Interview: French charm blended with Latin malemolence in Mandarina

Who’d have thought Colombia and France would mix so well? Mandarina is a pleasant surprise for everyone that fancies unusual sounds. The duo formed by the Colombian, now based in France, Paola Olarte and the French Michael Tainturier goes from elements of soul and jazz to rhythms well known by Brazilians, like Latin music.

Without denying her roots, the singer expresses herself in full power, going from Spanish to French according to the music and bringing an inherent nostalgia amid optimism and freedom.

A very good proof of what we’re saying comes in the shape of Lui, the main single from the eponymous EP. It’s an indie-pop hymn with elements of bossa nova.

The full EP counts with four other tracks filled with artistic freedom and very unique identity. To better understand backgrounds and influences, we had a chat that ended up reflecting on the pandemic in France and artists like Liniker.

Check it out:

Paola, the first thing I wanted to understand is: how was your arriving in Paris when it comes to being a foreigner and not hiding your roots? And how did you two start this project?

PAOLA: I have always dreamt of living in Paris and I finally moved there from Bogota six years ago. I never hid my roots and it has never been a problem here. But I must admit that there are cultural diffrences that take time to get used to. The French can be a bit cold compared to Colombians  (haha)

MICHAEL: We met through friends in common. We had a bit much to drink and smoke and started to play with the idea of making some tracks together. So a few days later, we did try to make some music and it worked for us. Then it took us a couple of years to decide that this was an actual project that was important to us.

What are your influences, and where do they differ?

PAOLA: I’m very influenced by singers who have intense emotions in their voices like Chavela Vargas and Mercedes Sosa. At the same time, I’ve always loved bands like Gorillaz and the Doors.

MICHAEL: My main thing has always been Soul music, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson. David Bowie is also a huge influence for me. So like Paola, it’s mostly very old school stuff. But before we met, I had very little knowledge of Latin music apart from Bossa Nova.

PAOLA: And working with Michael, I have discovered Electronic Music and Trip Hop. Air is a really important band for us. They’re always an inspiration in our work.

You can tell Lui is influenced by bossa nova. Are you familiar with other Brazilian music genres and artists?

PAOLA: We’re so happy that people recognize the Bossa Nova influence in Lui!

MICHAEL: Some great soul music and funk from Brasil back in the day and still today! I love Liniker, very inspiring singer!

By the way, you decided to explore Latin Music and write in Spanish. In a way, it makes your music sounds more universal, but at the same time, I suppose it also could push some people away because of the language barrier. How are people responding to your music so far?

PAOLA: We actually have songs in Spanish and in French. The most important thing for me is emotion. I can feel  all the emotions in a song  in Spanish and French because they are languages  I really speak. So far it hasn’t been a problem in reaching our public.

MICHAEL: Our thing is really to mix genres and we try to make music that makes listeners travel around the world and through time and outside of themselves. It’s all about real emotions and familiar sounds in an imaginary world.

And how are things in France right now? Here in Brazil, a lot of artists and bands delayed album releases or created songs connected to our current reality. Did the pandemic change somehow the plans you had for Mandarina in 2020?

MICHAEL: Right now in France, we are in the second wave of Covid and we are back in quarantine now. When we were in quarantine the first time in March, we decided to push the release of our EP to september, because we had no time to make the video for Lui.

PAOLA: But during the first quarantine, we recorded a series of covers that we called Canciones de Cuarentena, each from their own home. It’s all on YouTube. And since we are back in quarantine, we have decided to make new Canciones de Cuarentena. It’s true that it’s not easy to release music in 2020, with the impossibility of playing live, but we’re very happy that we were able to release our first EP this september.

MICHAEL: It’s a challenge but we’re very optimistic for the future and we’re already working on a lot of new music.

PAOLA: South America is always in our thoughts during this crisis. We will all get through this stronger!

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