A long road from the Bahamas to the French airwaves for Diana Hamilton.
A month or so ago, listeners to the radio station FIP (FM 105.1) – famed for its mix of musical styles, soft-voiced female announcers and blessed lack of blah-blah and advertising (the station is government-owned) – pricked up their ears every time a certain tune came on. Sung in French by a sweet-voiced woman with the obvious accent of an English speaker and a quirky style, the bouncy “Tant d’Années” was something fresh and new.
A visit to FIP’s Web site revealed that the song, written by Florian Lacour, was from Diana Hamilton’s intriguingly named album, “A Bahamian in Paris.” And a little more investigation led to Hamilton in person, who explained the unusual path that had led her onto the French airwaves.
After a rather idyllic childhood in the Bahamas, Hamilton had been sent to school in New York when she was 16 and later ended up moving to Paris, where she has been an English teacher and coach for many years.
It never occurred to her that she was or could be a singer until one day when she was watching her little boy Nairobi play in a park. “I felt this sensation,” she said, “then I heard a melody, then a refrain. It just came into me. That was the day I got my voice. In my head, I heard the voice that I have today, although I didn’t have it yet.”
That song, “Nairobi,” is on the album, which, like FIP, is something of a sampler of musical styles, with everything from Bahamian percussions to a little French rap, provided by the very same Nairobi (under the name of Biron Bikes), now all grown up, and Willie the Kid.
During the years between that day in the park and the making of the album this year, Hamilton worked on developing her voice and experimented with different musical styles (at one point she even did a stint with a country-western group – “It was so much fun,” she said).
Along the way, Hamilton has been assisted by many chance meetings, notably with a French journalist who was fascinated by Joseph Spence’s rhyming spirituals and wanted to interview someone from the Bahamas (“There are only two or three of us in France at any given time,” says Hamilton).
The encounter with the journalist reintroduced Hamilton to the music of her childhood. “It unlocked all my memories,” she said. It also led her to form a (now-defunct) trio that performed this typically Bahamian mixture of work songs and spirituals.
The next step came when she met Patrick Rouchon, a French fashion photographer who is also in love with the music of the Bahamas and offered to produce an album for Hamilton, and Eric Henry-Greard, who got a group together for her and helped orchestrate the album, arranging many of the songs, writing music and performing.
After the album was finished, one of FIP’s programmers heard it being played in a Paris restaurant owned by a friend of Hamilton’s. The programmer introduced it to her colleagues at the station. They fell in love with it and called Hamilton in and told her they would support the album with airplay and help her find a distributor.
That’s where things stand today, with Hamilton on the brink of possible success in the notoriously difficult music world. Let’s hope her sweet voice, with its occasional echoes of Billie Holliday, will carry her through.
Diana Hamilton: http://dianahamilton.free.fr
© 2005 Paris Update
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