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Friday, 8 February 2013

No room at the Elysée for France's wannabe "presidential cow"

It hasn't been a particularly good week for the French president François Hollande.

Well certainly not as far as potential presidential pets are concerned.

First up of course there was the bellowing camel offered to him by grateful Malians, and then reports that it had been stolen and wouldn't after all be making its way to France.

Now comes the tale of a cow that has - in a manner of speaking - been refused entry to the lawns of the French president's official residence, the Elysée palace.

It's seems representatives from the Association des éleveurs bovins or Cattle breeding association (somehow the French seems wanted to show of the French president ahead of this year's Salon d'Agriculture which opens in Paris on February 23.

What better way, they must have thought, than to offer him his own cow?

After all, there aren't any other pets at the presidential pad right now.

François Hollande at Salon d'Agriculture, 2012 (screenshot France Télévisions report)

Well, while Hollande was in Brussels cutting a budget deal with the other leaders of the European Union, it was left up to officials at the Elysée palace to break the bad news to the association, that no, they wouldn't be allowed to hand over the beast in person.

Instead, they'll just have to hope that Hollande pops in to pay them a visit during the agricultural fair.

All a bit of a shame really because, as you can see from the video, Hollande was up close and personal with cows during his marathon 12-hour visit to the annual fair last year.

Heck he even helped give one of them a shower.

There again, he was in campaigning mode.



Friday's French music break Lillywood and the prick, "Middle of the night"

Friday's French music break this week comes from a group with the (um) glorious name of Lilly Wood and the Prick.

Great name for a band don't you think?

Er. Pass.

Lilly Wood and the Prick: screenshot from  "Where I Want To Be (California)" official video
"Middle of the night" is the first single to have been released from their latest album "The fight", a fine follow-up to their debut "Invincible friends"

Online information about Lilly Wood and the Prick is a bit thin on the ground.

That fount of all knowledge, both correct and incorrect, otherwise known as Wikipedia, doesn't have a great deal on them. In fact their English entry is - well sparse to say the very least - which means you have to go a-huntin elsewhere.

Their website is a little disappointing although is has links to their Myspace account and the inevitable Facebook page complete with upcoming dates.

So who are they?

Well, they're a duo: singer Nili Hadida and guitarist Benjamin Cotto.

The pair write all their own material.

Their sound is distinctive and categorised  - always a bit of a danger when trying to pigeon hole artists whose music defies labels - as folk Electronic / Folk / Pop.

One thing's for sure - they cannot be mistaken for any other French act - in fact you would have a hard time knowing they were French - more on that in a moment.

Hadida and Cotto were apparently introduced to each other back in 2006 by friends in a bar in Paris and began working together within 48 hours.

"We barely each other at the beginning," Hadida told Nagui, the presenter of France 2's music show Taratata.

"But through music we've had a chance to get closer and really understand how the other person ticks."

Hmmm.  Great story isn't it? And the two seem pretty sincere. There again, who cares whether it's entirely true as their music ain't half bad.

Their big break - in terms of wider recognition came at the 2011 Victoires de la Musique awards (the French equivalent of the Grammys) when the pair walked away with the prize of Best Newcomer (le groupe ou l'artiste révélation du public) ahead of  Ben l'Oncle Soul, Camélia Jordana and Zaz.

Now don't worry if your French isn't very good. The group sings exclusively in English - probably down to Hadida's international upbringing and influences (she was born in Israel, raised in Paris and has lived in London and California).

There's definitely a commercial appeal to their music and unlike some other "foreign groups" writing and singing in English, their lyrics actually make sense.

Hadida's voice is distinctive, and what's more the pair can perform live.

There's no playback or flashy gimmicks necessary as witnessed by this appearance on Le Figaro's music show "Le Live".

Their music is simple without any pretensions although Hadida admits that some of the songs, much like the group's name, are meant to provoke.

Ah yes.

About that name...

"Nili isn't necessarily Lilly and nor am I the Prick. In fact it could be the opposite," Cotto said with a degree of humour in an interview with By the Way blog.

"Seriously though the name is more about a group of words which (to us) sound good together and it's in keeping with how we want to progress: the magical aspect reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland mixed with something a little more down to earth."

