Imany: the “Voodoo Cello” Experience

(Raffaella Mezzanzanica)

Few weeks ago, on September 3, Imany released Voodoo Cello, her third album where she decided to revisit and reinvent some songs she had internalized for many years, together with some more recent songs, giving all of them a new life using only the power of her voice and being accompanied by eight cellists.

Imany had worked on this project for more than two years but she started thinking about it in 2013, giving all herself to looking for the perfect match between voice, lyrics, music and arrangements. The reason? A strong desire to do things differently.

“What makes a good cover is when the song becomes your own. I approach the song with voice and guitar, find the key that suits me, I change the tempo and I listen to the lyrics. I can’t sing words I don’t believe in”. (Imany – www.imanymusic.com).

On Imany’s mind, this is what art is about: bringing another point of view. And finding a title was essential. When she started working with the cello, she found out that it was an animated and magic instrument. Depending on how you play it, it can sound like an electric guitar, a flute, a Didgeridoo (a type of “wind instrument”).

Looking for another name around “magic”, she came to “voodoo”. She decided to call the new album Voodoo Cello and she found out that it sounded like Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. This connection made her think it was a really good sign.

The first song extracted from the album was Black’s Wonderful Life, originally released with a lyric video and, more recently, with a video whose inner message is the search for a better world. To guide us through this search, Imany chose her son.

After publishing the album, she started presenting some of the songs live, also during a session for Live Me IF You Can, where she performed inside the Petit Palais in Paris.

Then, she started a tour with a first date at Philarmonie Luxembourg.

I was there.

The concert started in a total dark atmosphere. Imany comes on stage and the audience can only listen to her voice. There is no music. While she holds a light in her hands she comes to the center of the stage and she sits on a chair which seems more like a throne.

At the end of this first song, the white, almost transparent curtains placed at the sides of the stage are enlightened and you can see the shadows of the eight cellists taking their own instruments and coming on stage.

Imany is wearing a total black dress, together with a hat with long fringes which prevents the audience from seeing her face. She started singing Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart. And from that very moment, you can really understand the meaning of her words when talking about Voodoo Cello. “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is a love song. It was also a major hit which sold millions of copies. Imany reimagined this song, showing its dark side.

We are still in almost complete darkness when she starts singing Hozier’s Take Me to Church, a song which uses religion references to describe a romantic relationship between two men. As Hozier said in an interview to The Cut, it’s a song about “asserting yourself and reclaiming your humanity through an act of love”. The way Imany sings this song accompanied by the sound of the eight cellos is absolutely amazing. You are paralyzed and you cannot take off your eyes from her while she sings, giving a meaning to every single word.

Then, there is a change of pace. The lights are switched on, she changes her black dress into an intense red jumpsuit. Olivier Rousteing,creative director of Balmain, did really a great job with the clothing design for this show.

It doesn’t matter if she’s singing Cat Steven’s Wild World or Ed Sheeran’s The A-Team, Elton John’s I’m Still Standing or Black’s Wonderful Life. She believes in what she sings and she makes you believe in as much as she does.

Imany has never been more confident about herself and about the power of her music. Voodoo Cello is her project. It’s a concert show designed by her, where she also took care of all musical arrangements.

Some might say that “Imany has a voice” but “Imany is a voice”. She showed us all that it’s never too late to take risks: “Since I’d managed to become a mother without putting aside my work, I decided to stop doubting. To accept the sacred feminine fire, not as a domination, but as a force to be reckoned with. What counts is what makes sense. And there’s nothing a woman can’t do”. (Imany – www.imanymusic.com).

In 2017, during the annual French award ceremony “Victoires de la Musique”, Imany talked about the privileges of being an artist and also about the fact that, together with privileges, there are also responsibilities. In fact, she is also an activist and an ambassador for the French organization “ENDOmind”, whose aim is to raise awareness on endometriosis, a disease which affects one every ten women in the world.

In 2018, she was also invited to perform during “Pathway to Paris”, an event held in San Francisco which brought together musicians, activists, film makers from around the world “to share in a collective voice of urgency and hope, with a shared vision of transitioning our world away from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy as soon as possible”. “Pathway to Paris” co-founder is Jesse Paris Smith, Patti Smith’s daughter.

One of the most touching moments of this incredible concert comes with the performance of “Little Black Angels (Angelitos Negros)”, a ballad protesting racial discrimination, originally written by legendary Mexican actor and singer Pedro Infante in 1948 and performed by Roberta Flack, Eartha Kitt and Cat Powers.

At the end of the concert, before closing the show with You Will Never Know, her most famous song introduced by the eight cellists playing the music from the final scene of The Swan Lake, Imany takes the stage and starts talking to the audience. She speaks French. After telling how this project was born, she tells to have made a lot of research on “voodoo”, realizing that it was a serious religion, not only something exotic or eccentric. The role of the “priestess” is to make a link between the real world and the afterlife. She connects these two worlds, and when you think about it, somehow, it is also the role of art. Art has the power to make you see things differently. Thanks to Imany we have all realized that no song is like it is.

Photo: Imany – Like a Prayer @ Petit Palais (Source: YouTube)

Imany “Voodoo Cello”

Grand Auditorium – Philarmonie Luxembourg – Sept. 25, 2021

Imany vocals, conception, arrangements

Julien Grattard, Rodolphe Liskowitch, Lucie Cravero, Léonore Védie, Laure Magnien, Bohdana Horecka, Polina Streltsova, Octavio Angarita cello

Gladys Gambie, Thierry Thieû Niang choreography

Eugenio Recuenco visual design

Jérémy Bargues light design

Olivier Rousteing pour la Maison Balmain clothing design

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