Expat artist: Yasmine Modestine

Expat artist: Yasmine Modestine

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French singer Yasmine Modestine divides her time between the UK and France, and feels the art scene is more thriving in England.

Name: Yasmine Modestine
Nationality: French
City of residence: Paris and Devon

Can you describe what you wish to communicate through your art work?
Feelings, I suppose. I have never thought about it that way; I mean songs are part of our lives. You almost can retrace your life through songs. Well, I can.

So I suppose I want to communicate this: moments of life, sharing feelings -- but of course it would be a lie if I’d say it is not about me -- and having people being touched by what I sing and write. When someone tells me "it does me good to hear that song of yours", then I have made it. When people think they could have written my words, this is it, telling my life with his words. When they say I have a beautiful voice and they enjoyed the show for all I tried to give, this is it. Sharing feelings, moments of life, tears and laughter -- I love to make the audience laugh between sad songs -- and when they talk to me or ask for an autograph or want to have a photo taken with me, it is very moving. I experienced this recently in Korea.

Audiences are all alike and different, different one day from other, alike from one country to another. It is a moment of peace, you see, those tiny moments in life when you feel I am he as you are me as we are all together.

Which medium do you work in?
Music, I am a songwriter. I also write plays and scripts. I started by being an actress, but now I do not act anymore because of the lack of roles for Coloured in France (actually there should be no need of “for Coloured” but this how it is), mostly, and for women, and when you ‘re over 30…and I am the three of  these.

How has living abroad influenced your work as an artist ?

Every year I go to Devon. The landscape is so gorgeous; it is amazingly peaceful and inspiring. The friends I have there are lovely people and it is like being in this village that only appears each hundred years.

And also, England is less racist than France, so I feel more welcome. I mean, in England I am said to be exotic because I am French, but in France I have been called an exotic bird too often, although I lived in Normandy. So in England, there is a way of feeling more myself.

Which famous local artists inspire you?
The Beatles, Kate Bush, Tory Amos, both last two living in Devon, as well. And of course French artists you may not know of.

First, I must say they taught me English. Then , as for the Beatles, I really wanted to write songs as though I were two. So they really influenced my way of building a song. Someone said to me after a concert, that sometimes it was like there were two songs in one -- and I really meant it because of John and Paul. A song like "A Day in the  Life" was fascinating to me for this reason and also because of John’s voice. Kate Bush has it too when she mixes Hungarian female voices in her very English pop.

I always want to have unsual instruments, unsual rhythm -- of course it has to be a song -- but is it because I am mixed race? I never thought of it that way but who knows. Is it because I was brought up in an Anglo-Norman area? It really seemed natural to me to link the world together. For instance in one my songs, I have a piano and a viola, and it’s truly beautiful. I know a composer who has taken after this arrangement.

It also depends on whom you meet, whom you know. Whenever I meet a musician who wants to work with me, I say, "Okay let’s try that." If you have a tenor saxo or a baritone or a soprano…they make slighly different songs. A song is not made once and for all. This is why there are so many covers and they can all be interesting. "Ain’t No Sunshine" has so many covers from Bill Whithers to Michael Jackson or Eva Cassidy…they are all right.


Which up and coming local artists do you find worth mentioning?
In Devon, there is a place dedicated to art, Dartington. I have been to Herbie Flower’s workshop at their summerschool and I worked with fantastic artists: Claire Lacey, Michael Hatchard, Colin Creighton, Ellie Cramer, Simon Goff, Lise Bendelow, Andy Baker and Ivy Prysor Jones. They are not local but they come to Dartington each year.

How easy or difficult is it to mix with the local artistic community?
Only shyness is a hindrance. In Dartington, since you can be there for one week only, things go fast which is for the best. All you think of is sharing music and composing and playing and singing. You are scared first because, well, you know how it is when you don’t know anyone and there are so many people. But Herbie and his team make everything happen so harmoniously, that it happens and at the end of the week, you give a concert.

Can you offer some advice to people wishing to break into the local art scene?
I am not sure I can give any advice. What can I say? Talking with people, going to venues and talking with people there. Talking is very important, being interested in others. This how I met my first producer in England. I was having tea with my manager in a lovely teashop in this magical village I go to every summer and there was this elderly couple and their little grand children. They were lovely kids, much intrigued by us, and I started to talk with them. It ended up that the man was producing shows and thought it would be exciting if I could perform there. Then it happened. A full house at the end of August.

It was an extraordinary thing that shows:
  1. You never know, and as John Lennon wrote it, "life is what happens while you’re making other plans". It wasn't so completely different, because we were actually looking for a way to perform at the village hall.
  2. This is all it takes -- being there and being interested, being open. It only takes good will to make dreams become true. That is really a lesson for me.

What kind of financial support is available for artists?
You need to have some of course. You need to find means to be able to do what you want to do; it is not easy. It is hard to tell precisely. You always need money and means to be subsidied, so you need to work out how to be able to pursue your dreams. Hard to give a receipe, for I am still experimenting. You need to be on the deck all the time, that is the hardest because you wish you could live it up sometimes.

How would you describe the art scene; for instance is it thriving or on the wane?
I believe the art scene is more thriving in England than in France. I believe – well before the crisis, and in spite of the cost of living being more expensive, there was more energy and possibilities to do things in England than in France. I think despite there being more subsidies in France, there is less opportunity to practice, to perform, to be seen and heard. Plus the subsidies mostly go to official artists. So it may lead to a Catch 22 situation. Also, I feel there are less prejudices in England when an artist practices multiple disciplines. In France, it is always a matter of suspicion, and you are often dismissed, when you can sing and act for instance, or act and direct, or paint and write, and so forth. Only when you are very famous, are you allowed to be a full artist. Sort of. But well, England is no promised land either.

To listen to a radio interview with Yasmine speaking (in English) about how she was inspired to write "Sally's Song", click here.

Yasmine Modestine / Expatica

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