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Meet Isaac and Nora, two French kids who are big in Latin American music

For the past month, Isaac and Nora have been on tour in Latin America. They're accompanied by their parents.
Ximena and Sergio
For the past month, Isaac and Nora have been on tour in Latin America. They're accompanied by their parents.

About 1,000 people came to see Isaac and Nora on a recent Saturday night at Mexico City's Sala Cantoral. The audience was mesmerized throughout the concert, especially when Nora spoke to them in Spanish. She told the audience: "It's the first time I sing and play on my own. I'm going to sing a song by Violeta Parra called Volver a los 17 and it's a bit strange I'm singing a song about being 17 since I'm only 10 years old."

It wasn't always this way. Isaac and Nora's father, Nicolas Restoin said he still remembers when they posted the video of the song Veinte Años on Youtube, in late June 2019. "I think this is a very important date in our lives because everything changed. It changed the way we play music."

They learned Spanish two years ago and play music by ear

Isaac and Nora and their parents are from Quimper, a small city in Brittany, in northwest France. Nora sings lead vocals and plays the ukulele, while Isaac plays the trumpet and provides background vocals. Their father plays guitar and leads the group. All of them learned Spanish in the past two years.

Restoin attended a music school in France but said he wanted a different experience for his kids. "Isaac and Nora don't know how to read music, they don't know music theory, they do it all by ear."

Over the years, Nora's mom has fallen in love with Latin American classics. That's how they got into playing the song Veinte Años. A few months after the video of this song went viral, they recorded their first album titled Latin & Love Studies. The album includes classics, such as Brazil's Manha de Carnaval, Colombia's Arroz con Coco, and Cuba's El Cuarto de Tula. But there's also a pop song by Mexico's Natalia Lafourcade called Hasta la Raíz.

Restoin said it may appear that they're trying to bring back some old songs so a new audience can appreciate them, but their song selection is completely random. "The truth is, it's the music, before the lyrics by the author or the meaning of the lyrics, it's the melody, the rhythm, the ambiance that a song can create. That's what matters to us."

Isaac and Nora sellout Mexico City

There may be naiveté in selecting songs, but the sold-out audience in Mexico City couldn't get enough of Isaac and Nora. After the concert, both kids expressed their excitement with a certain sense of humility.

"People are so kind and benevolent. The concert at Sala Cantoral was incredible, before we came on stage people were already screaming," Isaac said.

"Although it could be intimidating to play for the first time in all these great Latin American theaters, the public receives us with so much love, it's reassuring and it gives us strength," Nora adds.

Critics said Nora and Isaac have room to grow, but their album is fresh and endearing.
/ Ximena and Sergio
Ximena and Sergio
Critics said Nora and Isaac have room to grow, but their album is fresh and endearing.

Mary Farquharson, director of an independent label in Mexico City, attended the concert. She said, "Nora carried the audience from before the minute that she walked on stage, in her very pretty velvet knee-length dress and her hair in a ponytail looking very much a 10-year-old. She had the audience eating out of her hand before she opened her voice."

Farquharson said it's difficult for kids to go from viral stars to serious artists in the entertainment industry, but she thinks Isaac and Nora are prepared for it.

Isaac and Nora close their first Latin American tour with two concerts in Santiago, Chile this weekend. Both shows are sold out.

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Betto Arcos
Betto Arcos is a freelance music journalist. He writes stories about music from around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. He has been a contributor to NPR programming since 2009, when he began reviewing music for All Things Considered on the weekends.