Playlist: Helen Gillet's Musical Journey
Cellist, singer, composer, and improviser Helen Gillet has made a strong musical mark on the world. With influences that range from avant-garde jazz and French chansons to funk, alternative rock, and the bohemian flair of the Velvet Underground, she is simultaneously enigmatic and virtuosic, profound yet lighthearted, and her performances overflow with a sense of drama and whimsy.
In advance of her performance on Friday, July 26, as part of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Gillet curated a playlist of 10 songs that have inspired her. It's hardly exhaustive, as she cites the "hundreds of French chansons and folk songs from Transylvania, United States, Ireland, Mexico, and all the live music I've heard in New Orleans," as being an inspiration. Enjoy this short version of her musical journey.
"Who Is It?" by Björk
I love this song. She is the master of electronic and acoustic blends.
"I Live Off You" by X-Ray Spex
I was a punk drummer before becoming a punk cellist, and I ADORE Poly Styrene for her guts and attitude. (R.I.P.)
"Raga Bihag" by Nancy Lesh and Peter Fagiola
Nancy was my first improvisational cello teacher and instilled in me the desire to be an improvising musician. She was a pivotal influence in my life! I studied Raga Bihag for a year and Bhim Palasi for another year with her when I was 19 and 20.
"Hard Blues" by Julius Hemphill and Abdul Wadud (on the cello)
This song is how I first discovered Abdul Wadud. I later heard his solo album By Myself, which quickly became a huge inspiration.
"Mountains" by Prince
I have been a huge fan since I was 11 years old, and I especially love the arrangement and overall mix on "Mountains."
"Tô" by Tom Zé
I grew up listening to Bahiana music in high school. When I discovered Tom Zé, I was further established in the worlds of French chansons and avant garde. Zé surfs the world between Brazilian music and the experimental, which is where I like to live as an artist.
"Pasca" by Senyawa
I discovered Senyawa during the Darwin Music Festival in 2018 and became obsessed with their sound. They also build their own electro-acoustic instruments out of bamboo. Totally badass!
"Obaa Sima" by Ata Kak
After a show, a bartender in New Orleans put this music on that was fun, strange, and intriguing. It was Ata Kak's newly re-released album of synth rhythm and vocal imitation of '90s hip-hop scratching.
"Le Petit Royaume" by Julos Beaucarne
This is the first song I learned to play cello and sing at the same time. And it's a tribute to my homeland of Belgium.
"Telephone" by Zap Mama
I wore this album out during my teenage years! I have been influenced by her polyphonic afrobeat style of singing and also the beautiful layering of sounds in her music.