Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Jain appeals to all ages at the 7th Street Entry

Jain performs at the 7th Street Entry on March 31, 2017. All photos by Jay Gabler/MPR.

What happens when you take a gifted toulousaine and send her to Dubai, then the Republic of the Congo, then Parisian art school? She might grow up admiring South African artist/activist Miriam Makeba. She might take to percussion, as if beats twirled in her core. She could build songs out of nothing — a rhythm she hears from construction workers next door or a high-pitched, “Oowee!” — and a few of her creations might even top global charts. At least, that’s how it’s turned out for Jain, a French genre-weaver who’s currently touring her debut album, Zanaka. On Friday, she stopped at the 7th Street Entry for her first Minnesota show, and she delighted the intergenerational crowd.

As we waited for Jain to go on, I realized I’d never seen the Entry’s stage so bare before. Her set-up almost looked mighty for its smallness. Instead of the typical rock band set-up, with cords snaking all around the stage, a single console stood in the middle. Behind it: a doodle-covered acoustic guitar.

I forgot all sense of spareness once Jain came out. Starting off with “Hob,” she looped her vocals and set loose the drums, conjuring a lush spread of harmonies and rhythms. From there, she powered through all but one track from Zanaka, including surprise favorite “Dynabeat” and two iterations of “Makeba” (once during the main set, once during the encore).

During the show, I wondered at the way Jain engaged people of all ages. In front of me, a dad watched his preteen daughters dance. On my right, a brother and sister bantered between songs. Past them, a middle-aged couple held hands. All of them lost it when Jain started strumming her biggest hit, “Come.”

It didn’t hurt that she went all in during her show. When a performer’s cheeks are as flushed and sweaty as yours, you feel a little less silly jumping around. She also shares encouraging lyrics and polite exchanges with the audience, asking, “Please could you dance with me?”

Like many people, Jain responds to tragedy with personal expression. After last November’s Bataclan attacks, she wrote “Paris,” a song she performed at the Entry on Friday. Under dark blue lights, she thumped her mic below her collarbone, creating a heartbeat to sing over. She held up a peace sign as the lights shone blue, white and red — the colors of the French flag — and the moment hit me like a sandbag.

She also sang a song for Orlando. Writing about love is “my thing,” she told the audience with a raised eyebrow and a smile. Post-hate crime, she created “Soldier,” a lovely, slower song with the lyrics, “A rainbow in his eyes and a flower in his mind.”

Jain has a slew of influences, but the one I kept hearing was Manu Chao, the French artist who sings in Portuguese, Spanish, English, French, Arabic, and Catalan. In 1999, he won Best World Music Album award for Clandestino at the Victoires de la Musique ceremony. This year, Jain won the Victoires‘ Female Artist of the Year and Music Video of the Year. Even as a non-expert of world music, I can tell they have a lot in common (just listen to Chao’s “Bongo Bong” and Jain’s “Mr Johnson” side by side). But I’m wondering how Jain will push world music in the future — and if she’ll inspire fans to check out deeper cuts. I ended up scanning the Cedar Cultural Center’s calendar in search of my next Afrobeat show.

The concert did struggle with some sound bleed from the Highly Suspect show next door, particularly during quieter song “So Peaceful.” But most of the time, the Entry swirled with dancing drums and crowd sing-alongs. All night long, Jain flexed her international, intergenerational reach.

Jain setlist:

Hob
Mr Johnson
Son Of A Sun
Hope
Heads Up
All My Days
City
Lil Mama
Paris (new song)
Come
Makeba
So Peaceful

Encore:
Soldier (new song)
Dynabeat
Makeba

Before Jain, Two Feet, the New York City producer who scored a small hit with “Go F— Yourself” last year, opened. His EP First Steps, which he released via electropop behemoth Majestic Casual Records, contains one song called “Quick Musical Doodles” — but that’s the phrase I’d use to describe most of his music. I’ll never say no to wub-and-blues, but even after a parade of guitar solos and flashing red lights, nothing much stuck with me.