In recent years, we have seen the rise of spoken word, also known as slam poetry, across the world. However, it has rarely achieved the wide appeal and immense popularity that it has seen in France. From regular open-mic nights to a Slam Poetry world cup, La Coupe du Monde, the movement has certainly hit the mainstream. But what exactly is the significance of spoken word? How has it been used to create social commentary, and express the reality of French politics and society amongst the younger generations today?
Whilst many forms of literature offer an insight into the truth behind society, it seems as though slam poetry takes a step further. Explicit lyrics, breaking taboos and undermining institutions are what slam poetry does best. Diam’s’ Ma France a Moi (2006) demonstrates this well. The artist draws on personal experiences to elucidate the realities of French society.
Ma France à moi elle parle fort, elle vit à bout de rêves,
Elle vit en groupe, parle de bled et déteste les règles,
Elle sèche les cours, le plus souvent pour ne rien foutre,
Elle joue au foot sous le soleil souvent du Coca dans la gourde,
C’est le hip-hop qui la fait danser sur les pistes,
Parfois elle kiffe un peu de rock, ouais, si la mélodie est triste,
Elle fume des clopes et un peu de shit, mais jamais de drogues dures,
Héroïne, cocaïne et crack égal ordures,
Souvent en guerre contre les administrations.https://genius.com/Diams-ma-france-a-moi-lyrics
In essence, what Diam’s is talking about here is the real youth in France today. She talks about the desire to rebel, to reject society, the youth who ‘déteste les règles’ (hate the rules) and are ‘en guerre contre les administrations’ (at war with the authorities). Ringing true of the frequency of protests in France, as well as drawing upon other tendencies of drug use and popular music styles (‘le hip-hop’ and ‘un peu de rock’), the artist uses spoken word to effectively capture not only broader political sentiment, but also daily banalities and relatable truths.
Beyond this, however, slam poetry allows for individual stories and histories to be explored, thereby illuminating broader statements through personal anecdotes. The form of slam poetry, as with other more classical forms of poetry, is a perfect medium for giving voice to an individual, or group. We need only take the example of Grand Corps Malade’s ‘Romeo Kiffe Juliette’ (‘Romeo loves Juliet’) as evidence.
C’est qu’le père de Juliette a une kippa sur la tête Et celui d’Roméo va tous les jours à la mosquée
Alors ils mentent à leurs familles, ils s’organisent comme des pros https://www.paroles.net/grand-corps-malade/paroles-romeo-kiffe-juliette
In summary, what the artist is exploring here is a relationship between a Jewish girl, Juliette, and her Muslim boyfriend, Romeo. Adapting the Shakespearean text, Grand Corps Malade adapts the forbidden romance by drawing upon the taboo of interreligious relationships between some religious communities, in France and worldwide. They must lie, ‘mentent,’ to their families, as their relationship is banned. A commentary upon religious freedom, familial pressure and youthful rebellion, the artist adapts canonical literature both in form and in content – the meaning of Romeo and Juliette, not as warring families but as conflicting religions, is flipped, as is the form of a play being adapted into pop music.
The extent of commentary slam poetry makes upon society is limitless. Other French artists to check out include Gabrielle Tuloup, IAM and Abd Al Malik. There is something so captivating about listening to the passion, intensity and freedom of these artists’ work; it is as though you can feel, perhaps, the desire that is captured by the combination of music, poetry and rhythm.
Featured image is ‘City of Romance’ by Yann Caradec. File is licensed under Creative Commons License