Yes. Well.

Maybe they'll think about changing their name should they ever become successful outside of France.

One thing's for sure, whatever they're called, the pair produce some excellent music.

Here's the official clip of "Middle of the night".


Wednesday, 6 February 2013

What next for François Hollande's camel?

You might well have seen the pictures over the weekend - delighted Malians welcoming their all-conquering hero, the French president François Hollande, during his visit to Timbuktu.

Unable to contain their joy they smiled, danced, sang and...made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

A camel.

(screenshot from news report)

"I will use it as a means of transportation as often as possible," quipped Hollande, appearing somewhat fazed by the gift and brandishing a whip he had also been given (for training purposes of course).

Mind you, it's remarkable microphones managed to pick up any of his response above the bellowing protests of the young animal lying in front of him, ready for its new "mission".

Twitter of course had a field day with the story. There were, unsurprisingly perhaps, more than a just few (unkind) references to France's first lady Valérie Trierweiler appearing among the responses along the lines of "Malians have offered Hollande a camel. Didn't anyone tell them he already has one at home?" and "François Hollande receives a camel as a present on his arrival in Mali. Won't Valérie be jealous?"

The mainstream media picked up on Hollande's quip, detailed how the animal had now been elevated to the status of "presidential camel" but nonetheless would have to go through the same procedure as any other animal being imported into France from Mali.

After all this would also be "un chameau normal pour un président normal" was the tone.

It would spend a couple of weeks in the zoo in the Malian capital Bamako, reported RTL radio, followed by a medical, a period of quarantine and vaccinations before being flown to France.

But now comes the news that could put the proverbial spanner in the works for a somewhat unusual presidential pet: the camel offered to Hollande was allegedly a stolen one.

A man, currently living in a refugee camp in Mali has come forward saying he was the original owner, the animal had been stolen from him and he wants it back.

No official word from the Elysée palace as to the fate of the camel...and no activity on Valérie Trierweiler's Twitter account to give us all the scoop.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

"Mamma Mia!" in French and on tour

Imagine for one moment you hadn't seen the title of this piece, and instead you were asked to sing - in English - the lyrics of "Dis oui, dis oui, dis oui, dis oui, dis oui", "Un homme après minuit", or "Viens tenter ta chance".

How would you fare?

Would you even know which songs you were being asked to sing?

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

Just for the record (ouch) they are in order, "I do, I do, I do, I do, I do," "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" and "Take a chance on me".

Yes welcome to Abba sung in French.

After a hugely successful two-year run at Le Théâtre Mogador in Paris, "Mamma Mia!" is on tour - packing 'em in at every stop.

The whole shebang kicked off in September 2012 and is due to wrap up at the beginning of March.

There's no need to recap the rather thin plot. You're probably all familiar with either the original London show which opened back in (gulp) 1999 or one of the many international productions, and most probably the 2008 (ah, that's better) film starring Meryl Streep.

It was and remains a vehicle for Abba songs - and there's nothing wrong with that.

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

So what of the French version of the "Worldwide smash hit"?

Well it lives up to the positive reviews it has received. The acting, although not brilliant, isn't required to be. Hence the "hammed up" and ever-so-slightly camp aspect in no way detracts from enjoying it for what it is - a musical.

The choreography is simple but fun and effective and the set design colourful. The voices are good, but not great - one thing perhaps in the cast's favour is that they're most definitely not trying to be Abba. Well they couldn't really.

All in all it remains as karoake-inspired as ever (sorry for fans of either the stage musical or the film) with one major exception of course. It's in French.

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

Unless you've surfed the Net beforehand to take a gander at the lyrics and maybe memorise them, or bought the album, then seeing and hearing such familiar songs without being able to join in, might come as something of a shock.

Now, no matter how much of an Abba fan you might be, and regardless of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson's undoubted talent for writing some pretty good pop tunes for them, along with Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, to belt out, the lyrics were sometimes to out this kindly..."dodgy".

Catchy, the tunes definitely were: well crafted and produced too. But the words?

Well, let's be honest. They weren't and probably were never meant to be (too) deep. After all, we're talking pop here.

