Brilliant jazz vocalist, composer, and lyricist Cécile McLorin Salvant weaves a tale of women’s secrecy under the male gaze in her latest project, Mélusine. Salvant takes as her inspiration the European folk legend of Mélusine, the woman cursed to spend one day each week as a half-snake.
Featuring a mix of originals and reorchestrations of songs dating back to the twelfth century, Salvant brings her wide-ranging intellect, powerfully expressive voice, boundless creativity, and theatrical imagination to songs sung in French, English, Haitian Kreyól, and the ancient Southern French language Occitan.
Salvant was last seen on the Series in 2022 with “Ghost Songs,” an eclectic recording and performance project that drew heavily from her own journals and artworks, historical sources, and covers of Sting ad Kate Bush classics to tell tales of grief and love lost.
Experience the profound vision of a major talent with this fascinating song cycle from one of today’s most acclaimed singers in any genre.
Mélusine features a mix of five originals and interpretations of nine songs, dating as far back as the twelfth century, mostly sung in French along with Occitan, English, and Haitian Kreyol.
The new album’s songs tell the story of the European folkloric legend of Mélusine, a woman who turns into a half-snake each Saturday as a result of a childhood curse by her mother. Mélusine later agrees to marry Raymondin on the condition that he never see her on Saturdays. He agrees but is ultimately convinced by his brother to break his promise, piercing his wife’s door with his sword and finding her naked in the bath, half snake, half woman. When she catches him spying on her, she turns into a dragon and flies out the window, only to reappear every time one of her descendants is on their deathbed.
“I think what I try to do is more akin to revealing secrets than telling stories,” Salvant says. “Revealing secrets is also the snake’s role in the Garden [of Eden]. The snake brings secrets, knowledge, pain, and mayhem.”
She continues, “The story of Mélusine is also the story of the destructive power of the gaze. Raymondin’s sword pierces a hole into her iron door. His gaze does too. The gaze is transformative and combustible. She sees that he is secretly seeing her. Her secret is revealed. This double gaze turns her into a dragon. She can now breathe fire.”
Salvant, whose parents are French and Haitian, says Mélusine is also “partly about that feeling of being a hybrid, a mixture of different cultures, which I’ve experienced not only as the American-born child of two first generation immigrants, but as someone raised in a family that is racially mixed, from several different countries, with different languages spoken in the home.”
“‘Dame Iseut,’ the last song of the album, was translated into Haitian Kreyol with my dad from the Occitan, which is an ancient language spoken in the south of France. My grandmother spoke a little, and her brother used to teach it,” Salvant says. “This album combines elements from French mythology, Haitian Vaudoo, and apocrypha.” credits released March 24, 2023
“I think what I try to do is more akin to revealing secrets than telling stories. Revealing secrets is also the snake’s role in the Garden [of Eden]. The snake brings secrets, knowledge, pain, and mayhem. ”Cécile McLorin Salvant