Although I have still hardly unpacked my bags, my first week in Paris was packed. Before I arrived last Monday morning, I had already reserved tickets for a concert that night that I couldn’t miss. I knew that I would probably be exhausted, but figured that nothing could be more appropriate than starting my time in Paris with one of the “founding father” groups of French hip-hop— Suprême NTM. Probably the most controversial of the French rap pioneers (other notable “founding fathers” are rapper MC Solaar and Marseille-based group IAM), NTM first came onto the hip-hop scene in the early 80’s when members Joey Starr and Kool Shen were break dancers, and eventually emerged as one of the most influential “hardcore” rap groups in France— famous for rapping about their banlieue, confrontations with the police, and criticism of the French government. Although they broke up as a group in ’98, they continued to contribute to the music world by rapping and producing new artists, and last week, they performed in a highly anticipated reunion tour ten years after they disbanded and more than twenty years after they first formed.
So, I dragged my jet-lagged self to this historic concert and wound up having a great time. Even though it was a Monday night (they added extra dates to accommodate their fans in Paris), the stadium at Bercy was packed with people of all ages who, over the last ten years, seem to have not forgotten a single word of any of NTM’s songs. I know the guy next to me thought I was crazy for writing in a notebook while everyone was screaming and dancing, but I had to make sure I got down some of the highlights of the show including: Joey Starr and Kool Shen’s energy, a variety of really entertaining guest performers like New York born “party MC” Big Ali and beatboxer Eklips, and great set designs complete with dancers, lights, video, and pyrotechnics. Even though I had only seen old music videos of theirs, I felt like I had also grown up with them just by sitting in the audience with their fans and seeing them perform hits like “Paris sous les bombes” (“Paris under the bombs”, where bombs= slang for graffiti) and “Seine-Saint-Denis Style” (Seine-Saint-Denis is the department where Starr and Shen are from).
While the concert was a lot of fun, there were serious elements as well, such as when Kool Shen asked the audience to put up a light (cell phones or lighters) as he sang a song that he wrote for his deceased wife, Virginie Sullé (Lady V), called “Un ange dans le ciel” (“An Angel in Heaven”) and when Joey Starr commented how many of the issues that they sang about decades ago, including unemployment, discrimination, and poor conditions in the cités (French housing projects in the banlieue) are still relevant problems today. “On est dans la ****” (We are in the s**t), he said.
Another important current issue was brought up by one of the guest artists when he exclaimed that there was a “salope” (“wh*re”) named “EDVIGE.” While “Edvige” is a woman’s name, what this rapper was referring to was a possible new police system that, if approved this December, would allow for the French police force and government to create a database of information on any official person or organization (economic, religious, or social) or anyone over the age of 13 that might somehow be suspicious to the government. Relevant information could be anything from addresses and phone numbers to sexual orientation, physical characteristics, health status, and even details on the people in one’s social network. An acronym for “Exploitation Documentaire et Valorisation de l’Information Générale” (Documentary exploitation and valorization of general information) and nicknamed “Big Sister,” Edvige has created a stir in the French community, not only among rappers— “Edvige? Salope!” is an internet music video by anti- Nicolas Sarkozy rap collective, Torapamavoa Nicholas*— but also among civil rights groups, the media, and even members of President Sarkozy’s cabinet. An online petition against Edvige boasts over 200,000 signatures to-date since July 10th and the UK based newspaper the Times reports that, in addition to left wing organizations and various civil rights groups, “most newspapers — with the exception of the pro-Sarkozy Le Figaro — have joined the anti-Edvige campaign” (You can find the rest of the article here.)
I’ll be sure to stay updated on the progress of Edvige (and of anti-Edvige efforts).
* “Torapamavoa” is slang for “Tu n’auras pas ma voix” or “You will not have my voice” and was originally created to oppose French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s candidacy in 2007.