Clever, yes. But from the very first time we all heard, "My my at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender, Oh yeah and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way. The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself" it was clear this was light and fluffy at its commercially rhyming best.

Funnily enough though, the real strength of the French version of "Mamma Mia!" probably lies in the lyrics.

"Mamma Mia! (screenshot from tour trailer)

The dialogue (such as it is - see the French and Saunders film parody clip at the end for perhaps the fairest appraisal) was translated by Stéphane Laporte and the all-important songs - although they also needed the seal of approval from Ulvaeus -  by Nicolas Nebot.

"I sent him (Ulvaeus) my translations and he was especially keen to keep the sonority and the catchiness of the phraseology," Nebot said.

"He didn't want a word-for-word translation."

And Ulvaeus, along with audiences in France, didn't get it either.

Instead Nebot has managed to breathe new life into old favourites and in the process, give an additional pleasure.

Now this will only work if your French is up to it, but look at what happens to the beginning of "The winner takes it all" or "La loi du plus fort".

"I don't wanna talk
About things we've gone through
Though it's hurting me
Now it's history
I've played all my cards
And that's what you've done too
Nothing more to say
No more ace to play

The winner takes it all
The loser's standing small
Beside the victory
That's her destiny"

"Je n' veux plus parler
De ce vide entre nous
J'ai purgé ma peine
C'est d'l'histoire ancienne
J'ai tentè ma chance
Tu as jouè tes atouts
Sans aucun regret
Les jeux étaient faits

C'est la loi du plus fort
Moi je m'incline encore
Et derrière la victoire
Je lis ton histoire"

All right already, not the stuff of which either great literature or poetry are made but francophone Abba fans (and there surely must be a fair few based on the success of the musical since it opened) will most certainly get a kick hearing an old favourite revisited.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Friday's French music break - Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, "Chez Keith et Anita"

It's without doubt the music event of the year in France - well unless, of course, you're counting on the country finishing as an also ran in May's Eurovision Song Contest in the Swedish city of Malmö.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's new album is set for release in April, and already French radio stations are playing an acoustic version of the first track to be taken as a single.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (screenshot from video clip of "Chez Keith et Anita")

Bruni-Sarkozy is back in fine form as she murmurs her way through "Chez Keith et Anita", a charming little tune "with a Cuban rhythm" about Rolling Stone Keith Richards and his former partner Anita Pallenberg.

Heck, at one point Bruni-Sarkozy even breaks into a rap...of sorts...although that might be putting it a little strongly perhaps. So let's settle for "talking in tune".

The single is from the former-top model, cum actress and one-term first lady's fourth studio album "Little French songs", the long-anticipated (by some) follow-up to her best-selling (really?) "Comme si de rien n'était" in 2008

Among the treats in store on the new album apparently is a homage to her other half - the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, just in case you needed reminding.

"Mon Raymond," she sings in the track entitled "Raymond". "Il a tout bon, c'est d'la valeur authentique, pour franchir le Rubicon on peut pas dire qu'il hésite / (...) Mon Raymond, il est canon, c'est d'la bombe atomique." (You can do the Google translate if you need to).

Cough, cough.

And there's a swipe at that much revered/reviled profession of journalism in "Les diseurs" with, "Il faut dire que c'est pas drôle, non, d'faire diseurs, ce n'est pas le beau rôle, non. Toutes ces heures passées à causer pour finir oubliés".

Strong stuff.

Sadly you'll have to wait until April 1 (and no, apparently that's not an April Fool) until you can get your mitts on "Little French songs" and treat your ears to the breathless dulcets of the 45-year-old.

But just in case you're impatient to hear what all the pre-release fuss is (or will be) about, here's the acoustic version of that first single, "Chez Keith and Anita".

Now if all that hasn't made you prick up your ears in absolute delight, there's also a tour in the offing.

The head of Barclay, the lucky record label releasing "Little French songs", Olivier Caillart, confirmed Bruni-Sarkozy would be taking her show on the road later in the year.

"A tour is planned in the autumn," he said, adding how delighted he was that Bruni-Sarkozy had "shown confidence in the label by signing".

"The quality of her writing, the unique timbre of her voice and its charm make her one on the major French singing artists," he added, not exaggerating in the slightest.


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