written by Gaël Faye. In J’aime j’aime (I like, I like), Marion Romitti draws a self-portrait of a solitary dreamer and, in Je parle (I speak), Ben Mazué gives her a voice ("Me, I speak / I try, I try, I give it a shot / You know there's no harm done / It's the silence that scares me").
But Ma valse (My waltz), with its softness and intimacy, is entirely of her own creation, written at five in the morning, with the voice on the demo used directly on the album: "Watch me smile / Like a rose in the breeze / Fluttering, growing beautiful / Under the burning desire / Of being alive and queen / Of my innocent world".
For Résigne-moi (Let me go), she liked a demo by Ilan Abou, recorded an energetic "load of rubbish" in the studio, and then wrote and recorded final version at home: "I'm trying to understand what I feel / To see where I stand in all this / To learn how to better love myself / I know this but have to take it on board / More in my body than in my psyche / Let me go, let me go".
She closes her album with the memory of a trip, in Lapland, a combination of confession, slam poetry and artistic reflection, as she portrays the frozen splendour of the Far North and of life itself. Images of a far-off land, echoing the album's title, Mirror Effect, about which she says: "Everything we see in the world is our own vision, through our own lens, what we love, what we hate, what makes us angry, what we create... When we look around, it is often ourselves that we see".
Effet Miroir could easily have been a double album, with so much to say about her own career, her hopes and fears for the future. Never before has she been so involved in developing an album, at every stage of its creation, and always striving for perfection - the colour of each instrument, the sincerity of every word about her personal life, the relevance of her social expression…
Effet miroir is only her third album since 2010 (plus two live albums and a homage to her adopted city, Paris), drawing inspiration and strength from her many adventures and collaborations. With a sense of urgency and escape, half in Paris and half elsewhere, the album was mostly made with the production teams of Jo Francken and Ilan Abou. There was a trip to Montréal to the studio of Patrick Watson, who blends his voice with hers on Mes souvenirs de toi (My memories of you). And another to Raphaël's studio to record the resolutely cinematographic Saint Valentin (Valentine's Day). Then a very rhythmic side step (irresistible on stage!) with Mathieu Boogaerts's Pourquoi tu joues faux (Why are you playing so badly), before straying into Beatles territory in Toute ma vie (All my life) by Jérémie Kisling ("I had to spit it like Blondie", she says).
Along the way, she took the time out for an eleven-date tour to fund the Zazimut project, benefiting local community and environmental initiatives, all while introducing new songs. The fans immediately grabbed onto new anthems like On s’en remet jamais (You never get over it) which tackles mourning in all its forms with an inexhaustible lust for life, as well as the reggae sound of Plume (Feather) by Florian de Taevernier who wants to "Meet the sun... and just see what it looks like", and the Hispanic momentum of Qué vendrá, the first single released from the album. Then there's Nos Vis (Our lives) by Tibz, a collective self-portrait of a generation - "For sure, we are good together / I swear, that our lives are alike / I know, we'll be drawn to each other / For sure, we are good together".
As for the singer herself, and her extraordinary artistic adventure spanning several continents, she is easily recognisable in Si c’était à refaire (If I had to do it again), whose lyrics are co-written by Sophie Maurin and Lise Chemla: "I sing, I fall, I move, I progress / And if I had to do it again / Laid bare, fierce as a mother / I would follow my tracks in the dust". Zaz shows us just how deep her mirror goes. We see ourselves in it too…