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French Pop Song of the Week: In Arabic, from Souad Massi

posted October 6, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music


France, as a center of wealth and culture, has for many years been a destination for immigrants, allowing it to absorb outside influences and, as a result, continually reinvent itself. Although some immigrants, especially those of North African origin, have had difficulty integrating into French life, there is a more hopeful side to this story. As in the United States, many people in France are committed to their country’s tradition of human rights and being a safe haven for foreigners. And France benefits economically and culturally from the energy and talent of its foreign-born citizens, as well as those who, despite being born in France and thus being French, are sometimes seen as other because of their family origins.

Such is the theme of this week’s featured pop star, Souad Massi. Born in Algeria in 1972, Massi had an eclectic musical background. Her parents loved traditional Algerian, French pop, and American soul music. Several of her family members played jazz. She learned guitar at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Alger and soon became known as a modern, passionate singer—a politically dangerous image at the time in Algeria. After an artistic director of Universal Music discovered her in 1999 at a French festival of Algerian women, she moved to France. Her music—usually in Arabic, sometimes in French, and occasionally in English—has been described as a blending of Algerian, French, and “Anglo-Saxon” musical traditions.

Below is a video of Massi singing “Talit El Bir.” It’s a longer, more developed version of a song that appears on her third Album, Mesk Elil (“Honeysuckle,” 2006). The lyrics are in Arabic, and she begins by saying in French, “Vous nous aidez un peu si vous avez envie. Je force pas.” (“Help us a little if you feel like it. I’m not forcing anyone.”)

French Pop Song of the Week: The Jealousy of Mademoiselle K

posted September 2, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music translation world literature

mademoiselle k

Once upon a time, back in the ‘80s, Katerine Gierak was just a young girl in Paris. At five years old she enrolled in her first music class. Soon she started playing the flute and studying music theory. Then she took up the classical guitar, followed by the electric guitar. From 1999 to 2005 she studied music at the Sorbonne, hoping to become a music teacher. But she failed the CAPES, a French exam for teachers, and instead of accepting the failure as a temporary setback, she changed careers. She became a rock star.

Now heading the band Mademoiselle K, Katerine Gierak is a popular and distinctive voice in contemporary French rock. Here is a clip of her 2006 song “Jalouse” (”Jealous”) from the album Ça Me Vexe (”That Upsets Me”). Below is a translation of the lyrics.

Clip : “Jalouse”, Mademoiselle K. Roy Music
envoyé par roymusic. – Regardez plus de clips, en HD !
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French Pop Song of the Week: “En tête à tête” by M

posted June 23, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music translation world literature


Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be at a French rock concert? Well, here you go: Matthieu Chedid, better known by his stage name M, singing “En tête à tête” (about five years ago in Paris). One of France’s most extravagant and innovative rock stars, M combines the driving, rhythmic motion of rock with the elegant evenness of the French language.

Below are the lyrics and a translation.

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French Pop Song of the Week: “Respire” by Mickey 3D

posted June 8, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music translation world literature


France has an environmental movement of its own, and in the last European legislative elections, in 2009, Les Verts (“The Greens”) won 16 percent of the vote in France. Today the country is aswarm in things écolo (“environmental”) and bio (“organic”). It even has a kind of “Al Gore” in the writer and television producer Nicolas Hulot, who has been successful in pressuring French politicians to address environmental issues and is well known for his book and film Le Syndrome du Titanic (click here for the trailer).

If France had an environmental anthem, it might be “Respire” by the French trio Mickey 3D. Led by singer and songwriter Mickaël Furnon (whose nickname is Mickey), the group released its biggest hit, “Respire,” in 2003 on the album Tu vas pas mourir de rire (”You’re Not Going to Die of Laughter”). This simple, upbeat, but gloomy song blends eerily with the animated video the group made for it.

Below are the video, the lyrics, and a translation (note: in France baby boys are said to be found in a cabbage patch).

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French Pop Song of the Week: “Dans mon café,” by V. Paradis

posted May 6, 2010

Posted by Thomas Riggs in music translation world literature


Rare among contemporary French singers, Vanessa Paradis has a following in the United States, partly because she is the longtime partner of actor Johnny Depp, with whom she has two children. Paradis and Depp divide their time between Los Angeles and the south of France and also have property elsewhere. Depp was the cover artist for Divinidylle, her 2007 CD.

Paradis, now 37, has been famous for years as a singer and actor in France. Her first hit, “Joe le taxi,” was released in 1987 when she was 14 years old, and it became a number one song in 25 countries. She was instantly a kind of French Lolita, adored and scorned by the French public. Years later she is now often seen as a chic French rocker.

Here is Paradis doing an acoustic version of “Dans mon café” (“In My Coffee”) from her album Bliss (2000). The concert took place on November 22, 2009, in the historic Parisian theatre La Cigale. Before singing, Paradis says,

Vous me donnez soif . . . [from someone in the audience: “à ta santé] . . . merci . . . Cette chanson est dédiée à tout ce qu’on le sait . . . l’incendie prend dans leurs cœurs. On va laisser le feu les envahir, sans faire des dégats, sans extincteur, sans eau.

(You make me thirsty . . . [from someone in the audience : “to your health”] . . . thank you . . . This song is dedicated to everything we know . . . the fire takes hold in our hearts. We’re going to let the fire invade us, without damage, without an extinguisher, without water.)

Below are the lyrics and a translation.

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