Yiqiao Huang, Grade 11
This is an interview with the French singer, songwriter, and harpist from the Breton region, Cécile Corbel (Corbel, “HOME”). This interview explores her life story and music style, as well as her devotion to the preservation of Celtic heritages. In a conversation, she mentioned her music contains her “identity [and] roots”, but she also called her music “contemporary” (Noyer). I wish that through this interview, I could reveal her world of ancient poetry, original works, Celtic tunes, and Mediterranean melodies to you (Musical Discoveries). I admire her exploration and preservation of traditional Celtic elements, styles, and stories in her songs, including stories of elves, sailors, kings, etc. I also appreciate her trials in other styles and languages, such as the cooperation with Studio Ghibli in 2010 and the album with pop elements in 2021 (Noyer; Corbel, “Notes”).
Kitty: Hello everyone, I am Kitty, the host of this interview. Today, we are lucky to have with us Cécile Corbel, the world-famous French singer and songwriter, who will tell us about her journey in music. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Cécile: Thank you for the invitation, Kitty. It’s a pleasure to be here. Well, I was born in Finistère, in western Brittany in France. I have been attracted by Breton and Celtic culture since I was young. I started performing in pubs, until later then I published my original songs and worked on collaborative projects, like 2010 with Studio Ghibli. So far, I have released 12 original albums (“Cécile Corbel”).
Kitty: That indeed was amazing, and you took a unique path of your own with Breton and Celtic music. How did you start in the first place?
Cécile: I’d say that some originated from my parents, who had marionette shows. They took me on their shows all over Brittany. I was fascinated by their work, just found it interesting, as children would. There was also another person, to whom I am extremely grateful. She is Elisa Vellia, the person who taught me to play the Celtic harp. That was perhaps the first recognition of my identity as a Breton and, you know, some things that seem to have been lost in the popular culture around me. I would say my parents and Elisa played important roles in cultivating my interest in the cultural side, yeah (“Cécile Corbel”).
Kitty: Wow, it sure is wonderful to hear of the important people in your life. We all need guidance and inspiration at some point, right?
Cécile: Yes, for sure.
Kitty: By the way, I heard that you studied archaeology and science in Paris. How did you start a path in the music in the end?
Cécile: I would say they laid off the foundation for my future exploration in these fields, as many of my songs talk about ancient tales. Archaeology and history are my passion, and among them, intangible heritage is perhaps the most intriguing point, because they cannot be preserved in architecture or books, but rather as techniques and stories that are passed down, father to son, mother to daughter, until now (Musical Discoveries).
Kitty: I have always admired you for taking such a path and how you are combining your passions. It’s amazing. Many of our listeners wrote to us and would want to hear you talk about your songs. Would you like to do that?
Cécile: For sure.
Kitty: Would you say your music is traditional or modern?
Cécile: Both. My music is known as traditional ballads, and yes, I blend in many traditional elements in my song, like tales of fairies, sailors, etc. But if you know my music well, you would also find modern aspects in terms of vocals and instrument (Musical Discoveries).
Kitty: And how would you say it is related to you as a person?
Cécile: My compositions are related to my identity, and who I am. My ancestors walked this land and created wonderful artistic treasures, but they seem to be lost in the current trend. I try to save that in my songs (Noyer).
Kitty: Like La Fille sans Nom (The Nameless Girl)?
Cécile: Yes. That was a collaborative piece with Faada Freddy. They are people who walk out lands but don’t belong here, similar to how I felt among Breton people who forgot their past (Cécile Corbel, “Chansons - La Fille Sans Nom [Songs - The Nameless Girl]”).
Kitty: I know, and that is why your work is so meaningful at this time. Can you tell us about some of your other pieces and what you try to express with them?
Cécile: Yes. One of my personal favorites is Innocence, because I give total freedom to my audience to interpret (Cécile Corbel, “Chansons - Innocence [Songs - Innocence]”).
Kitty: I remember there was quite a discussion in your fandom!
Cécile: Really? What do you think?
Kitty: I think you described a sea battle when a cruise ship won the attack of a pirate ship.
Cécile: That seems less innocent than my original intentions.
Kitty: What did you think?
Cécile: It felt more like a flow of melody. I didn’t want to inject a particular meaning into it.
Kitty: Very well then. Can you tell us about one of your more recent works?
Cécile: Yes. Liam, is the story of a famous sailor in our local tales, since our peninsula borders the ocean (Cécile Corbel, “Chansons - Liam [Songs - Liam]”). It was a lovely piece of Breton tale that I tried to construct with vocal and harp. Another one I might bring up, of course, is Arrietty’s Song.
Kitty: Yes. How can we forget about that?
Cécile: I finally put my passion with animation foreword, trying a new language, Japanese.
Kitty: This seemed unlikely, but you still did it. That is amazing. How did this happen?
Cécile: I have been their fan for ages before I sent my CD to them. Their anime is captivating and unconventional in its style, and that is what got me. The producer wanted a Celtic flavor for the theme song, but I had no idea it would be me at that time! (Noyer)
Kitty: It started pretty well, and then?
Cécile: I wrote many songs, posted demos, etc. and 14 of them remained. I was lucky to visit their studio too!
Kitty: I’m sure it was an enriching experience. Is there anything else you would like to tell us before we end the session?
Cécile: Yes. Try listening to the legends. Some of them blew my mind when I first found them.
Kitty: True. Your style doesn’t have to be uniform, and your explorations already brought us so much insight and inspiration. That’s it for our interview. Thank you again for joining us. Bye!
Cécile: Thank you!
“Cécile Corbel.” Wikiland, https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Cécile_Corbel. Accessed 3 Aug. 2022.
“---.” Wikipedia, 5 Dec. 2021. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=C%C3%A9cile_Corbel&oldid=1058773300.
---. “Chansons - Innocence [Songs - Innocence].” Le Petit Monde de Cécile Corbel, 15 Oct. 2014, http://lepetitmondedececilecorbel.eklablog.com/chansons-gt-innocence-p1092070.
---. “Chansons - La Fille Sans Nom [Songs - The Nameless Girl].” Le Petit Monde de Cécile Corbel, 15 Oct. 2014, http://lepetitmondedececilecorbel.eklablog.com/chansons-la-fille-sans-nom-p1218548.
---. “Chansons - Liam [Songs - Liam].” Le Petit Monde de Cécile Corbel, 15 Oct. 2014, http://lepetitmondedececilecorbel.eklablog.com/chansons-la-fille-sans-nom-p1218548.
Corbel, Cécile. “Album SongBook, Vol. 5 - Notes.” Qobuz, 30 Sept. 2021, https://www.qobuz.com/us-en/album/songbook-vol-5-notes-cecile-corbel/thyhaqblbprgc.
Musical Discoveries. “Review Digest - Review of Songbook Vol. 2.” Musical Discoveries, 16 Nov. 2008, http://www.musicaldiscoveries.com/digest/digest.php?a=viewr&id=838.
Noyer, Jérémie. “Arrietty, the Borrower and Cecile Corbel, the Composer….” Animated Views, 15 Nov. 2010, https://animatedviews.com/2010/arrietty-the-borrower-and-cecile-corbel-the-composer/.
Web Archive. “Starry-Eyed Starlet.” Web Archive - Breton Artists, 26 Sept. 2013, https://web.archive.org/web/20130923225150/http://whatson.brittanytourism.com/artists/breton-artists/cecile-corbel.
Image Courtesy: https://flyclipart.com/interview-clipart-clip-art-sitting-in-chair-clipart-310257