Various 'Par les damné.e.s de la terre (By the wretched of the Earth)' LP

Various 'Par les damné.e.s de la terre (By the wretched of the Earth)' LP
I’m part of the generation that saw the rise of French rap, and along with it, a real craze for this music created by the children of second and third generation immigrants. But I wanted to go beyond rap, to dig deeper into Francophone artists who convey a message of poetic urgency, of sensitive poetry on the edge, committed to a cause despite itself, because their environment gives them no choice. The poetry of the "damné.e.s de la terre", “the wretched of this earth”. In the shadow of high-profile singer-songwriters are women and men who became artists just for the time it took to release a single record.

There’s no use trying to find the “exotic and funky” track in this collection, like a piece of folklore made for French metropolitan consumption. These rhythms and lyrics are wrapped in their own tough and sincere kind of blues. The French language unites regions of the world that bear common burdens. Geopolitics and emotions are intermixed. The words of the ancients resonate all the way into the ears of the kids of today, children of the diaspora. Many artists present in this collection didn’t have the good fortune of finding a receptive audience at the time; I think that current issues around migration and identity will give special resonance to these words and this music.

Two historians, Naïma Yahi and Amzat Boukari-Yabara, have written the liner notes for this record. They describe the context of the time and in the countries where these tracks originated.

This project, which is both musical and heritage-related, meets a specific need: bringing forth (and back) these voices for new generations living in France who lack identification with something, a historical omission of their parents’ story as part of the political and cultural landscape they cross through as they grow up. It writes an alternate history of music in French. At the crossroads of the liberation struggles in the mother countries, the fight for workers’ rights, and of lives in exile, it shows us an era when struggles created brotherhood, beliefs, dignity, links between oppressed peoples, and convergences that the History taught in schoolbooks doesn’t address. The way I see it, it’s crucial to pass on these moments when anything was possible, so that they infiltrate and disperse the bleak mood that new generations are growing up with.

The children of the diaspora, as well as those of working men and women, need spaces where their parents’ history is passed on, these parents who sacrificed for years within movements or in exile and have chosen quiet integration for their children, pointing toward a future without all the heavy weight of memory. The past isn’t easily transmitted when it’s burdened with taboos and when you consider your children to be free and safe, because they were born in France. But our elders’ struggles, in light of current ones, have incredible value and are truly useful. The present does a lot better when it has a memory.

This record is thus a declaration, a piece of memory to show us that the window of possibilities was open for a short time, before being closed up again, plunging us into individualism, a short-term outlook, and a lack of projects to improve society. The absence of these stories as part of History deprives us of hope, of the concept of brotherhood, of resistance and of directions for self-defense. The current age imposes upon us its dystopian fictions and stories of failure and dead ends.

The fossilized groove in these records helped me discover artists and intellectuals who offered so many solutions. We know so little about Frantz Fanon, this Martiniquais who championed the Algerian cause; we know far too little about the great Franklin Boukaka, the Congolese artist who used a song to pay tribute to Moroccan politician Mehdi Ben Barka. There was solidarity between students from Guadeloupe fighting for the independence of this island and a Corsican militant from the FLNC who decided to host their music on his label.
We can all agree on one thing: there’s no point if we don’t have a common purpose. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but what I do know is that, with memory, we can add the power and unity of the peoples of days gone by to the diaspora and the downtrodden of today. We can place ourselves at the very heart of the story that’s told, so we can break with the rationale of an imperialist view of history.

"See what wasn’t meant to be seen, make loud and clear voices speaking what was only heard as noise. " Jacques Rancière


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