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Julien Clerc : The female island

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Julien Clerc, an iconic French singer, on tour in the Indian Ocean to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of his career, stopped off in Mauritius. We met at the Trou aux Biches Beachcomber, where he was staying with his family.

At the age of seventy-one with millions of records sold, thirty albums made and appearances at all the world’s major venues, Julien Leclerc is an exceptional artist. The key to his continued success, and indeed his ever-youthful looks, is his honesty; he is someone who says he wants to be loved for what he does rather than who he is.

“Mixed-race roots”

Julien Clerc doesn’t hide his emotions at being back in Mauritius for the third time: “It’s quite a symbolic tour, the 50th anniversary of my career, not many of us can say that!” To celebrate the event, he’s travelled over with his wife Hélène Grémillon, and their son Léonard, 10. Their programme includes a visit to L’Aventure du Sucre Museum and a rum distillery, an excursion inland, an introductory course to underwater diving for their son, and for Julien, as he says “the whole ocean”!

Reserved but charming, elegant but distant, Julien Clerc doesn’t easily give much away. Little is known of his Parisian upbringing, his parents who divorced after he was born or his childhood divided between his father, a high-ranking Unesco official, and his mother, a secretary, and his West Indian maternal grandfather. “I have distant mixed-race roots. I was fortunate to have had a grandfather from Guadeloupe, and so I have family ties to these small French islands, so far away from France itself,” says the man who is both French and European by conviction.

“Despite the different languages, I think that Europe has a shared culture. We have been living in London for the past two years to give our son the opportunity to experience the British education system. This bilingual schooling is wonderful for him. For me, it’s a journey back in time. As a teenager, my parents used to send me to stay with English families during the school holidays. It was on these language trips that I discovered English pop music.”

His passion for music has never waned. At the age of twenty, Paul-Alain Leclerc dropped his name and surname and became simply “Julien Clerc”. He released his first record in May 1968, a collaboration with Étienne Roda-Gil, his songwriter in the early days. The public first discovered his emotionally charged and versatile voice when he performed the song Julien: “Tiens/ Vous m’avez appelé Julien/ Vous semblez me connaître bien (hey/you called me Julien/ you seem to know me well)”.


“If Mauritius were a woman, she would be mixed-race.”


A love anthem

We may not know him that well, but we know his songs by heart. Therein lies their charm, listening to them is to hear all their feminine poetry. From the song “Femmes je vous aime” (Women, I love you) to “Ma Préférence” (My Preference) and “Quelle heure est-île, marquise” (what time is it, your ladyship) he has always sung his endless love for women. Geographically speaking, he sees women as an island, and an island as female.

“If Mauritius were a woman, she would be mixed-race with Indian blood as a tribute to my grandfather. He used to say that the most beautiful women he’d ever seen were mixed-race women,” says the artist. “If the island were a perfume, it would be the fragrance of vanilla and spices.” And a flower? “A flower that is found at all latitudes, an allamanda, which is an extraordinary yellow colour, and grows alongside paths and in places of worship, like an offering.” A sound? “Most definitely the rhythms of sega and the ravanne!”

A smile lights up his face. Léonard, 10, the youngest of his five children, is coming to take him diving in the lagoon. Undoubtedly, Julien Clerc, the triumphant mixed-race man as his friend Roda-Gil used to call him, is back in the sunny climes. 

Interview by Désiré Éléonore
Text by Fanny Riva