French-American duo Ginkgoa brings jubilance to not-so-Stern Grove Festival

Ryan Tuozzolo / Staff
Ryan Tuozzolo/Staff
Ryan Tuozzolo / Staff

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The party don’t start, as Kesha once said, till Ginkgoa walks in.

Well, perhaps Kesha phrased it in a more self-referential fashion, but the expression applies nonetheless — French-American duo Ginkgoa knows how to get viewers on their feet and dancing.

Indeed, this past Sunday at the free, summerlong Stern Grove Festival, even the weather seemed aware of the fun and catchy rhythms to come. The sun shone brightly in a piercing blue sky, warming the crowd gathered on an amalgam of picnic blankets and making those who had packed fresh watermelon feel especially clever.

When vocalist Nicolle Rochelle and instrumentalist Antoine Chatenet, the power pair behind Ginkgoa, came onstage, they did not walk, but jogged to the mics with bounces in their steps. As the equally buoyant-sounding, jazzy first notes of the first song of Ginkgoa’s set started playing, many viewers already knew this was going to be a performance worth standing for.

Ginkgoa proved them right. Drawing primarily from the duo’s most recent EP, One Time, which was released just last month, Rochelle and Chatenet graced the park with foot-tapping tunes — part contemporary American pop, part 1920s jazz swing, and part French touch — another name for French house music. The audience wasn’t sure whether to bop along, break into the Charleston or simply sway their hips, but Ginkgoa made it clear it didn’t matter — the band simply wanted them to dance. “I still see some people sit. What’s up? You guys are tired?” Chatenet encouraged in his endearing French accent.

With Rochelle hailing from the United States and Chatenet born in France, the two served up a set both authentically French and American. Ginkgoa blanketed the grove with tunes that sounded part Daft Punk and part Caravan Palace, with lyrics rapped and sung in English and French. Viewers seemed to enjoy the performance even when unable to understand Rochelle’s words.

Onstage, Rochelle asserted herself as an invigorating and approachable yet self-assured presence. Clad in bright colors, she brought a vivacious energy to the festival and danced excitedly along to her own music. At the same time, she made sure that viewers understood that she is not one to be crossed, as expressed in “Boy Bounce,” one of Ginkgoa’s most popular tracks. Throughout the song, Rochelle describes not putting up with those who don’t treat her right, or “that kind of experience where you gotta say, ‘Boy, bounce!’ ” Rochelle has already asserted herself in the public eye as committed to speaking her message by way of social activism, including a protest against Bill Cosby earlier this year.

Over the course of its performance, Ginkgoa lived up to its goal: “to make generations of people dance, sway, and sing along. ” Inspired by the gingko tree, the inspiration behind the band’s name, which symbolizes longevity, the duo also hopes to create memorable tunes. Fittingly, even those totally unacquainted with the band found themselves clapping or humming along at multiple points throughout the day. Even older attendees danced along, joining the youths and toddlers in joyous grooving.

Though Ginkgoa’s performance opened for another musician — Camilo Lara of the Mexican Institute of Sound — the French-American duo proved itself worthy of a headlining slot. In bringing the audience such tangible joy, Ginkgoa proved a shrewd selection on the part of the Stern Grove Festival Association, a nonprofit cultural group dedicated to providing Bay Area residents with free admission to a variety of performing arts shows. It was heartening to see music so effectively employed as a tool for community-building, with individuals from all different walks of life enjoying the warm weather and catchy music together.

Ryan Tuozzolo covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @_rtuo.

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