Story by Allie Volpe
When Paloma Gil and Lou Hayat erupt into a harmonized rendition of Robbie Williams’ “Angels,” it actually sounds good. Not a cheesy-because-it’s-karaoke-good, but real-deal-putting-their-own-spin-on-it good. It’s effortless. It’s almost unfair. They should be barred from karaoke.
Robbie Williams was popular in Paris in the late ‘90s, Gil says, opposed to the relative irrelevance in the States. Seemingly so as both she, who grew up in Paris, and Hayat, who eventually moved there from Martinique, were more than acquainted with the track, Hayat’s vocals weaving soft and intricate harmonies above Gil’s alto bellow. They lounge in the chill din of the karaoke screen in front of them, the orange walls of the private room we’ve rented at Yakitori Boy, a local karaoke bar, adding a warmth to the power ballad.
Together, Gil and Hayat comprise The Dove and the Wolf, the Philly via Paris duo who sing their own songs with the same affection. Their innate ability to pick up on the other’s vocal cues, to seamlessly craft harmonies, to have a back-and-forth flow is not something that can be taught or learned. In fact, it always was.
With an ocean between them, Gil and Hayat began their relationship online. (It was Gil’s mother who met Hayat at a party and introduced the then-teen girls electronically.) A few months later, Hayat was in Paris visiting her father - she also met her web friend IRL.
“We played together that day,” Gil remembers. “But it took us 8 years to write together.”
“We never even thought about it,” Hayat continues.
In the interim, they each wrote their own solo music and would collaborate for fun, but it wasn’t until a friend suggested that they flesh out a full song together for a short film he was working on that The Dove and the Wolf was born. Their songwriting takes elegant lyrical turns, writing phrases that appeal to the senses, that pour over a listener like warm honey. Largely self-taught on guitar, they utilize the textures in the other’s accompaniment to weave an electric-folk tapestry where Hayat will maintain a steady strum and Gil will fill in with high guitar voicings.
Gil takes her bandana and ties it around her head. A bandana thoughtfully tied around her neck has become her calling card, as is the fact that her phone camera only takes selfies. She turns her back to the karaoke screen and hoists the phone and catches her reflection: a red bandana clad head in front of a paused screen of R. Kelly donning the same attire. She’s well versed in R. Kelly and has even recorded an album of R. Kelly covers, though she’s slightly unfamiliar with “When A Woman’s Fed Up,” which she currently sings.
Hayat goes for a bubblegum pop selection Britney Spears’ “Oops!... I Did It Again.” Her rendition is sweet and she frequently cracks a crooked smile every time she stumbles over a phrase. The song embodies a part of music’s history that was marked by in-your-face exuberance, though Hayat manages to make it delicate, even creating harmonies on-the-spot over the backing track.
As for their own music, they stray from both R&B and glossy pop with earthy folk, their vocal pairings able to fill large rooms. On recent EP I Don’t Know What To Feel, written out of the intense emotional aftermath following the attacks on Bataclan in Paris, they work with producers Dave Hartley of The War on Drugs and Nick Krill of The Spinto Band who create anthemic poignancy to the powerful songs.
“I cannot stop thinking about it / and I don’t know what to feel” they sing on “Seven Days,” swirling guitar compositions thundering underneath, a mid-range riff based off of the song’s melody and a minimalistic piercing guitar line charging the vocals above it.
Yakitori Boy does not have any Boyz II Men loaded into their karaoke machines. Gil and Hayat are appalled. The R&B group are their go-to karaoke act. Yakitori Boy does have the Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men collaborative track, “One Sweet Day” though. Again, their performance is stunning and with conviction, like they’ve practiced it at home. The natural chemistry between the two cannot be trained or rehearsed, but in karaoke it still manifests.
“We balance each other a lot,” Gil says. “Even in life and in friendship, that’s why it's so easy to work and live together, but definitely work together because we bring different things.”