By DYLAN BROWN
France, namely its seventh largest city Strasbourg, was my home for a semester abroad last year. Between stuffing my face with baguettes, desperately avoiding having to explain American foreign policy and sipping “hot wine” during the seemingly permanent “Christmas market,” I found some music I could by no means understand, but still enjoy.
“Qui de nous deux,” by -M-
Roughly “which of us two,” this song by the artist also known as Matthieu Chedid is straightforward French pop-rock. It just happened to have been beaten into my head by my perfect French stereotype of a professor. You try to speak their language — a lot of the time not even that much — and the French are wonderful. But Madame K, who decried English as “ugly,” forced me to watch and re-watch a biography featuring this song to improve my comprehension of a more beautiful tongue.
“Les Amoureux des Bancs Publics,” by George Brassens
Stereotypes not being completely unfounded, the French do in fact universally hold art and culture sacrosanct. Great artists, musicians included, are known by all, old or small. So, when I asked what French artist I should listen to, George Brassens was mentioned every time. A French Bob Dylan in the sense his songs are dense poetry that paint layered tales — some humorous, others tragic — Brassens is impossible to really translate. But from what I cobbled together on this song, Brassens comes to the aid of a couple kissing on a park bench when they’re shamed by a passing religious family. “People are just jealous,” Brassens sings, “passion should not be hid away.”
“Chewing Gum,” by Odezenne
The French demand artistry from hip-hop, too. My French friends complained about mainstream American rap being all money and girls, and so many pointed me toward this offbeat group’s inventive beats and blistering wordplay steeped in criticism of rap itself, politics and popular culture. At least I think it did, I did at least understand chewing gum.
“Artiste,” by Oxmo Puccino
Every morning in my flat, five floors above the corner boulangerie — French for the omnipresent bakery — my 20something French roommate would bump this song from the speakers atop the turntables he kept in the living room. I don’t miss waking up to it, but the Mali-born rapper’s hit track, that sounds a bit like a French Notorious B.I.G., is a perfect example of more popular French rap.
“Reckoning Song,” remix by DJ Wankelmut of Asaf Avidan’s song
Discotheques and house beats are integral to the social life of any person younger than 30, and the chart-topper during my semester in Europe was this downbeat remix of Israeli singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan’s song. Considering no one heads out until 1 a.m., I’m sure the party is still raging in some club somewhere, without me.
Brown is a deejay for the University of Idaho student radio station, KUOI 89.3 FM. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2278. Follow him on Twitter @DylanBrown26.