Interview: Marie-Claude Lebel

Marie-Claude Lebel has become something of a brand name here in the Big Red. Having been on the scene since 2006, what that brand basally entails is simply that you will be grinning moments after she begins playing a far wide reaching grin that may take a few Sanlitun visits to get rid of. She fronts the fantastical gypsy jazz group Mademoiselle as well as being a member of the modern day Ningxia folk group Li Dong, and really, she can do no wrong. With the help of Giz ze Frenchmen (she actually isn’t French by the way, but Canadian French) I was able to ask the lovely Marie-Claude some questions on life in Beijing, her travels about town, and the evolution of her career. Here’s what she had to say…


How long have you been in Beijing? Did you immediately jump into the music scene?

I have been in Beijing for ten years already… I arrived with my accordion and met musicians at the mythic \”River Bar\” in sanlitun nan jie. All these guys are now pretty famous in the undurground folk music scene in China. That was the meeting of guys like Zhang Weiwei, Xiao He, Wang Xiao Li, Wild Children, Buyi, Djang San… I couldnt speak a word of chinese, and they couldnt speak english so I was \”communicating\” trough music, and we had lots of good chats! hahah

I’m always been curious about how musicians master or learn a certain style of music – where did you pick up gypsy jazz? Had it always been with you growing up?

French chanson has been with me since I was a kid, and my parents were also jazz lovers. But When I started the band in 2004, it was much more a mix of rock and french chanson, and than it became what it is because I met different musicians who brought that gypsy jazz touch, and it felt right. It is what I was looking for.

Did you find it relatively easy in those beginning years to book gigs or to find an audience?

Yes, it always have been easy because we were doing something original and chinese people were curious and seem to enjoy spontaneous, up-beat and happy music. I never really had to look for gigs. I know it would be different in the West.


How much of your personality do you inject in your music? Are you as saucy offstage as you are on?

Haha! I think its me. 100%. I feel good on stage, and natural. And I\’m lucky that I have no stress on stage. Never… And I don’t know why, because I can be stressed if I have to speak in front of a small group, or sing in front of my familly…! I never prepare jokes or songs introductions, it comes as it comes and I think people appreciate that and chinese audience here is not used to it. The music itself is also spontaneous because we leave a big room to improvisations in every songs. We never play the same song twice. That’s why we never get bored.

The accordion in Li Dong is such an essential ingredient to what makes their sound work – how did you guys end up playing together? How and was it always smooth sailing working together, being the only girl and foreigner in the group?

I know these north-west cowboys for 10 years, they are my best chinese friends and such good people…They started the band with a cello and the guy left, so they asked me to play accordion with them, and now I play also recorder and chinese flute. When I went to the first rehearsal, I fell in love with the songs. It directly touch something inside me.

Now we are just back from a 20 days tour all around China: 16 cities. It went very smooth and we survived! It was a low budget so I had to share a room with one of them and they told me before we left:\”you can try one night with each of us, and then you choose the one who snore less.\” hahaha! They took good care of me, consider me family, and keep saying that I’m also from Ning Xia.I think it might be true… 😉

Do you find yourselves changing your performance based on the venue you’re playing at? I wouldn’t imagine some of those narrower places containing the energy your band (especially where all six of you are up there) conjures up.

Whatever the bar size, if people are there to enjoy live music, we will give it to them. We are 6, sometimes 7, but we can fit on pretty small stages! Yesterday we were at Modernista, and it was so narrow, the bass player and the drummer keep kicking my ass all the time. hahah! That was funny!

We only change our performance style when we have to play for boring corporate gigs in front of new-rich chinese guys who see us like monkeys. Then we do the quiet monkeys. But these gigs pay the rent…

What’s your idea of a perfect show? Perfect audience? Have you even been surprised at a show?

Perfect show is first when we have a good sound on stage, so we can listen to each other and we play better, people can feel it. Also, dancing people is great, a crowd who is not tooooo loud, and listening to the songs, responding to the music and laughing at my jokes 😉 we have lots of good shows memories, some in small places, some at festivals, some with mostly foreign crowd, some with only chinese… I think one of the best crowd was at the Shanghai expo, we were playing outside the European Commission Pavilion and there was a huge crowd, 3 years old to 88 years old, laughing, dancing clapping, (very rare in China!) and trying to repeat french words, it seems like they were hypnotized by us and our music…magic moments!

What’s next for Marie-Claude?

I am writing new songs for Mademoiselle, I\’m in a good mood for that recently, and I will go get some more inspiration in Chili and Argentina this winter, to come back in march and record in the summer, then we would like to go on tour in China with the new cd, and may be France for some festivals, but nothing is sure! You can follow us on And also continuing to play with lidong who is also working on a new cd! Exciting!


Gotta love her. Thanks a thousand – be sure to catch Mademoselle at 4corners this Friday, November 30th, at Temple, Saturday, December 1st, and Friday, December 7th at Modernista. Browse Li Dong’s and Mademoiselle’s douban pages as well for more music goodness.

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