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Celine Cairo’s songs should come with a warning. From first listen, the Dutch seductress reels you in with bewitching vocals and spell-like atmospherics. Delve deeper and poetic depictions of the battle between darkness and light, of nature vanishing from the planet, of womanhood and her own struggles with mental health will have you hopelessly hooked.
She made her debut with 2013’s Follow EP, produced by Ninja Tune’s Fink. She support-ed acts like Asgeir, Dodie and Haevn and started touring internationally in 2014. For de-but album Free Fall, an award winner streamed more than 10 million times, she de-camped to L.A. to record with Grammy-nominated producer Bill Lefler (Ingrid Michaelson, Laura Jansen). The acclaimed album won her fans around the world, a Dutch music award and was playlisted on Radio 2. Celine headlined across the Netherlands with her longtime band and finished touring the album with an acoustic concert in the Royal Con-certgebouw of Amsterdam.
After Free Fall, Celine spent two years writing, travelling and immersing herself in nature while waiting for the pieces to fall into place. While the songs flowed freely, deciding on the sound became a stumbling block until, in London for a writing session in 2018, Celine sent a Facebook message to British producer Tim Bran.
“He was top of my wish list of producers,” says Celine. “We’d met once in Amsterdam and I loved what he’d done with London Grammar and Birdy. I was looking for a similar vibe – intimate, yet grand. Someone I could really experiment with, without losing my own identity. I ended up going to his studio in London to write and we just dived straight in. We had an amazing synergy in the studio and discovered we have very similar taste. From the moment our first song together was written, I felt I had the sound I’d been searching for. I found myself coming back to London every few weeks after that.”
As ever, Celine’s band were key to the recordings. “They’re all close friends who’ve been with me for years and although my act bears my name, we really are a band. The produc-tions always highlight the live sound to make the transition to the stage more natural and because I love what real musicianship adds to a song.”
The album’s stunning first single, Bird Song, released at the start of this year, captures that period. “I barely remember writing it, just that the song came pouring out and that it sounded a bit like a hymn. I remember Amsterdam being greener and having many more birds when I grew up. I think about how we’re losing touch with the natural world a lot.”
Famous, Celine’s latest single, explores an even more modern malaise – our constant craving for attention. Over sonorous piano, airy acoustic guitar and ghostly electronics, she dissects a world warped by social media.
“It feels today as though everyone is trying to be famous,” she says Celine. “Thanks to technology, we can sell ourselves as we want to be seen. We promote perfection rather than reality, in a quest for the recognition we all now believe we deserve.
“I’m not immune to that myself, which is something I’ve struggled with. As a musician I need to be seen and be heard. To make a living, you can’t stay off social media, however negatively it impacts you.”
Celine’s dad, a lawyer who specialised in music, is also an amateur drummer who took Celine to his gigs from the age of four, where she would get up on stage and sing.
Her mum, a music lover who played her everything from flamenco and Fado to classical music, inadvertently helped launch her daughter’s career when she found a broken guitar in the street one day.
“I’d been playing piano since 8 and singing since 11, but getting that guitar was my gate-way to writing songs,” says Celine. “My mum knew it was a good guitar, despite being broken and having no strings. For my 14th birthday, she had it renovated and that’s when I really started writing songs.
“I was lucky to have been born and raised in the heart of Amsterdam, in the historic dis-trict, which is very rich in culture and architecture. I grew up going to concerts, galleries and arthouse films – all of which inspired my music.”
– Lisa Verrico