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Sofiane Pamart, a young classical piano prodigy, has successfully won over rap and pop music while transcending their codes. He talks about the role his mother played in his meteoric rise and all the projects he is working on with his manager and alter ego.
Sofiane Pamart is the new wonder of the pianosphere. Endowed with an absolute ear for music, his talent was first spotted by his parents when he was a child, playing the theme songs of mangas like Dragon Ball Z on his toy piano. After the Lille Conservatoire, he became a classical piano star, but chose to develop his personality and his repertoire by playing his own compositions exclusively, crowned with success in 2019 with his album Planet, revisited as Planet Gold last year. With a striking sense of style, he sports multicoloured coats, bucket hats, small round black glasses à la Leon, not to forget his grillz, a type of dental jewellery typical of the rap aesthetic. Rappers have been lining up to work with him: Sofiane composes for SCH, Vald, Rim’K, Hatik, Scylla and Médine, but also for pop and electro artists such as Bon Entendeur, NTO, Aloise Sauvage and Kimberose. We meet a young hyperactive gifted man, aiming for the position of “number one piano player in the world” and whose catchy melodies stand out at the crossroads between pop and classical music.
MIXTE. How did you get started in the world of classical music?
SOFIANE PAMART. It stems from the relationship I have with my parents. They are not musicians, but they have a crazy admiration for those who are. One day, my mother saw a documentary that said that the piano was the king of instruments – the fact that I call myself the Piano King comes from that! So I entered the Conservatoire at the age of 6. I had this dream of the institution, the top of the range, the great culture that the Conservatoire provides. But I was very rebellious and I was not a very academic person, unlike my mother. She was the one who taught me rigour. I already wanted to compose my own pieces, to play according to my mood… Fortunately, she stopped me. She had a strict authoritative presence. That’s what allowed me to acquire a technique.
M. You talk about method, but the trigger is still your talent, right?
S.P. Obviously, I had certain predispositions and that’s what made the difference. But I don’t like that kind of talk. We all have something special, it’s up to us to bring it out. As far as I’m concerned, I was lucky enough to discover the tailored timetables from secondary school onwards (the French education system has opened classes allowing you to divide your study time between the regular curriculum in the morning and the conservatoire in the afternoon, editor’s note). All throughout primary school, I followed my training in the traditional way and I have to say that combining school with music and solfeggio lessons was quite challenging at the time. The tailored timetables were a real plus.
M. Were you not put off by music theory?
S.P. It’s true that I didn’t like it. I’ve had teachers who didn’t understand me, and others who helped me to find an interest in it. There’s a mathematical side to it that can be cool if you look at it from that angle.
M. Finding an interest in this is amazing! Why don’t you share it with all the kids who don’t like it on YouTube, like Yvan Monka does with maths?
S.P. I think the key is to offer a course without focusing so much on theory. If you go through practical cases, the notion of solfeggio flows by itself. I did launch a company to pass on my pedagogy, but with all my current projects, it remained on stand-by.
M. Do you find the time to play the classical repertoire?
S.P. No, not at all. My time is so limited that every time I sit down at the piano it’s to compose new works. I haven’t had the time for that in five years. At the beginning, it was deliberate: I had decided to unlearn my fifteen years of training in three years. After that, I really felt free. I think I’ll come back to it, but much later. Besides, in my opinion, my music is classical music.
M. What do you think of the enormous repertoire of classical music, an almost compulsory end point for all young instrumentalists?
S.P. The problem is not the repertoire, which is magical, but what’s around it. It’s such a demanding practice that everyone adopts a posture and makes the whole thing feel stiff.. It’s a shame for such a high-level art form. You could approach it like the composers did when they created their works. But classical music has centuries of history, and performers have pushed the game to levels of excellence that lead audiences to compare existing versions. I’m lucky enough not to have this problem, because I play my own works. The great master with whom I got on best, Henri Barda, used to tell me: “You have to learn the works until you become the author”. He would transpose them in all directions to make sure that his fingers never guided his inspiration. I met him when I was 19 or 20 years old, when I was beginning to be introduced to the masters who prepare you for the biggest competitions. In every country, there are piano luminaries who take youngsters under their wing and allow them to thrive.
