We all know about the ineffable quality of art—we can’t always explain why New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain” makes us feel better after a break-up, why CarlyRae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” makes us want to film parody videos, or why we stand immersed, overwhelmed by Monet’s “Water Lilies.” But the artists, they know what they’re doing—Jean-Paul Rappeneau is fully aware that pulling the camera up and away, through the trees, as “Cyrano de Bergerac” dies, will leave us with a pit in our stomach; Mel Brooks recognizes that his “Blazing Saddles” campfire scene will leave you laughing no matter how often you see it.
Every creator, from the painter to the director to the composer, wants to evoke something. Through pop stars and film noir cinéastes and the Surrealists, art has the power to provoke joy, fear, anger. Even action.
Yes, protest music. Everyone should have their favorite artist or genre, and few genres protest better than hip hop. It has made the likes of Public Enemy and Paris icons for their peers. And in France, the engagement of hip hop has moved to a completely different level. IAM, Kéry James, Assassin, Saïan Supa Crew, Disiz la Peste. They all have something to tell you.
Today’s translation comes from France’s Le Monde newspaper, a short blog post from about two weeks ago. The subject: an employee in a soon-to-be closed automobile plant not far from Paris. It just so happens that this assembly line worker is also an emcee in the group Tango & Kash, who have one album to their name. The power of art can voice your anger, and in this case, hip hop is that voice, the way for the plant workers at Aulnay to speak in their own defense.
Please, read the translation of the blog, then watch the music video. Even if you don’t understand all the lyrics, the images are powerful in themselves. At the very end, for those who speak French, you’ll find a short documentary-style clip where the emcee Kash is interviewed, then gives us a little a cappella excerpt of the song.
Here is the link to the original post at Le Monde.
“Of course there’s anger when they talk about restructuring,
Smoke screen as dangerous as exhaust gas.
False hopes reduced to nothing,
in the rhythm of their pretty, feel-guilty speeches.”
Putting faces and words on the anger felt by 3000 employees at the Aulnay-sous-Bois plant run by PSA Peugeot Citroën. That was the object of Franck Jautee, stage name Kash. When he’s not running a team of six workers on the assembly line of the plant, Franck Jautee runs raps with his group, Tango and Kash. On July 12, when PSA announced the closing of the plant at Aulnay, his colleagues asked him to write a song, so tells us the blog Aulnay Stories, of France Télévisions, which chronicles the daily struggle of the workers of the plant. “I said, ‘Okay, I’ll make the music, but at the end of the summer, you all have to be in the video.” A few months later, on January 30, with the help of two other hip hop and video devotees, Sébastien and Régis, the clip was posted on the Internet. The buzz built quickly: in a few days, the video “ Ça peut plus durer ” was seen by close to 20,000 viewers.
“Verbal hold-up, a liar since the beginning,
our boss has more vices than the dealers in our streets.”
The rap mixes the crafted texts of Franck Jautee with news reports on the announced closing of the plant. You can hear in them the voice of David Pujadas, the newscaster of France 2’s evening broadcast. You can also hear one of his questions: “How far are you willing to go? — We’ll stop at nothing, go all the way to the end.” The camera shifts between the assembly lines, showing workers at their jobs, and at their picket lines. “Sadness, anger, worry, sacrifice, depression, discontent, it can’t go on any longer…” The 35-year-old rapper has a good feel for a turn-of-phrase. Under his pen, PSA becomes “Politics in the Service of the Shareholder” [“Politiques au Service d’Actionnaires”] and “Bosses Sabotaging the Future” [“Patrons Saboteurs d’Avenir”].
Fifty-five employees let themselves be filmed for the needs of the video, according to Aulnay Stories. “I had to show who the people of PSA are, those who are going to find themselves either on the streets or part of some iffy layoff schemes, hidden behind smoke screens,” Franck Jautee explains to the journalists of France Télévisions, “They are the ones who will suffer all of that, they’re the ones who hurt.” The musician, a worker on strike, envisions his video as a tool in the hands of the workers of Aulnay. On the Youtube page of the clip, a union rep from Créteil asks permission to download the video to share. “Be my guest, enjoy yourself” Kash tells him.
Here is some documentary-style footage from Francine Raymond & Ludovic Fossard, authors of the blog Aulnay Stories :