Hector Zazou was a quirky French composer who worked quietly in the background, creating music that sent subtle ripples across the music firmament. He died this past Monday, September 8 at the age of 60. Most of the hipster community discovered him in the mid-1990s when he released the albums, Sahara Blue and Songs from the Cold Seas, both brilliant world fusion collaborations with a galaxy of new music stars including Lisa Gerrard, Björk, David Sylvian and John Cale. In an Audio Magazine review of Sahara Blue, I wrote:
Sahara Blue should be a textbook album for anyone attempting a tribute album in the future. Once beyond the allure of the initial concept, Zazou’s Sahara Blue gets more interesting and reveals more layers with each listening, both musically and poetically.
It’s fitting that he adapted the writings of Rimbaud who sought altered realities and the places where edges blur. Zazou has been doing that from the beginning on albums like Geologies and Geographies, both at the genesis of Ambient Chamber Music, mixing string ensembles with electronics in compositions that were poignantly melodic.
A graduate of the Conservatory of Marseilles, Zazou studied with electronic music pioneer Pierre Schaeffer. He downplays the influence of Schaeffer, but you can hear the impact of the French musique concrete pioneer in the way Zazou manipulated sound and used fragments of performances to create a final work.
“That’s where Hector Zazou is really smart,” recalled Lisa Gerrard in a 1995 Echoes interview about Sahara Blue. “He picks up fragments and once he gets them home, he really works them, but the fragments he picks up, he picks up in bizarre situations really.”
He created African electro dance music with Bikaye, produced seminal albums by Yungchen Lhamo and Sevara Nazarkhan and collaborated with fellow ambient chamber music pioneer, Harold Budd on the album, Glyph.
Zazou operated where the borders are obscured and the secrets are found in between. “Yes. Absolutely,” he agreed in a 1994 interview for Echoes. “Because it’s in these areas that you can discover something. You know it’s like when you discover an old city or something like that, so probably all the searchers are going to be in the center. But if you walk two kilometers from the center, I’m sure that you can find some little things. But, my field is working on these layers of sound and so it is a surrealistic place where everything is a little dreamy and out of the real world.”