An International Connection

Bi-continental songstress Keren Ann brings her universal lyrics to town



Her words, whether cold or lilting, always seem to drift over her lips. Chanteuse Keren Ann Zeidel can comfort or dash you without ever raising her voice.

"When I shout, I can't hurt, and when I go crazy, I can't really hurt anyone, but I can hurt with words and with silence," said Keren Ann, who goes by her first and middle name. She plays the Engineers Club today.

"I guess that's my way of screaming," she said.

Born to a Javanese-Dutch mother and a Russian-Israeli father, Keren Ann alternates between bases in Paris and New York when not touring. She refrains from calling either city her home.

"It's so hard not to be able to, through music, be either proud or ashamed of your homeland," she said. "It's very important for the writing."

Rather than sing strictly about one place or another, Keren Ann focuses on more universal feelings such as love and loss. People who never move and people like her who travel constantly share the same basic emotions, she said.

"I do think that the road and the distance and leaving a place and saying goodbye constantly affect my music, but you don't have to go from one country to another to be able to do that," she said. "You can stand at your door and leave someone you love and go to the next street and feel the same grief."

Keren Ann offers these emotions in a pure, natural voice. She said she doesn't try to change or train the way she sounds, because it is her identity.

"The voice has more wrinkles than your skin, because you carry everything - you live in your voice," she said. "I think it's more your mirror than your eyes or anything else."

Keren Ann's body of work includes albums in English, French and a mixture of both. Listening to Not Going Anywhere, her English-language debut, you'd think she was much younger than she was when she wrote it in 2002. It was released in the United States last year. She acknowledges that recording a teenage-sounding album at her age was a bit risky.

"When you're 30, you don't want to seem cute or adorable," she said.

While she never knows for sure if her songs are ready for an album, Keren Ann felt she had to record the tracks on Not Going Anywhere because they just wouldn't go away, she said. She couldn't move on to something more mature until she got them out.

"They were stuck in me," she said.

Looking back, she said some of the sentiment on Not Going Anywhere is timeless. She can still relate to it.

"You can feel emotions of youth even when you have the body of a grown-up," she said.

Nolita, Keren Ann's latest album, includes lyrics in English and French. Nolita's tracks incorporate more instrumentation than Not Going Anywhere, but both albums share the same whispery voice and raw emotions.

As her audiences grow in size internationally, she still feels as though she has the same level of intimacy as when she first began playing. She finds herself in a mixture of large and small venues, depending on where she plays.

"Whether it's intimate or whether it's not intimate, you just want to be passive and make the music and let something - whatever you're waiting for - be there that night," she said.

Keren Ann plays the Engineers Club at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion at 8 p.m. tonight. The mansion is at 11 W. Mount Vernon Place. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors. Call 410-385-2638 or visit

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