Pascal Toussaint – Male Soprano, Ex-Opera Singer – Is the Heart and Soul of Historical Trois Mailletz Cabaret in Paris
Pascal at Trois Mailletz
Pascal Toussaint makes an immediate impression when people hear him sing for the first time.
Pascal has been one of the reigning stars at the Trois Mailletz cabaret in Paris for the last 10-plus years. Pascal’s high-pitched, opera-perfect voice fills the every inch of the unique Trois Mailletz venue – the last real Parisian cabaret located in an underground, medieval cave in the popular Latin Quarter of Paris.
One reviewer described Pascal as “full-throated, angelic – belting the song from the balls of his feet, his arms thrown wide, his voice soaring in some stratospheric range.” Truly, when you hear Pascal’s voice even in an underground cave, you are elevated to a much higher place. You could say Pascal is the heart and soul of the Trois Mailletz franchise, which has been going strong for over 35 years under the direction of its stalwart owner/director Jacques Boni (as described in Paris Underground Cabaret: Aux Trois Mailletz – the Last Real Parisian Cabaret).
The 30-something Pascal was born in the former French colony of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, and has altered his look over the years – from wearing corn-rows to braids to sporting a good-sized Afro. Pascal is a former opera singer and you might pick up on this from theatrical mannerisms on stage. Pascal is quick with a smile, and has, according to one reviewer, “palpable charisma, highlighted by a handsome face and beautiful braids.”
Still, it’s Pascal’s surprisingly high voice that throws people upon first listen. To quote one of Pascal’s biggest (and unexpected) fans, Amy Tan, author of the novel The Joy Luck Club: “I was in Paris in a cabaret (Trois Mailletz) and heard a number of great performers. And then one singer took the stage and my jaw dropped. The voice was gorgeous, the technique amazing, but it was the emotional resonance, its authenticity, that left me breathless. Okay, I admit that at first I thought the singer was a woman. About halfway through the song, I realized the soprano voice did not belong to a woman but to a man with a timbre unlike any other I had heard.”
Indeed, Jacques Boni – the storied owner and show director of Trois Mailletz – hired Pascal immediately upon hearing him sing one night during a sing-along session at his club. “I caught him,” Jacques says of Pascal. “At first, he didn’t want to sing for me. But I thought Pascal was fantastic from the first time I heard him. It was like seeing a fantastic movie for the first time. You knew right away he was going to be great.”
Pascal recently recalled his first night at Trois Mailletz over a meal at an Italian restaurant in the Latin Quarter in Paris. He retells the story with a smile: Pascal and a friend had been singing karaoke at a club in St. Michel when it closed around 4 a.m. The friend wanted to continue the night at Trois Mailletz. Pascal’s reaction was: “What’s that?” and his friend’s response was “You’ll see.”
Once at Trois Mailletz, Pascal was immediately enthralled by a beautiful singer on stage. He only remembers her as name as Jerrica (“On stage, she was a warrior,” he says), and Jerrica sang Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin and James Brown in a way that mesmerized Pascal (the magic of the Trois Mailletz cave had an immediate effect on him). Before Pascal knew it – at his friend’s prodding, still in karaoke mode – he was invited on stage to sing backup to Jerrica. Eventually Jerrica asked him to “sing a verse.” Pascal sang and, like I said at the beginning of this piece, his first impression can be astounding.
Pascal recalls: “Jessica was saying, ‘What is this?’ Everyone was screaming my name.
“Jacques comes over to me afterward and says we need to talk. We got off on the wrong foot [after Jacques joked about his high voice]. I didn’t want to sing for him. Then he said I’ll pay you this, and I agreed. The next day, I was working at Trois Mailletz.”
To his delight, Pascal found that he and the Trois Mailletz singers and band knew a number of common songs. “But I had to build a repertoire of my own,” he adds. On Pascal’s second day of work at Trois Mailletz, it happened that a contingent of the cabaret’s singers were to appear in a gala in Normandy the next day, and Jacques asked Pascal to come along. “Suddenly, I’m singing in Normandy,” he says. “It happened so quickly. At the beginning, it was mind-blowing.”
That was 2004, and Pascal has remained a fixture at Trois Mailletz for 10-plus years. He has sung with maybe 100 different singers during that time, exposing him to a multitude of styles and talents. Pascal sings in nine languages including Arabic. Some previous Trois Mailletz singers who stand out in Pascal’s mind include Laura Lys, a French singer who started on the streets of Paris (“She possessed the stage” Pascal says), and American Yolanda Graves, who was a mix of Nina Simon and Tina Turner and sang on Broadway as an original cast member of Dreamgirls (“She had class and sexiness,” Pascal says. “And don’t get me started about her legs, she used to be a dancer.”). And then there was Anne Ducros, the famous French jazz singer with four albums released, who sang at Trois Mailletz before Pascal’s time but later took him in as a student in her vocal jazz school.
