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Hip-hop and classical music are in many ways at odds with each other, often falling at opposite ends on the music spectrum. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to imagine a rapper being embraced in a world where classical elitism shuns outsiders. However, Moroccan-French pianist, producer, and composer Sofiane Pamart is changing that narrative for good.
The classically-trained French pianist has had his fair share of success in both worlds. Having worked with household names like Scylla, Dinos, Laylow, and Vald, Pamart’s earlier discography is peppered with gold and platinum records for his collaborations on rap albums. That’s not to say his love for classical music has waned in any way. More recently, his work on hip-hop albums like 2018’s “Pleine Lune” has given way to contemporary classical ones like his 2019 studio debut “PLANET,” which was shortly followed by its deluxe edition “Pamart: PLANET GOLD” in 2020. Besides receiving a gold medal during his time at Conservatoire de Lille, Pamart has received critical acclaim for “PLANET,” which was certified gold record in France last year — and just this morning, he got word that the album received certified gold record abroad.
Following the 2022 release of Pamart’s latest album “LETTERS,” the rapper/pianist sat down with The Harvard Crimson to talk about the album, his relationship with fans, and future projects.
When asked about the inspiration behind “LETTERS,” Pamart credited his travels in Asia.
“The feeling of the emergency of a place that I discover triggers something inside me that is very powerful. And I can use it to go on the piano and explain everything I have in my heart,” Pamart said.
In contrast to his debut album, which Pamart said was about “questioning what was [his] identity, what was the music [he] would love to bring to the world,” “LETTERS” is all about discovering his growing fanbase and giving back to them for their ceaseless support.
“The process of composition of ‘LETTER’ was to be grateful, to be thankful to, to my audience. And trying to tell them a lot of things without words,” Pamart said. “I wanted to dedicate something in my discography only for them.”
From the moment Pamart sits down to compose or produce to when an album gets released, every note comes from inspiration.
“It always starts from something that I experienced. It can be a situation, a meeting, a landscape, or something that I find very inspiring and is emotionally strong enough to become music,” Pamart said. “When this happens, I stop playing and I become myself instantly.”
Pamart is also influenced by years of classical training. That foundation of classical perfectionism always finds its way back into his music — oftentimes in unwarranted ways.
“I start to overthink, I start to make it more complicated. I start to add layers that make the song more interesting in an intellectual way,” Pamart said. “When I reach that point, I destroy the song, because I think the secret of a beautiful story in wordless music is to be very emotional.”
It’s there, amidst that introspective creative process, that Pamart settles on a title for his compositions.
“The naming of the song is very important for me,” he said. “Like ‘LOVE’ was obvious. ‘SOLITUDE’ was obvious. Because it's obvious words and obvious feelings.”
But when it comes to the ephemeral and indescribable vulnerability behind some of the melodies, describing that in words can get complicated. In these cases, each song becomes imbued with layers of meaning, coming to life in more ways than one.
“Like ‘FROM,’ for example. How can you express “FROM” in a musical way?” he asked. “I try asking myself, maybe I can think about where I come from? How do we arrive at composing a song? Where does it come from?”
Using emotions as leitmotifs in his music is a lesson Pamart learned through his collaborations with rappers.
“I understood that when I’m working with them, I need to focus only on what makes them react emotionally,” Pamart said. “I needed to quit the classical world and the way they think to make my music more emotional.”
Speaking of his most recent collaboration, “Tulum, México,” Pamart fondly recalled how the project came together with close friend and industry giant, Josman.
“[Josman] asked me what are you doing next month? And I said I'm doing my South America tour,” Pamart said, to which Josman replied; “If we finish this song by the end of the session, I will book my tickets and join you in Mexico.”
Since then, the song has gone viral — a feat which Pamart credits to how much fun they had in making it.
“If you are very sincere about something you give to music, it's crazy. It's impressive how people feel it.”
That bond Pamart shares with his fans dates back to 2019. Due to Covid restrictions, Pamart couldn’t perform live for much of his career thus far — much to the frustration of his newfound fanbase. Despite the distance, his online audience continued to grow.
“There was so much anxiety in the air and so much unknown happening that we were fighting together,” Pamart recalled. “We were helping each other to handle our emotions in this situation.”
“As soon as we could do gigs, I got my first gig in Montreux Jazz Festival,” he said. “I met my audience there, and it was crazy, you know. It was my first show ever as a solo artist.”
Performing at Montreux was just the beginning for Pamart’s rise to fame. The very next year, Pamart became the first pianist in history to sell out the Accor Arena Bercy. In 2022 he became the first artist to play an entire concert live under the northern lights of Lapland.
“I saw the Northern Lights twice in my life. The first time I was playing under them, and the second time, the day after, I was watching them, still in the emotion of what we just accomplished,” Pamart said. “People cried in the team. It was so magical.”
Pamart has certainly kept himself busy. Every year since his 2019 studio debut, the musician has consistently put out an album. Now, fresh off the heels of his big North and South American tour, 2023 is shaping up to be a monumental year for the musician. When asked if fans can expect more tour dates this year, Pamart was enthusiastic.
“I'm focused on this part of my career, on sharing my music to all the world,” Pamart said. “My first album is ‘PLANET.’ I didn't want to play it for some of the people on this planet. I want to play it for everyone.”
Indeed, every decision that brought him this far is building towards the big vision Pamart has for his legacy — a process that he envisions lasting for another “50 years at least.”
“I want this journey to be worldwide. I want the music to destroy all the boundaries.”
Pamart has dared to do what few have done before: to push the boundaries of what classical music can be. By changing what one can accomplish through classical music, it’s safe to say that not only is he changing the landscape of music now, he’s also paving the way for an entire future generation of musicians.
—Staff writer Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @alisaregassa.
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