For Matthieu Chedid, music is a family affair. Chedid – known for his surreal superhero rocker alter ego -M- and as a frequent collaborator with such French icons as Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Hallyday – is the son of veteran singer-songwriter Louis Chedid, and he has worked with his father extensively. Musician siblings Anna, known by the stage name Nach, and Joseph, known as Selim, have also been regular collaborators, and the 2015 album Louis Matthieu Joseph & Anna Chedid was a huge hit in France, reaching No. 3 and spending more than a year on the charts. Le Monde recently published a six-part series The Chedids, a dynasty of artists.
Family values, as well as the sense of the absurd integral to the persona of -M-, who is known for his signature oversized jackets and Grandpa Munster horned hairdo, have again come to the fore with his latest project. New single Grandes Oreilles (Big Ears) features Anna on vocals while its charming cartoon video is directed by another sister, Emilie. A children’s book of the same title, “a musical and poetic tale about difference and self-acceptance”, is also illustrated by Emilie, while Chedid père voices the accompanying audiobook.
But through Grandes Oreilles, we see how the Chedid family roots go back further still. The story, in which a little boy called Pilou is mercilessly mocked for his peculiar physical difference but learns to love his ears after they grow and unfurl one night, becoming wings that allow him to fly across the world with a flock of swallows, was written by Andrée Chedid, Matthieu’s grandmother.
A celebrated Egyptian-born poet and novelist of Lebanese descent, Andrée, who died 10 years ago, produced a prolific output of novels and poetry after her post-war move to Paris, much of it set in Lebanon and dealing with the human condition in her characteristic sparse language.
Chedid’s inheritance from his grandmother runs deep. The title track of his second album Je Dis Aime (1999) – a ponderous, fiery rocker – had lyrics written by Andrée dealing with love and tolerance (“Hate, I throw it away/ I say love”) and the family’s mixed heritage (“The Nile in my veins/ In my arteries flows the Seine”). She also wrote the lyrics for Bonoboo, a deceptively simplistic story of a pygmy chimpanzee which is in fact an existential musing on the value of the humans who overtook their ape ancestors: “Sometimes I ask myself/Sighs the Bonoboo/If it was worth/Giving yourselves the trouble/Of making your warrior race/Incendiary, carnivorous/Take over everything?”
This kind of quirky eccentricity has marked Chedid’s whole career. Having emerged from the 1990s nouvelle chanson scene, Chedid came to international prominence when he performed the Django Reinhardt-esque title track of the Oscar-nominated animation Belleville Rendezvous (2003), where his virtuoso guitar and whimsical, near-falsetto voice were prominent.
-M- was already a low-key icon back in France by that point, and despite seeming to disavow the image in the video of Le Roi des Ombres (2009), where an effigy of the alter ego was subjected to various indignities, 10 years later the strength of the -M- concept, and of Chedid’s sense of the absurd, was fully on display on Lettre Infinie, his most recent album. The video for the disco-funk single Superchérie, produced by Thomas Bangalter (half of Daft Punk), found Chedid again sporting M-shaped headgear, while the 2D stop motion animation for Grand Petit Con, directed by Michel Gondry, was typically surreal.
Now, with Grandes Oreilles, with its message of transcendence and personal acceptance, Chedid has offered up a wholesome slice of French whimsy, made all the more heart-warming for being the result of three generations’ artistic endeavours.
And as Chedid announces a 2022 tour, including a residency at the Folies Bergère, and 19-year-old daughter Billie showcased her impressive jazzy vocals during Chedid’s lockdown “Live à la maison” performances, it’s a dynasty that looks set to go on.
-M- IN FIVE SONGS
Chedid’s funky first single, the tale of a romantically unsuccessful self-perceived macho conquistador, indicated how the playful and the surreal would dominate Chedid’s output. It was then that Chedid began to emerge as a French popcultural icon.
Qui de nous deux (2004)
A slitheringly sexy, bluesy ode to his guitar, this was Chedid’s breakthrough single, cracking the French Top 40 and becoming a No. 3 hit in Belgium. The album of the same name (Which of Us Two seemed to refer to the Chedid/-M- split personality) hit No. 1 in France and drew critical acclaim.
La Seine (2011)
While the title track of the muchloved animation Belleville Rendez-Vous (2003) had won Chedid attention and an Oscar nomination for best song, this rockabillychanson, performed with Vanessa Paradis for the Luc Besson-produced animation Un Monstre à Paris, became Chedid’s biggest chart hit in France by far, reaching No. 9.
This completely infectious single, with a video that found Chedid dancing on the streets of Paris as passers-by got caught up in the euphoria, was his only other Top 30 hit in his native land apart from La Seine, and he has always fared rather better commercially in Belgium.
Grandes Oreilles (2021)
Against a retro, brass-laden backing, Chedid’s big-eared protagonist celebrates his difference and how is unusual appendages allow him to “hear the bee opera”, adding “from the Eiffel Tower, I even hear the sun.”