If you are in Paris, make it a point to go see Pascal sing in the unique environs of the Trois Mailletz cave. You will see for yourself that Pascal is extraordinarily gifted. If you meet him in the bar lobby during breaks, you will also see he’s a decent person who looks on the bright side of life (if we could all do this!). “Being thankful and grateful for what I have is a choice,” he says.
Pascal’s Improbable Journey to Paris
You might been wondering this whole time: How did Pascal get from his native Guadalupe, a fairly remote island in the Caribbean, to the bright lights of Paris – 4,000-plus miles away (or 6,750 kilometers)? You could say it took a little luck and a lot of talent.
Pascal was born into an artistic family. He first started singing in his father’s choir when he was 5. His mother was a Caribbean ballet dancer. His family was also quite religious as his father originally had designs to be a Roman Catholic priest. “It was a happy life in Guadalupe and I just loved singing,” he says.
His parents were teetotalers and today Pascal doesn’t drink alcohol. “I don’t like the taste of it,” Pascal says.
When he was 14, Pascal won a singing contest, his winning song being "Bésame Mucho" (Kiss Me a Lot) written by a Mexican songwriter. The prize was one year of singing lessons. But the organizer of the singing contest said it was “a waste of time” for Pascal to stay in Guadeloupe and arranged for him to travel to Paris, where his mother’s sister lived, to audition at a highly regarded conservatoire in Paris (Conservatoire Supérieur de Paris).
Pascal was accepted at the conservatoire, where he underwent classical training in singing starting at age 15. He immediately got a lesson in humility when his teacher told him: “You have a very nice voice but you cannot sing.”
“It was culture shock,” Pascal says, “going from a small island to a big city. Everything seemed bigger. I saw the kindness of some people and the stupidity of others.”
While in Paris, one of Pascal’s teachers questioned why his voice sounded like that of a child, although he was 19. The teacher took him to a doctor, who confirmed Pascal’s vocal cords had never matured (lengthened and thickened as they do in an adult). It’s as if his vocal cords decided to stay perpetually young. As his “dear friend”, the bestselling author Amy Tan, has written: “Pascal’s voice today defies classification. He is not a countertenor, since he does not sing in falsetto. He is best described as a male soprano, although his range is greater than most sopranos, spanning four octaves. It is described by many as ‘unearthly.’ ”
Pascal is not miffed when taking about the anomaly of his vocal cords, and he confirms that they never matured past the state of a child. However, he admits that sometimes he does sing in falsetto. “Sometimes falsetto and sometime not,” he says. “For pop music, not falsetto.” But no matter, Pascal is always mistaken on the phone: “People on phone always call me ‘miss.’ ” It seems that Pascal will be a choirboy for the rest of his life.
At age 18, Pascal had advanced to the point where he was recruited by Didier Lockwood, a French jazz violinist, to sing opera. At 19, he sang his first solo for the Paris Opera company in the Bastille Opera house.
Pascal sang operas for five years, with his last opera, Don Quichotte by Cervatex, in 2012. “I enjoyed the experience,” he says, “but decided to quit. I wanted to explore the limits of my voice.” Others wondered how many roles were there for a young black singer with a soprano voice.
The Trois Mailletz Experience
Pascal sings sometimes seven days a week at the historical Trois Mailletz cabaret (which can be classified as a “French traditional intimate cabaret”), where he is one of the cabaret’s star performers. As author Amy Tan has written, “From Piaf to Prince, Pascal adds his own inimitable style, and can riff and do scat in the music of many genres, cultures and languages.”
“At Trois Mailletz, you see many different genres,” Pascal says. “In other clubs, singers sing the same music, have the same gestures, look the same on stage. I don’t want to see a copy, I can see that on MTV. At Trois Mailletz, nobody looks like a copy. If you come to Trois Mailletz, you will always be immersed in different types of music, different types of energy, different types of people.”
When cabaret owner Jacques Boni simply announces “his name is Pascal” to the audience, Pascal takes over the show and might sing “We Found Love” (Rihanna medley), “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” (Joan Jett) and “Happy” (Pharell Williams). Pascal’s sets have changed over the years but his enthusiasm is always the same. “I still love the people, love the place,” he says. “But because you don’t know audience, you can’t program your repertoire. You have to feel the audience, figure out how to drive them. It’s about the energy.”
Pascal says he’s learned many a lesson from his mentor and taskmaster Jacques Boni. “Jacques has such a special style,” Pascal says. “It’s hard to describe. If he was the main character of a movie I wrote, people would ask: ‘Why did you exaggerate this character?’ I would say I didn’t. Jacques is a great boss, but he can be as lovable as he can be hate-able.”
Pascal is smiling the whole time that he says this. You can see in his eyes that he admires Jacques Boni who hired him in the wee hours of the morning, the man who gave him a chance to sing in a professional cabaret.
