French-Moroccan pianist Sofiane Pamart, whose streams run into the tens of millions, plays two concerts at Union Chapel in Islington on Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6 December to promote his latest album, Noche. Feature by Rob Adams.
Sofiane Pamart‘s third album Noche – following the international success of its predecessors, Planet and Letter – was composed during a long sojourn in Latin America.
The thirty-three-year-old Pamart is an inveterate traveller. The twelve pieces on Planet were composed in and named after the locations that inspired them – from Chicago to Bora Bora, Paris to Seoul. Similarly, Letter was composed during four months in Asia, capturing in music the nocturnal essence of Bang Saray, a serene seaside village on the Gulf of Thailand, the nighttime chaos of Ho Chi Minh City and other places.
Raised in the suburbs of Lille, Pamart has one foot in rap culture and the other in the world of classical music.
His mother, a literature teacher whose family come from the Berber region of Morocco, heard the four-year-old Sofiane picking out film themes and music from cartoons on a toy piano at the age of four. Two years later she enrolled him in a specialist music school. He went on to graduate with a gold medal from the Conservatoire National de Lille.
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“My parents heard me playing these tunes as a kid and thought it was amazing, a special talent,” he has said. “But my piano teacher didn’t think I was special – she refused to continue my lessons at one point because I was so bad. So, I had to work hard to reach the standards I achieved.”
On graduating Pamart decided not to follow the conventional concert pianist route, instead becoming the go-to pianist for leading French and Belgian rap artists. The showmanship that he now brings to his solo concerts derives from the rap school, with several changes of costume during the evening not being unknown.
Pamart began his solo career in 2019, creating music that is intense and often dramatic – there’s a video of him duetting with Chilly Gonzales at Montreux Jazz Festival that bears this out – and his rise has been meteoric. So much so that Pamart is one of the top 10 most streamed classical music artists in the world this year.
He has sold out two nights at the prestigious, 2000-capacity Salle Pleyel in Paris. More impressively, however, he is the first pianist to perform at the Accor Arena Bercy, selling out the legendary venue that is usually associated with pop and rock stars such as Johnny Halliday and Madonna to its maximum capacity of 20,000. An enormous feat for a musician on the very first solo tour of his career.
The piano has been a kind of Tardis for him. As a child he wanted to travel but he didn’t have the money required. So he first of all travelled in his imagination through the classical pieces he learned – he still feels the influence of Chopin and Ravel every day – and he has gone on to travel physically, enabled by his concert tours and his collaborations with fashion brands including Maison Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior Homme, Louis Vuitton and Mercedes-Benz.
As he told the writer Paul Bridgewater, “The piano is like a very close friend. I got to know it better year after year, and now it brings me confidence and peace. But nothing can be taken for granted, I always need to cultivate this relationship with the instrument. It is an ongoing challenge.”
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