M. Did you take part in the competition in the first place?
S.P. Since I was very young, as soon as a competition came up, I was always there. I have taken part in competitions and won, but it didn’t fulfill me. I was dreaming of living an artist’s life as I saw on TV, in the Great Gatsby parties, with incredible trips, where you are received like a great master, with after shows… I understood that the piano would not take me there if I approached it the way others did. I conformed to the competitions, partly out of a desire for a personal challenge, like a sportsman, and partly for my mother, who dreamt of it so much. She gave me so much that I always did everything to make her happy. But I also realised that freeing myself from the love we had for each other was not betraying it.
M. How did your mother react to seeing you following your own path?
S.P. She told me: “It’s up to you”. In my family, each generation sacrifices for the next. My grandfather came from Morocco to work in the mines. He couldn’t change his life, so he wanted to change his children’s lives. My mother, in turn, came from a very poor background and became a French teacher, placing all her hopes on the institution. That explains her relationship with the conservatoire. The rule is: “You do what you want, but you have to be the best and go one step further”. Everyone has chosen a different path: my brother is an artificial intelligence engineer and my sister is a diplomat.
M. What about you, how did you find a way for your compositions to meet their public?
S.P. The period of my life that I have just described is the foundation. But the adventure was just beginning. The choices I made when I was 19-20 years old were decisive. I didn’t know how to go about it, I was dreaming about it but I didn’t have a musical entourage. I over-invested in every appointment with a music or film professional, and they were the ones who eventually allowed me to learn. I realised that the conservatoire did not train for a professional career at all, so I trained myself. I took a Master’s degree in economics, law and management in music at the University of Lyon 2, then an MBA at EMIC Paris, the very first class of which I attended. As I was a child of the public school system, the challenge was to join a private school for the first time in my life. I understood that I had to distanciate myself from my working class mentality. I hadn’t grasped how the market worked, the public schools hadn’t taught me. It was at this point that I met Guillaume Héritier, who changed my life as an artist. He became my friend, my associate, my brother. He’s been representing me since 2019, five years after we first met. Today, it’s been three years. He was living the great adventure I dreamed of, supporting the careers of artists like FKJ, with the Roche Musique label, which features the funk musician Dabeull, with whom I released the album Loving Life in December.
M. How is your collaboration with Guillaume Héritier going?
S.P. He undertook a lot of groundwork and coached me on a daily basis. He directed my videos and created an image in the continuity of my work. We went to the desert to get some distance from the hubbub of the time. That’s where I had the vision of my album Planet. In fact, the first theme that came to mind was the one for the song that I later called “Planet”. There is a sentence I really like by writer Pascal Quignard, who says that “ears have no eyelids’’. In the desert, you are finally free from noise. I have an absolute ear, so I hear every note, it’s like a computer analysing everything all the time, it’s tiring. Besides, I wrote a text on the desert in the book we published with Guillaume. Because after we left the desert, we carried on travelling around the world for three years, to Seoul, Havana, Egypt… And we experienced great rises, but also great emotional falls: everything was so intense and ephemeral at the same time. So we felt like immortalising it in the book Planet.
M. How were you able to afford this round-the-world trip?
S.P. It was a gamble, we travelled a lot before I signed. We went all in, we took a lot of risks. We are very playful with life. We used to think: “Worst case scenario, we’ll always have this”. We hadn’t even planned to publish a book. A publishing house contacted us, but we didn’t have enough control over the artistic direction and the conditions were not advantageous: publishing has not undergone its revolution. So we created our own publishing house. As I make music without words, this leaves a lot of room for silent words. Words that are activated like a music score.
