‘Our authorities sees it as cute however unimportant’: the musicians retaining France’s Occitan language alive

It’s Could Day in Marseille, and past the celebrations – and the continuing protests towards President Macron elevating the retirement age – one other smaller however simply as potent group are taking a stand on behalf of marginalised voices. It’s the thirtieth version of the annual road social gathering la Sardinade des Feignants (translated because the Lazy Man’s Sardinade), organised by the 40-year-old Massilia Sound System, a raggamuffin reggae and dub collective. Within the blazing solar, the band toast the exuberant crowd as cooks grill sardines, the regional staple that give the celebration its identify, off to the aspect.

Massilia additionally sing in Occitan, AKA langue d’Oc, and promote the conservation and vibrancy of this language and its dialects. The romance language appears like a mix of Catalan and Italian with barely a touch of a French accent, and its audio system sweep throughout the Pays d’Oc of southern France and into the Pyrenees and northern Italy. However right now, says Massilia’s Tatou, AKA Moussu T (Mr T in Occitan), “the federal government nonetheless sees regional cultures that aren’t the language of the court docket of Versailles as unique, folkloric, weird – cute however unimportant.”

Because the French revolution of 1789 introduced in regards to the first French republic, the federal government imposed a transparent interpretation of French id that didn’t embody regional languages and cultures. The revolutionaries commissioned Catholic priest Henri Grégoire to review regional languages: his 1794 report on the best way to “annihilate the patois and to universalise the usage of the French language” turned a cornerstone of insurance policies outlawing any languages apart from French being utilized in public life, taught and even spoken in faculties. As Parisian French turned the image of liberation, unity and progress, regional languages akin to Occitan had been thought-about anti-progress by the center and ruling courses.

Massilia Sound System.
Massilia Sound System. {Photograph}: Marcel Tessier-Caune

These languages continued to be spoken in working class neighbourhoods, factories, on the docks and within the countryside past Paris, and the Nineteen Sixties, “when the US and Britain had been rediscovering their conventional musics akin to blues and people, French artists, musicians and writers did the identical,” says Benjamin Minimal, a songwriter and former music editor of world music journal Mondomix.

Jan dau Melhau in Limousin or Claude Marti in Carcassonne had been amongst these releasing information in Occitan via the 70s, together with Mont-Jòia, a Provence quartet taking part in lute, mandolin and dulcimer together with regional devices just like the galoubet recorder, tambourin drum and zither string tambourine.

Within the early 80s a second wave branched out from the folks revival together with the Fabulous Trobadors from Toulouse, who sang in Occitan to Brazilian and hip-hop rhythms, and Massilia Sound System, who named themselves after the unique Occitan phrase for Marseille. For them, the inspiration to sing in langue d’Oc got here from additional afield: listening to “the Jamaicans singing of their patois and proudly owning their heritage,” says Tatou. “We determined we might sing in our personal French-Occitan patois.” Massilia’s mission assertion couldn’t be clearer from the title monitor of their 1992 debut album Parla Patois, sung in Occitan with the refrain: “He speaks a language that Babylon gained’t perceive / Communicate patois, begin and don’t cease.”

A younger city following began to take maintain in parallel to the response towards anti-immigrant social gathering Entrance Nationwide; Parla Patois’ message of unity-through-toasting resonated with those that noticed a connection between the marginalisation of minorities and regional cultures the identical approach British punks within the 70s felt related to reggae. “Within the 70s and 80s Marseille had graffiti saying, ‘les arabes à la mer’ – ship Arabs to the ocean,” remembers Occitan language singer Manu Théron, whose group Lo Còr de la Plana has toured Europe and America for the reason that 90s. “This led to ratonnades – racist assaults just like the American custom of lynching, everywhere in the metropolis, the place Arabs could be attacked. It was very violent.”

This sparked the March for Equality and Towards Racism that began in Marseille in 1983 and developed into two months of marches all through France. “The combat towards centralism has at all times gone hand in hand with the combat towards racism,” says Tatou who carried out with Massilia Sound System at many anti-fascist protests. A posse of their followers, the Massilia Chourmo, additionally organised protests in areas the place the Entrance Nationwide was gaining momentum and adopted the identical phrase of the Occitan thinker Felix Castan that impressed Massilia Sound System: “We aren’t the product of a soil however the product of the motion we tackle it.”

