Getting Bilingual with Lolo Zouaï

Hailing from NYC via San Francisco, French-Algerian artist Lolo Zouaï brings a sophistication to the table with an endearing rough-around-the-edges vibe that ignites a much-needed fire in the beige sounding contemporary R&B/pop genre. Her production sees a heady strength for understated beats and melodies with her vocals wrapping silkily around in both English and French with the occasional Arab influence creeping through. Visually, from the lo-fi nature of her earlier videos to the sultry ‘Jade’, and fronting fashion campaigns with the likes of Tommy Hilfiger, Zouaï has made distinct and effortless transitions into this world, already forming a rough-yet-chic signature look.

On her delightful debut album ‘High Highs to Low Lows’, Zouaï performs a learned consistency in her music and maturity which belies her youth, her self-assurance marking her out from her contemporaries. In her soulful yet sweetly acerbic lyrics and vocals, a playful self-awareness hums alongside the cool edge of diverse melodies and beats which keeps you listening. Her collaboration with Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) only further cements her capabilities as quite the seasoned performer. Delve a little deeper and there is more at play lyrically and musically, so why not give the album a spin whilst having a little read of our catch up with Zouaï?

KALTBLUT: Hi Lolo! First off, being French Algerian, growing up in San Francisco, living in NYC and now touring, you seem to have an intriguing and exciting trajectory. How have these aspects informed your journey so far?

Lolo Zouaï: I think that I started making music in San Francisco – it’s such a big cultural city and so many different people and ethnicities and music playing all the time. I was really inspired by the R&B and the hip hop I was hearing on the radio, and then my mum was French – so she really influenced me without me realising, by listening to music. There was always French music in the background on weekends. French was my first language – I learnt it first and went to a French elementary school. I learnt English from TV really. The Algerian culture is something I’m a little bit removed from but I try to get closer by incorporating it into my music. Also, being in New York really taught me how to hustle. We record out of this underground studio that has this real gritty feeling that supplies this lo-fi grit into my music.

KALTBLUT: Tell us a little about your foray into music.

Zouaï: I was by myself in my room from a really young age, practising singing runs just by listening to music. I taught myself how to play the guitar in high school from the age of 16 and started writing music from there. When I moved to New York – that was when I started seeking out producers and recording in proper studios and practising. You have to practice singing and recording in studios, it’s not the same as just singing.

KALTBLUT: Who or what informs your musical styles, obvious or otherwise?

Zouaï: Probably the cities that I’m from, San Francisco and New York – I also think it’s just innate. I don’t always realise why I sing this way or why a certain melody comes to my head, it just does. It’s inexplicable.

KALTBLUT: Being bilingual, you also sing in French. Do you find it easier to express yourself linguistically in this way?

Zouaï: Much easier in English. I’m fluent in French but I don’t think in French – I don’t understand everything as much. I’m not good with social cues and slang. When I sing in French in my songs it’s usually a very simple French – very classic and romantic and poetic vs. in English where I can say whatever I feel.

KALTBLUT: You’ve recently collaborated with Dev Hynes. How did that come about and how was it working with him?

Zouaï: It came about because he was playing my song ‘Blue’ on his Instagram story so I reached out and we ended up meeting at a studio in New York. We really got along so I ended up playing him a song ‘Jade’ that I had been working on. He recorded a verse and recorded it and sent it back fairly quickly, which was amazing. It was great to work with someone who had been in the industry in various ways for such a long time and is like a butterfly and chameleon – he can make any type of music. He’s so talented and so kind and sweet. It was cool to work with someone who has just been in the game – because I’m a newbie!

KALTBLUT: Talking of collaborations, what others can we look forward to? And if you could work with your dream artist, who would that be?

Zouaï: I definitely wanna collaborate with a bunch. After putting out my album I’m more open to collaborating but I think it would be great to do a song with The Weeknd – I think his first albums were so vibe-y and great.

KALTBLUT: Your debut album out at the moment. How would you say that has evolved from your previous offerings?

Zouaï: I just put my favourite tracks on there that were already out. I think putting out a body of work I was able to show more diverse sounds – instead of just illustrating one side of me, sonically, I was able to show my diversity and what I like to do. I like to make fun music but I also like to make sad music. It wasn’t one vibe, it was nice to have a mix of personalities on there because I’m not just one thing. ‘Ride’ and ‘Here to Say’ were the newest songs on the album and I can already see a sound evolving within the album.

KALTBLUT: We have to say, you have fabulous style, an effortless edgy chic. You’ve also been the face of fashion campaigns (e.g. Tommy Hilfiger). Who are you fashion inspirations, designers and where do you shop?

Zouaï: That’s hard as I’m only just starting to learn about fashion – I’m just getting into it. I actually shop mostly at thrift stores just because that’s how I was growing up and it’s out of habit and I feel like you can always find amazing vintage pieces that no-one else is wearing. That’s the issue with fashion is that people can be wearing the same things as you and then you’re not original. I’m learning about loads of new designers and really enjoy it, so I can’t wait to see what’s else I discover and love in future.

KALTBLUT: Finally, what else can we look forward from you this year?

Zouaï: I’ll be putting out more music videos for the album (one very soon!) and I’m going to be touring Europe again this year off the back of the US tour I just finished, so stay tuned for dates and I’ll definitely be putting out more music too.


Photo Credits: Grant Spaniard