M. And how did the connection with rappers come about?
S.P. Apart from the conservatoire, I was only involved with the rap scene. There has always been rap around me. My uncle used to take me to concerts even as a child. We listened to the tunes of people I am now working with such as Joey Starr, Rim’K or Médine, who was one of the first artists I worked with. It was my goal, I knew how to mix my art with my passion for rap.
M. Why don’t you invite rappers on your tracks ?
S.P. I don’t feel like it at the moment. The only collaboration on my new album is with my sister on the violin. She and my brother also play music at a high level, so my sister plays the violin and my brother the piano. Being the oldest, I was the prototype!
M. What do you think of Symphonic Hip Hop, created by Mouv’ and Radio France (French public radio, translator’s note)?
S.P. I really like it, we’ve already done things together, we get along well. It’s great, for a lot of rappers, it’s the first time they’ve been working with an orchestra. It’s a very successful show that’s now well established.
M. You are famous for your sense of style, which is very much influenced by street wear and hip-hop culture, and which, in fact, stands out from the classical scene. What is your relationship with clothing and fashion?
S.P. It’s an extension of myself. What you wear is the first signal you send in your social interaction. Since my artistic message is inside me, I think a lot about how to best express it. The first way is through clothes. Besides, there is a connection between the way you create a piece of haute couture and a piece of music. Eighty percent of the work is a five or ten minutes burst of inspiration, followed by a long sculpting process. I like pieces where you can feel thousands of hours of work, but where the work itself has become invisible.
M. Does this reflect the simplicity that you often advocate?
S.P. Exactly. You feel the whole construction, but you don’t see the work. It’s only when you peel back the layers that you discover the seams, the materials. It’s the same for a musical work. If you break it down, you discover the rhythmic games, the chord combinations, the melodic line… But I hate those in which the work is revealed before the emotion: it must come first.
M. Do you collaborate with brands?
S.P. With Cartier. We launched their new jewellery collection at the Boros Collection in Berlin, Christian Boros’ bunker that houses 10 to 15,000 works of art, in the middle of which I played. I also work with the Bechstein piano company. They have a sound that I love, a style that seeks perfection without ever going beyond the limit that would make them lose their warm enveloping colour. It’s a regal and all-embracing sound.
M. “ Regal and all-embracing “, is this how you would define your music ?
S.P. (He laughs) My music is about adventure stories, human stories. I get it from an emotion, an encounter, a film, a journey… My triggers are always extra-musical.
M. You are also well versed in gaming culture and present on the specialised platform Discord, where you run your community around Piano King NFTs.
S.P. Yes, it’s very recent. I launched these NFTs which are halfway between a fan product and a speculation product. (A NFT is a non-fungible token allowing you to link a non-fungible asset such as music, artwork to a digital token. To hold this token is to be a bit of an owner of this asset, editor’s note). Obviously, it’s a risky investment, but it can also be very profitable to the buyer while giving access to my universe. What I like is that I am committing my career to it for the long term. I was happy to be able to build a whole imaginary kingdom, with the king’s court, the court painter who draws, the lords who work on the development of the kingdom. It’s role-playing. When they were launched in mid-December, a thousand copies had already been pre-ordered on the OpenSea platform in the space of three days. My brother developed the algorithm that allows us to randomly design the visuals from the drawings of Adrien Beaujeant, who has been designing all my covers from the start. That’s what family is all about: my brother used to live in Toronto where he worked at Ubisoft for four years… I call him on a Monday, he quits and shows up on Friday at 9am to work with us! Today, he is part of the team alongside Guillaume Héritier and Oussama Ammar, one of the greatest European entrepreneurs, who has worked alongside us on the NFT aspect.
Photos: Yann Morrison / Styling: Stephy Galvani / Assistant stylist: Maelys Annovazzi / Grooming: Émilie Plume @ artists unit