“In the beginning, we would fight regularly,” Pascal says. Once, Pascal says he threw his microphone at Jacques because Jacques was talking during his song: “I realized later that we fought because we were so passionate in what we do. The expectations of each other are really high.
“We are a better team because of battles,” Pascal continues. “Jacques keeps you alive in your job. When on stage, it is a battle. The audience doesn’t give a damn about you. You have to make them stay. You have to have that warrior temperament. It’s work, it’s a battle.
“Jacques wanted to be an artist but when he couldn’t, he redirected his energy to make others successful. He pushes you to be the best you can be. He is the arm and we are the hand.
“I’ve learned so much from Jacques. He wants people to move to next stage of their careers, but he gets jealous, like a father. Jacques sees his children grow up, but doesn’t want them to grow up.”
Reaching New Heights
So from what you’ve been reading, you know that Pascal has some Peter Pan in him. And he is like many of the current multi-talented Trois Mailletz singers who could soar to new heights any day. “I want to be on stage singing my own songs, traveling the world,” Pascal says, a common sentiment among rising singers at the cabaret. “I’ve grown so much at Trois Mailletz.”
One could hope that Pascal would stay at Trois Mailletz forever, and because of his good nature, he’ll probably stay connected with the cabaret in some fashion in the long term. But Pascal half-jokes: “If I’m at Trois Mailletz in 10 years from now, it better be because I’m the owner of the cabaret.”
Pascal got a taste of American fame in 2010, when he made his USA debut in a solo show at San Francisco’s premiere jazz club Yoshi’s in San Francisco. The “Parisian singing sensation,” as he was called in the media, got rave reviews (some of these quoted in this story). At the show, Pascal was introduced unusually by author Amy Tan who, as described before, stumbled upon Pascal at Trois Mailletz in 2009 and they forged an instant friendship.
Tan, who has a background in music and has been involved with some of the greatest voices in the opera world, become somewhat obsessed with Pascal. “What does it take to bring a little luck into the life of an incredibly talented French singer,” she wrote in one of her publicity pieces. The good-hearted Tan – after hearing Pascal sign for the first time and trying to give a boost to his rising star – made some calls to her connections in San Francisco and it led to his performance at Yoshi’s. “It was amazing that she wanted to help me,” Pascal says.
Pascal’s first show at Yoshi’s sold out; a second show was added, it sold out. “I still have people saying they saw me at Yoshi’s,” Pascal says. “I still have connections at Yoshi’s.”
Pascal has also performed in New York, and occasionally sings with various troupes that allow him to also perform dramatic acting roles.
In September 2015, Pascal sang in the Bay Area Vibez Festival in California, USA, which featured a star-studded lineup that included living legends Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, and Nas. On the festival’s second stage, Pascal performed with the Kev Choice Ensemble, a group led by local rapper and virtuosic pianist Choice. According to one review, “Kev Choice Ensemble dazzled an enthusiastic crowd with its skilled musicianship.” Choice brought out guest artists to play with him, including Pascal. "We blew their minds," Pascal says of the performance. "It was a great jam session, although I barely remember what I did."
Pascal’s Future Horizons
In the summer of 2015, Pascal received a surprise Facebook message from an established USA booking agent who cannot be named at this time. The agent was in Paris and wanted to see Pascal perform. Soon after, the two met at Trois Mailletz club in the Latin Quarter, and shortly thereafter Pascal sang full-throated for the agent at the underground venue. The agent was impressed as an instant bond between the two was formed. "The agent offered to help me,” Pascal says.
Pascal met up with agent again when he was in the San Francisco Bay area performing in the Bay Area Vibez Festival. The agent confirmed the offer to potentially book Pascal at concerts in the USA and such a tour is still pending.
“Things happen for me in the USA,” Pascal says. “You don’t get these opportunities in Paris. It’s a cultural thing. Great voices in France sell millions of albums in other countries.”
Meanwhile, Pascal is working on writing all original songs and compositions, some in collaboration with friends. Pascal is writing the lyrics as well as the music for all instruments.
“My plan is to create enough of my own material so I can perform mostly my own songs,” he says. “I’ve been working on new songs every day. When I have a lyric in my mind, I have to create. You cannot procrastinate.”
Pascal’s goal is to tour in the USA some day after working in the Trois Mailletz cave all these years. “A change will be welcome,” Pascal says. “I feel like I’m at home when in USA. I don’t know why. I feed off the energy there."
Pascal sums up his goal in life as: “I want to take dance lessons, visit New York, spread my wings and fly!”
Pascal is a patient man who says the future will take care of itself. Trois Mailletz is his home base now. Pascal is enjoying the journey, living in the present, something we should all do. But future journeys may be on the horizon and he says, “We’ll see where they take me.”
"Pascal’s voice today defies classification."
– Author Amy Tan
Male soprano Pascal Toussaint Sings "Amazing Grace"
© 2015 R Jonathan