- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

HONG KONG Like the musician himself, his music is fun and throbs with vigor.

Jean-Jacques Milteau plays the harmonica. It's a simple, unpretentious instrument, Mr. Milteau said, and he intends to keep it that way as he takes his music around the world.

"It's an instrument for poor people, it's something out of your pocket. I'm not going to make it something it's not," said Mr. Milteau, who won the French equivalent of a Grammy award for his 1992 album, "Explorer."

The charismatic Frenchman greeted a responsive audience with a lively performance at Hong Kong City Hall recently. Accompanying him were Manu Galvin on guitar, Dany Vriet on violin and guitar, Laurent Cokelaere on bass and Eric Laffont on drums.

Mr. Milteau's performance, part of an Asian tour, came alive with a mixture of blues, jazz, folk and rock, spiced with international flavors. His repertoire, which is imbued with a sense of warmth and fun, covers music from many scenes and artists.

In a relaxed atmosphere that is typical of Mr. Milteau onstage and off, audience members clapped, snapped their fingers and sang along. Mr. Milteau never missed a beat, even when he had to reach down and switch harmonicas for key changes.

The 50-year-old musician occasionally dotted his humorous commentary with Cantonese phrases he learned during his brief visit. Two years ago in Beijing, he used a few words of the appropriate dialect, Mandarin.

"I like building the bridge between myself and the audience. It's important to express my feelings," he says in an interview.

Themes ranged from an accordion harmony of the postwar French cafe music of his youth, "Marcelle and Marcel," to Louisiana bayou music and blues.

There was the Sowetan rhythm "Yaoussa and Soweto" and the drum and fiddle of an Irish jig, "The Sailor and the Maid." Even the traditional Chinese folk tune "Narcissus" was carried along at a gentler pace.

Mr. Milteau's love for the harmonica began when he was 15. "I was just inspired by it; I never had a teacher. I liked the sound, and it was cheap." He began playing professionally at 25.

Despite the international flavor of his often exotic rhythms and tunes, Mr. Milteau has spent most of his life in his native France. He only recently began performing overseas.

"I started off taking my harmonica with me. Now, the harmonica takes me."

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