CHAT live in Hong Kong

Date: May 23, 2013
Location: Sheung Wan Civic Centre, Hong Kong.

French singer-songwriter Charlene Juarez, better known on stage as CHAT, lives up to her stage name. Her voice has a mesmerizing timbre, whose fragile sentimentality belies her secure delivery, just like a cat whisking freely but surely atop an endless maze of Parisian rooftops. In Les âmes soeurs, which appears in her latest album, Le Coeur, her musical notes are placed with a meticulous delicacy, not unlike a cat’s paw kissing the edge of slender roof tiles. While Juarez sings, she often works the keyboard with blistering attacks of fast arpeggios. L’insouciance, a number from her debut album Folie Douce, reads visually like a fast cat skipping up and down an undulating terrain of hot tin roofs. While her fingers are at it, she raps too – not in the traditional sense of chimed rhyming but in the form of a spindle rapidly spouting delicate lines of verbal goodies. She carries an airy blond hair over her gazing eyes and a gorgeous body that swings deliciously while she makes music, in such a natural way that she seems to enjoy her music much more than that spotlight moment onstage.

Unlikely as it may seem, the biggest distraction of the evening turns out to be her music. CHAT readily allows her harmonic arch to go momentarily haywire, which is fine, but the finale of her music almost always resolves to a simple tonic, often in the major key, and often in the root position in unison with the routines of a finishing bass and a concluding drum sequence. If anyone has played music with preset playing patterns on a drum machine that has a handy <end> button, an evening with CHAT sounds like a bunch of amateurs clowning about in a record studio. That sort of association is regrettable, because the rest of CHAT’s music is, for the most part, cerebral and soulful. Her song Le coeur, in her eponymous album, provides a pleasing exception: it ends not with a simple resolution but with a subtle inversion that seems to echo the waffling emotions described in the lyrics, thereby giving more body and meaning to the harmonics. Perhaps that should be her blueprint for future compositions.

The CHAT performance is part of Le French May.

CHAT live in Hong Kong.

CHAT live in Hong Kong. Copyright: CHAT and Le French May.


Fat Joe

Date: May 14, 2010
Location: Vics, Beijing.

Fat Joe in Beijing

Fat Joe in Beijing

In a week where I got highly sought-after tickets to the world premiere of an ancient Kunqu, the premiere of Francesca Zambello’s Carmen at the NCPA, and a rare recital by Li Yundi, I would be insane to believe that I could yet find another ticket that could top those. But I may just have: Fat Joe.

Fat Joe, to those uninitiated, is a top-class American rapper and the CEO/proprietor of Terror Squad, a successful record label. His music has occupied my various MP3 players since 2002, and his album, Elephant in the Room, while not exactly a huge commercial success, is a versatile anthology of hip-hop and one of my favorites. Even though Maria Callas is one of my favorite opera singers and though I have over a hundred of her CDs and DVDs, I can’t even claim to have collected half of her output. But I surely have every single record Fat Joe has ever produced and sung in. That attests to the kind of luvin’ I give to Fat Joe! I consider Fat Joe to be a master lyricist whose tight verses are rhythmically well matched up against fiery beats. In this performance in Beijing, he appeared for about 40 minutes, crisscrossing between older numbers and newer ones. His calling card, Lean Back, was smashingly thrilling and authoritative, and got the most ardent response from his fans, some of whom, standing close to me, were reciting the lyrics in near verbatim without missing a beat. During his performance of What’s Luv, he was visibly in a lovin’ groove, interacting with the house with an affectionate gaze. Between numbers, he showed off his tremendous MC skills by firing up and hustling the crowd. The crowd returned much love, eagerly and frenetically responding to Fat Joe’s calls. When Fat Joe talked about his jailed buddy and frequent collaborator, Lil Wayne, the crowd went nuts, obviously showing much sympathy and love, irrespective of his legal troubles.

Fat Joe’s appearance in Beijing was a rare gem because, according to his tweet, he was in Asia for the very first time in his career. Also, as far as I could remember, Fat Joe has never been a big fan of flying, and would opt for buses over airplanes whenever he tours North America (ok, if not flying, I’d seriously like to find out how he managed to get from NYC to Asia). This week, I did not meet Zambello, nor did I hustle with Stan Kwan. But I shoved aside plenty of fans – many half a decade or more younger than I – to get to the edge of the stage, and high-fived Joey Crack. Whatever Li Yundi does tonight is not going to beat that. Ya digg?

Fat Joe in Beijing

Fat Joe in Beijing.

Fat Joe in Beijing

This is how close I got to him, before high-fiving him.