The Josephine Artists Prize
– an ode to audacity

The first edition of the Josephine Artists Prize has rewarded November Ultra. Interview with Frédéric Junqua and Christophe Palatre, founders (and organizers) of this award designed to highlight the best of French music production.

With more than 20 years of experience in the music industry each, Frédéric Junqua and Christophe Palatre came to the sad conclusion that no initiative existed to reward music production in France. Thus, inspired by the British Mercury Prize, for its legitimacy and eclecticism, they imagined an award, with the ambition of helping artists in their conquest of the international scene.

In literature as in cinema, there is no lack of prizes. “In addition, we realized that in music, there is no award based on a jury composed of artists, like the Goncourt Prize or the Cannes Film Festival,” says Frederic Junqua.

Several elements were favorable to the creation of a new prize in the French musical landscape. First of all, many artists can now try their hand at production with convincing results. “There is a lot going on,” exclaims Christophe Palatre, “hence the need for recommendations.”

Frédéric Junqua adds that this profusion is no coincidence since the market is in full growth, which pushes artists to innovate. “When thousands of titles are released every day, even established artists are forced to take risks. We can see that the stakes of releasing an album are not the same as they were 5 years ago.”

“All of a sudden, there’s this need to stand out, because you risk being forgotten the day after the album’s release”, adds Christophe Palatre.

A promise of discovery,
recommendation and quality

The founders wanted simple registration criteria, with low registration fees, and very few constraints. “For example, we didn’t set any conditions on the number of albums already produced, to benefit from a ripple effect between established and emerging artists, but also between genres.”

"The Josephine Prize is for music lovers who want to be a little surprised and discover interesting things."

As Frédéric Junqua explains, this award is also for professionals: “When you work in music, you essentially listen to the projects you’re working on, and you end up retreating into your bubble. This award is also for industry colleagues to realize that they have amazing artists.”

In order to value artistic direction, the producers are the one submitting the albums for selection. “Unsurprisingly, the list of winners includes independent labels such as inFiné, No Format! and CryBaby, which have a real production approach to making albums,” notes Christophe Palatre.

A two-stage selection to promote discussion

Christophe Palatre and Frédéric Junqua were not part of the committee or the jury, but driven by curiosity, they listened to the 351 initial submissions and got a few surprises. The organizers still attended the deliberations, “to answer questions and pass some records”. While quality is at the heart of the award, the key words are uniqueness and boldness. “We were looking for albums that will be remembered. It’s hard to know which works will stand the test of time.”

The selection committee and jury were carefully chosen, with expert profiles from different musical backgrounds. “Everyone came with their favorite albums, which made for some pretty interesting debates.” If the committee is made up of journalists, the jury is composed of artists but again, from different professions. “We chose singers as well as producers, such as Sage, who produces for Clara Luciani and Lomepal, or sound engineers such as Bénédicte Schmitt, so that she can bring her specialist eye to the selection.”

At the end of the deliberations, both bodies were delighted to have talked about music. “They got to listen to things they would never have imagined listening to, and we could feel that they appreciated this cenacle, where they could exchange on the musical quality”, notes Frederic Junqua. Then he hastened to add: “Even if they didn’t all agree!”

This diversity made it possible to select a list of ten albums. “In the end, everyone had a chance to make the list, like Eesah Yasuke, who probably didn’t expect to be chosen over Benjamin Epps or La Fève, who were selected by the Committee.”

The album format as the master standard

While most French music awards focus on the artist, whether it’s their career or a track, the Josephine Prize focuses on the album. “That’s what stays in the end. Regardless of the single’s place in the campaign strategies, the album remains a cornerstone in an artist’s career. It’s a way of marking a creative territory,” says Frédéric Junqua.

With the ambition to take the opposite view of the current consumption modes, where the playlist is king, the prize encourages people to go and listen to albums. “The album is a culmination, because this format allows the artist to best express his vision and sensitivity. Listening to November Ultra’s proposition, we feel that this album has been in her head for several years, and that it had to be released with these songs in this order,” observes Christophe Palatre.

An eclectic list of winners

The list of winners includes jazz with Laurent Bardainne, contemporary music with Koki Nakano and Gaspar Claus, rap with Eesah Yasuke, and acoustic pop with Malik Djoudi. “What makes me happier is when people tell me they made discoveries while listening to the winners. The head of the Sacem was stunned by Leonie Pernet“, shares Christophe Palatre.

The intention was to reward artists who challenge their own codes. And to find an album composed of elements that make it unique, exceptional, with the potential to speak to a very wide audience. The audacity lies in the ability to go beyond one’s own musical genre. “For example, Gaspar Claus, when you see his visuals, his way of working, even though he comes from the cello, he has transcended the usual use of his instrument, to produce a music that is a bit unclassifiable really. And it’s a form of pop,” says Frédéric Junqua.

“This approach is also found in Koki Nakano’s work, who uses the piano in a slightly percussive way, adding a sort of refrain to his compositions; it’s a very pop approach. It’s demanding but not inaccessible”, adds Christophe Palatre.

This award is also a way to show what France is capable of doing. The goal seems to have been reached, because these ten albums all have international value. “All these artists are capable of seducing beyond our borders”, confirms the creators of the prize.

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