Stromae isn't just a rapper, he's a global phenomenon. In a country not over endowed with music stars we should all be justly proud of this Belgian-Rwandan. Not only is he from December's TEDx home town of Brussels, he loves Jacques Brel and is only 25.
That irresistible beat has sounded through the homes, clubs, offices and cars of Europe creating a pulsating soundwave of francophony not heard since MC Solaar. Part of a french language rapping tradition that includes Bisso na Bisso, Doc Gyneco, Stomy Bugsy, Arsenik and many others, Stromae's managed to popularise an underground medium by taking on the eurodance synth sound and combining it with Cuban son and Congolese rhumba. The principles of eclectic montage and culture mash up are alive and well.
When 'Alors En Danse' went to number one in 12 countries, hopes were raised that he could become that endangered beast, a new Belgian superstar. He demonstrated some of the grit and determination needed to take on the dominance of the American sound by putting himself through private school and working at NRJ radio, plus he wears a cool bowtie.
Tempting though it might be to extend a complex metaphor here about the new Europe and the cultural benefits of immigration, rap fans have grown up with an instinctive understanding of the fluidity of musical influence and the rightness of using your own diverse background to piece together something new. It's one of the main factors facilitated by the movement of peoples, new media and the democratisation of the means of musical production. If you've got talent, determination and enthusiasm (and of course luck), the tools for recording a hit are well within reach.
Mostly coming up out of the dissatisfaction born in the banlieues, French language rap echoes its USA counterpart but seems naturally less exploitative and commercial. Mixing a markedly dystopian cast of mind with creative wordplay, Stromae's lyrics are literate, playful and distinctive. They speak the universal language of youth, drugs, and revolt.
Currently working with hip hop superstar Kanye West, Stromae may be about to hit the really big time, VIP treatment and private jet included. This usually goes together with developing a more anodyne sound designed to appeal to as many listeners as possible. Somehow this seems unlikely for a son of Brussels and I hope we can look forward to more unusual collaborations and diverse influences. The real skill is in arranging those connections in a way that just makes you want to move your feet, wherever and whoever you may be.
Stromae will be at TEDx Brussels on December 6