When you first meet musician Christophe Chassol, you notice that he looks nothing like the classical pianist he was trained as and more like a rockstar about to take to the stage. Dressed in a leather jacket, denims and stylish boots, Christophe’s persona is the opposite of the image one would associate with after listening to his music.
However, 10 minutes into the conversation and you know that the man from Martinique, West Indies, lives and breathes music.
“My introduction to music came from my father who was a saxophone player and also a bus driver in the public transport in Paris. He would go to the Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris to learn music and he sent me there when I was four,” he begins. Learning to play classical, jazz and contemporary piano while at the Conservatoire, he then took formal training in music at the age of 20 after winning a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. “Basically I learnt conducting a 35 piece orchestra. As a student, I was able to just focus on music. I’m still doing genres like percussion instead of jazz which I learnt at Boston,” adds Christophe who performed at the Hyderbad Public School on Wednesday in a concert organised by the Alliance Francaise.
Over the last 10 years, Chassol has experimented with contemporary genres from classical and jazz to electronic and avant-garde music. “Whatever genre it is, I bring my own tools to the table like certain chords, taste, groove, the way I feel the music, etc,” he admits.
Christophe decided to pursue composing music for films and commercials by the time he was 20, but not before having done many odd jobs in the music industry to survive. “That part came later, first I did many jobs that I didn’t want to do – I composed music for theatre, dance, commercials, movies. I gave piano lessons in summer camps. I did strange compositions for singers that I didn’t like,” he shares.
Now 38, Christophe has managed to establish himself as an independent musician after various changes – from working as an assistant conductor at the Sopia Symphony Orchestra in Bulgaria and collaborating with musicians on their tours. For instance, Christophe toured with Phoenix on their world tour in 2004, besides scoring music for French films and TV series.
Over the span of his career, the musician has toured many cities in Asia, Europe and United States collaborating with artistes like Sebastien Tellier and Gotan Project to name a few. Ask him if any particular memory stands out and he replies, “It depends on the kind of music you are playing. In pop music, I discovered fans for the first time. I saw girls throwing their panties at the band members which I had never seen before and this was 10 years ago. But for my music, it is not the same; it’s much more serious. During my shows, people are immersed in the music and ask me interesting questions about the music later on. What more can I ask?”
So far, Christophe has two major albums to his credit – X-Pianos (2012) and Indiamore (2013). While the former had a distinct electronic sound interspersed with Russian singing, the latter stems from his love for Indian music. However, what stands out in both his albums is that the compositions were complemented by videos that were perfectly synchronised.
Pointing out that the technique has become a staple in his compositions, he says, “For me the link between the image and music is obvious. In life, that link never happens. When I look at a movie, I have my keyboard which is kept under the desk, and I play along with the movie; it all comes very naturally and I have composed something new.”
Technology, he says has become much better now which is why it becomes very easy to make music. “Mixing everything has become very easy. You take a dialogue from here, a bit of music from there, put in your software and edit it. It’s very easy now,” explains the musician who orchestrates anything that catches his fancy.
“Perfect synchronicity in video and audio is my aim. I try to bring the music to that perfect level. You speak with music here. The Odissi sequence in Indiamore is the only one that doesn’t use the music from the video, it’s just a clip. I wanted to use the sound of the feet but the sound was too much.”
His introduction to Indian music he says came from digging. “When I was a teenager, I had these records that I would listen to and I found some Indian musicians collaborating with the artiste through the record cover. I started listening to them When you love music, you will listen to a variety of genres,” feels Christophe. MS Subbalakshmi, Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia and Ravi Shankar are the names that he most often listens to.
“I particularly like MS Subbalakshmi, whom I heard while strolling through the lanes of Varanasi. I like the stability and the deep, rich tone of the instruments in her music.”
Mixing film and song in his album, Christophe adds that his love for Indian music has grown even more with his travels across the country.