Monday, January 15, 2007

Jusqu'ici tout va bien

I'm breaking out of Yankees mode for a day to bring you a little something different. This has got to be the calm before the storm with Cashman on vacation, Clemens months from making a decision on his future, and the roster more or less set for Spring Training. It's brutal from a baseball junkie's standpoint, so I endeavor to bring you a little culture in the place of Yankees commentary.

I began studying French as a 5th grade student and continued through my 2nd year of university. I'm embarrassed to say that while I was once nearly fluent, I can barely order coffee and a baguette in 2007. The same can be said in some respect for my Spanish. I am a language lover, and have dabbled in Italian, Korean, Zulu and a number of other languages over the years. One of the great loves that I've acquired over those same years is a passion for French urban culture. Some of the most original, creative, and pure hip hop comes from the ghettos of Paris. There is great strife in France as a result of the often uneasy integration (or lack thereof) of the many former colonial citizens of the French empire. If you'll recall, last year there were some very serious riots in France over the issue of recognition and 2nd class citizenship. France was on fire.

Where there is great strife there is also often the raw power of creative energy that expresses itself in many ways. Hip hop has always been such an outlet for the colonized, marginalized, and cast aside. In the US, hip hop culture has been co-opted, commercialized, and generally robbed of its real angst. There is so much manufactured angst that it's sometimes hard to remember when the music was genuinely the voice of the inner city. French hip hop still maintains a lot of that creative, heartfelt vibe that hearkens back to the Golden Age in the US. To name a few of my favorites from the French scene, MC Solaar is the godfather of French hip hop and maybe the most famous to American music fans. Passi, Ahkenation, Mac Tyer, Kery James, and Saian Supa Crew are a few others that I try to keeps tabs on. Kery James and Saian Supa Crew are particular favorites, and I thought I'd bring them to your living room via the magic of You Tube.

The first two selections are videos from Kery James. "2 Issues" is a track about the perils of the street. As James puts it, there are only two ways out for most, behind bars or in a box. It's a song that paints a bleak picture of the violence and consequences of playing the ghetto game, and it resonated whether you understand French or not. The second video is a pure machismo track called "Patrimoine du Ghetto", which means "Inheritance of the Ghetto". This is a track about standing up against your foes, and remembering that the toughness you put out there is responsible for so many cemeteries full of ghetto youths. It asks the listener to think about the fact that those in the ghetto know the same pain and the same suffering and consider that they're all in the same boat. It's one of the best rap duets I've heard in years with a fluid back and forth that draws you in and moves you along with the story. Check them out:

The next two tracks are from the Saian Supa Crew who I found quite accidentally while browsing for music on You Tube. They have to be some of the most energetic and interesting artists out there with a lot of fun videos. They are a group of very different characters with a lot of different styles. The Crew blends together easily despite their varied approaches to rhyme, and the videos are really a blur of movement, changing scenery, and some excellent steadicam work. They remind me a little of Leaders of the New School. The first video here is called "X-raisons" and is a visual adventure. The steadicam work is dizzying, and the change from artist to artist is a kind of grab bag of styles to follow. The second video is called "La Preuve par Trois" or "The Proof by Three", whatever that means. See for yourself:

This music really became a passion for me after seeing the 1995 film "La Haine" or "The Hate" directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Kassovitz is more recently well known for directing "Gothika" with Halle Berry, but made his mark with the critically acclaimed "La Haine". This is a film that transports you into the middle of the Parisian ghetto for a day in the life of three young men. The scene is set at the start with a brilliant opening montage featuring a riot in the streets set to Bob Marley's "Burnin' and Lootin'". A young Arab has been beaten and put in the hospital in critical condition as a result of a run in with the police, and the streets have erupted. The following day is captured through the eyes of the three main characters in an array of drugs, violence, angst, tension, insanity, and sometimes laughter. It's a commentary on police brutality in a way, but it's really a slice of life piece that puts you in the skin of some very deep and challenging characters. It's not an easy film, so don't expect any of the whimsy you get in French films like "Delicatessen", "Amelie", or "Moulin Rouge" for example. This is brutal and unforgiving, but it will make you think and it will make you feel.....gritty.

The trailer that follows is a bit vague in terms of the story and what you should expect, but you'll get a feel for the kind of atmosphere though, and maybe it'll spark your interest. One disclaimer, this film is apparently out of print in the US. It never was released on DVD, much to my dismay, and the NTSC VHS is now out of print. I have one with me here in Japan, but you may have to look real hard to get your hands on a copy. I promise, it will be worth the effort.

That's my cultural message for the day, and hopefully the Yankees will make some news soon, so I won't have to resort to such measures again. Hope you enjoyed this little change of pace.


Anonymous said...

BitTorrent is your friend:

Elroy303 said...

Quite an interesting off topic, Mike. While I’m really not too big a fan of most stateside hiphop, I have always found the European (French, Dutch and British mainly) sound to be more of a grassroots type sound, with an artful energy that most US producers lack. While he’s not French, take a look at a very promising young artist from the other side of the English Channel, “Yungun.” His new album “Grown Man Business” just may be one of the best rap album I’ve listened to since Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory.

William said...

You called it right; US hip hop is so overwhelmed with commercialism that it fails in my book to qualify as hip-hop, but as my musical compadre termed it several years ago, "corporately-sponsored musique concrète", but if you consider the zealously capitalist nature of this society and the conditioned desire for instant gratification (what better way to organize an otherwise unskilled force to commit their energies and self-worth to fulfill others' financial goals), it's not surprising at all that the quality of mainstream music in terms of hip-hop has gone to utter waste. Like all forms of expression, when flushed through the commercial gastrointestinal system, it is stripped of its inner vitality and richness and exported as uniformed, malliable and indigestible waste product, neatly prepared and packaged for public consumption or recycling. In my opinion, it's not hip-hop that is bad, but the environment that incubates the product (as opposed to the raw material) that creates bad hip-hop. There's really no difference in the ability of rappers in Europe vs the U.S., the biggest difference is the scope of their imagination and the motivation behind it. On a commercial standpoint, the U.S. doesn't stand a chance. From a pure skill and motivation standpoint without the marketing motivation, I currently give the U.S. the edge.

singlessss said...

Mike - I'm an ex-drummer and old time classic Rock'n'Roll guy who has little use for hip-hop (don't get me started on Rap). But out of respect for you, I said 'What the hey' and decided to listen with an open mind.

I gotta tell you the truth, I didn't understand one word of it.

singlessss said...

Where forth are thou
(knee deep in diapers?)

singlessss said...

or is it: where forth art thou?

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