Théron’s then group Gacha Empega carried out at a number of anti-fascist protests together with Entrance Nationwide’s Bruno Mégret 1995 mayoral marketing campaign for Vitrolles simply exterior of Marseille and protests towards rapper Ibrahim Ali’s 1995 homicide by fascist militants.

Théron was one other acting at anti-fascist protests. He had beforehand travelled via Europe and Algeria taking part in piano and singing Delta blues and basic Neapolitan and French songs. When he was instructing French in Bulgaria he studied historic texts and began writing Occitan poetry, pissed off by his nation’s angle to its regional cultures. “You’ve got a German cultural id within the northeast, Flemish tradition within the north, Celtic tradition in Brittany and Occitan within the south, Basque tradition within the south west and Italian tradition on Corsica,” he says. “The federal government tried to cancel” these cultures, he says, as a result of they had been “not a part of the so-called ‘French id’.”

We meet after he teaches a polyphonic singing class on the native Occitan cultural centre, Ostau dau País Marselhés. Occitan music was monophonic – one voice singing – or purely instrumental till Théron based the polyphonic singing trio Gacha Empega on his return to Marseille within the mid-90s: “I wished to spotlight the language itself and the phrases, which the primary technology had forgotten to do.”

Brama, a psychedelic rock trio from Limoges.
Brama, a psychedelic rock trio from Limoges

At present music in langue d’Oc is experiencing the same revival to the likes of Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco as younger individuals reclaim their cultural heritage. Limoges psychedelic rock trio Brama shaped in 2019 and sing in Occitan to drums, guitar and electrical hurdy gurdy; in 2020, the Toulouse polyphonic singing duo Cocanha made waves when when Barcelona musician (and Rosalía and Lee Ranaldo collaborator) Raül Refree produced their album Puput.

The duo Butor Stellaris shaped in Arles, Provence, in 2019 and mix conventional Occitan devices akin to hand drums and guitarróns with previous digital expertise akin to Gameboys and touch-tone telephones. Henri Maquet is an ethnomusicologist who has been concerned within the indigenous music motion for greater than a decade, and shaped the band together with his accomplice, Emmanuelle Aymés.

“The well-known Occitan language poet Frédéric Mistral mentioned: ‘Cotin, la lengo, tin, la clos’ – the one who holds the tongue holds the important thing’,” he says. “Language opens a door on to standard data that’s hidden within the songs, within the texts, in the way in which of expressing oneself. It opens up an entire thought course of in regards to the nation and the tradition. You may specific issues that you simply simply can’t specific in French.”

At present, the stigma surrounding France’s regional languages has lessened. Regional languages entered the varsity system within the late 70s; there are college programs in Occitan. This April, the state-owned nationwide public tv broadcaster France Télévisions launched the primary Occitan-language TV collection, La Seria, a meta comedy drama about one man’s try to get an Occitan collection off the bottom. But France nonetheless refuses to ratify the 1992 European Constitution for Regional or Minority Languages, the conference for the safety and promotion of languages utilized by conventional minorities, and in contrast to a lot classical French tradition, authorities grants for initiatives in langue d’Oc are hard-won, that means that the majority of them are self-funded. “We’re funnelled to a marginal division with a a lot smaller funds,” says Maquet. “So we’re utterly fai lou tièu – DIY. We’ve to combat on a regular basis and defend the worth of this.”

Again at la Sardinade des Feignants, Massilia Sound System shut out the road social gathering by sharing the microphones with a rotating solid of buddies. Flares are lit as individuals sing alongside and cheer, whereas the cooks start cleansing the grills. The festive environment brings to thoughts a remark Tatou made earlier. “I don’t prefer to say we defend Occitan tradition because it implies closing of ranks and exclusion of different cultures,” he says. “Our mission is to promote it and make it for everybody.”

5 songs to listen to

Mont-Jòia – Diga Janeta (1976)

Massila Sound System – Parla Patois (1992)

Butor Stellaris – Lo Pantai de Palheira (2019)

Cocanha – Cotelon (2019)

Brama – Ma Jòia (2022)

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