Cécile McLorin Salvant: Mélusine

Singer reflects her varied background in performances of old and new songs in various languages as she tells the tale of Mélusine

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With French and Haitian parents, from early childhood Cécile McLorin Salvant heard, loved and began performing many musical forms. On this album, she has chosen to record songs that reflect her musical heritage and to all of them she brings her very attractive vocal sound. As she states, these songs are “a huge part of how I sing, how I understand music. I’m so obsessed with language – and how different languages ‘sound’ in music.”

Considering only the musical qualities of Salvant’s singing, these 14 tracks are admirable and enjoyable, but much more lies beneath as the songs recount the tale of Mélusine. She is a legendary figure from European folklore cursed to become half-woman half-snake on one day each week until she marries a man who will respect her privacy on that day. When she does marry, her new husband eventually breaks her trust and she leaves, returning only to warn of impending death.

Although there are songs from the 12th and 14th century, there is nothing dated about their performance, and taken not literally but metaphorically, echoes of this ancient tale abound today. Among the more recent songs are five originals by Salvant: Doudou, Aida, Mélusine, Wedo, Fenestra. Mostly, the songs are sung in French, some in Haitian Kreyòl and Occitan, an old dialect still heard in southern France.

This mixture, Salvant comments, is “partly about that feeling of being a hybrid, a mixture of different cultures, which I’ve experienced not only as the American-born child of two first generation immigrants, but as someone raised in a family that is racially mixed, from several different countries, with different languages spoken in the home.” Indeed, one of the songs, Dame Iseut, was translated from Occitan into Haitian Kreyòl by Salvant’s father.

In the accompanying booklet are English-language translations of the lyrics and expansive details of the legend of Mélusine. The unusual concept and Salvant’s striking vocal qualities combine to make this album an interesting and melodically rewarding experience.

Discography
Est-Ce Ainsi Que Les Hommes Vivent?; La Route Enchantée; Il M’a Vue Nue; Dites Moi Que Je Suis Belle; Doudou; Petite Musique Terrienne; Aida; Mélusine; Wedo; D’un Feu Secret; Le Temps Est Assassin; Fenestra; Domna N’Almucs; Dame Iseut (47.56)
McLorin Salvant (v, syn) with, collectively, Godwin Louis (as, whistles); Aaron Diehl, Sullivan Fortner (p, syn); Daniel Swenberg (g); Paul Sikivie, Luques Curtis (b); Kyle Poole, Lawrence Leathers, Obed Calvaire, Weedie Braimah (d, pc). NYC. 12 & 26 April 2022, 22 June 2022.
Nonesuch Records