Eight years ago, Steve Jobs handpicked one of the most unlikely songs to soundtrack an Apple spot. Whimsical and modest, Yael Naïm’s folk-pop “New Soul” was more willfully analog than tech-savvy. But mostly, it was catchy—catapulting around the globe, from the northern and southern to eastern and western hemispheres. In the U.S. alone, it sat on three Billboard charts: the Hot 100, Adult Alternative, and Adult Top 40. “It was,” Naïm says sweetly, “a miracle.”
In retrospect, it feels more like fate. Born in France to Tunisian parents, raised in Israel, and residing in Paris since age 21, Naïm is a true citizen of the world who has forged for herself, as the New York Times attested, a “prestigious artistic career.” Joined by her creative partner, musician-producer David Donatien, she recently debuted their third album, Older, to a packed crowd at Summer Stage in New York City’s Central Park. There, to a global, culturally curious audience (Vogue once describe her as possessing a “powerful, operatic voice”), Naïm and Donatien performed their acclaimed new work, which soulfully chronicles life, death, and the transformation in between.
Older represents an artistic turning point for Naïm and Donatien, in their insistence on finding meaning in that which initially unsettles them. The album, produced by Donatien and mixed by Michael Brauer (Coldplay, Grizzly Bear), was creatively driven by opposites: the birth of Naïm and Donatien’s child (documented in the nursery-rhyme-like “Make a Child”) and the death of her grandmother, eulogized in chanson-folk style on the album’s spectral closer, “Meme Iren.” In between is the album’s centerpiece, “Coward,” a ruminant cabaret tune about the loss of control and freedom. Released March 2015 in France, Older has already earned Naïm her second Female Artist of the Year award at Les Victoires de la Musique, France’s equivalent of the Grammys.