Ma folie de Manau

In which an anglophone reveals himself to be vaguely niaiseux and gullible, if not quite maudit

I write the only fan page for Volt, the very smart youth program on TFO. The fact that Volt is in French and my fan site is entirely in English is merely one of those delicious Canadian ironies. (I am, after all, a person who used to pay Rogers Cable good money just to receive MusiquePlus, back in the day when it was actually possible.)

150 or 200 years ago, I wrote, on an old homepage,

One reason to stay in Ontario, or at least to sign up for satellite TV, is of course Volt on TFO, a program I have actually appeared on. A youth show with a lot of brains and moxie, Volt also runs the bestest music videos. Last week «Mais qui est la belette?» by Manau was broadcast (mistitled «Mais où est le belette?») and its catchiness stuck with me. Apparently it stuck with the producers, too, because they reran the video this week. Manau turn out to be a Celtic French hiphop formation. Quite the combination. I know what le loup and le renard are (the wolf and the fox), but is there such a thing as a belette, or is it a neologism that gives the whole song a reason for being? [...] Recommended.

Oh, dear, dear, dear. Could I have made myself look more stupid?

A French national on the BRML, who is naturally into punk rock and evidently deathmetal, too, later bitched me out:

And, Joe, about the French band Manau... I can’t stand them! That’s music for kids or for “mediocre minds”; there’s no creati[vity] and I still don’t understand why you saw them on TV when there are many great French [songwriters] and musicians. The lyrics of the song are not even theirs, that’s a traditional song with hiphop on it! A «belette» is a weasel. The song says “I hear the wolf, the fox and the weasel; I hear the wolf, the fox and the weasel singing... But who is the weasel?”

Me, implicitly.

I know how I erred in my original posting: Making a big deal out of a little. Like what the crypto-fags at the Big Steel in Moncton did 20 years ago, when one of ’em left a note, handwritten in a very expressive, outspoken, filigreed swash, attached to the new Steely Dan LP, Gaucho. You gotta listen to it! Because it’s so damn cool! And we’re so excruciatingly fashionable, and, by definition, superficial, that we’ll endorse anything with a patina of cool. (Though don’t ask me who thought “Hey[,] Nineteen” was actually cool.) Next time, I’ll be more careful. Do my research. Hear the album. Besides, I’ve seen «La tribu de Dana» and it was – how you say, in English? – a dud.

And Guy Gagnier, the former Volt journalist, an adorable, tall, vaguely surly, and radiantly sexy homosexualist, wrote in to explain just what a belette was. What, and the weasel doesn’t get a kiss?

So let’s recap.

  1. Saw Manau.
  2. Loved Manau.
  3. Blogged Manau.
  4. Explored Manau.
  5. Was bitch-slapped about Manau.
  6. Ate crow about Manau.

The French Ambition Tour

Months pass. Attenuated, barren, nerve-wracking months, leavened significantly by the weeknightly ritual of watching, taping, and annotating Volt.

We see further Manau music videos four times. Manau, and being set straight about Manau, become something of a running joke in the ongoing monologue known as the Maudit anglophone Fan Page.

And you remember how I slagged off «La tribu de Dana» as a dud? I later wrote:

«La tribu de Dana» de Manau. Yes, them. Do I have to give the link again? Poor production kills this one: Vocals during the romantic “Celtic” chorus are unintelligible. I have a hard time giving up my crush on this band. And I do not refer to looks.

The other day, Volt reran it. I actually listened to the damn thing for the first time. It’s not enough that Manau are (a) French, (b) Parisian-Celtic, and (c) rappers deploying (d) fiddles, bagpipes, and flutes. The lads – with the delightful echt-French names of Martial, Cédric, and Hervé – redeem their recapitualting an old folk tale in the other single by spinning an historical epic here.

Twenty-year-old kids taking on the task of recounting an ancient battle. How ambitious. It’s as tall an order, in diachronic terms, as going to war itself. It rhymes, it scans, it uses le mot juste even if such a mot is an archaism. In fact, the song, in the Queen’s original French, is stunning. I certainly could not suggest finding an audio file online. However:

Strangely, they’ve got big fans in Holland, since you can read entire lyric translations in Dutch. (Links to German-language variants go nowhere.) So, at the risk of being on the hook to translate every Manau tune into English, here’s a translation of “The Clan of Dana” (really, “The Dana Clan”). It doesn’t attempt to match the rhymes and rhythms; the frame of reference is an elderly dad writing down the family history for posterity.

The wind blew across the plains of Armorica
and I cast a glance toward my wife, my son, my land.
Akim, the blacksmith’s son, came to collect me:
The druids have brought war to the valley,
where our forebears, great Celtic warriors all,
prevailed through so many great battles.
But now it was time to defend our land
against an army of Simerians hungry to cross swords.

The whole clan came together near the great monoliths
to beseech a blessing from the gods.
My brothers and I prayed, and, with my heart still calm,
the chiefs had us drink of mead
to give us courage and keep us steady on course
to stand great and proud in battle.
I set off for combat for the very first time,
and I hope I can be worthy of the Clan of Dana.

Refrain – In the Valley of Dana, the echoes rang around me.
In the Valley of Dana, with battle cries amid the tombs.

After casting magic spells,
the whole of the clan, swords in hand, ran toward the adversary.
The battle was terrible and all I saw were shadows
cutting across the enemy, fighting in wave after wave.
One after another, before my very eyes,
my brothers fell under the weight of the barbarians’ blades –
the spears, the axes, the swords – in this Garden of Eden
whose verdant fields now ran with blood.

In days of woe like these,
where men test the limits of evil and hatred,
should we carry out a battle already lost?
Such was the pride of all the clan
that the battle raged on, ferociously, even eagerly,
unto the setting sun.
It fell to us to defend this land where our forebears lay to rest
and uphold the ways and laws of the Clan of Dana.

At valley’s edge we heard a trumpet blare
as the enemy chief recalled his troops.
Did they understand that we would fight in hell if need be?
And that this land belonged to us, the Clan of Dana?
The warriors retreated, and I stood confused
by what had happened to bring us to this place.

As I looked around me, I found myself the last man standing in our clan.
The sword fell from my grip and my face ran with tears.
I’ve never understood why the gods should have spared me
from this black day in our history I recollect for you now.
The wind still blows across the plains of Armorica,
and I am back with my wife, my son, my land.
I rebuilt it all with these very hands
to stand as I am now, lord of the Clan of Dana.

So who are these kids?

The video is still terrible, with slomo insets of actors in chainmail and an unconvinced Manau lip-synching unconvincingly (the intensity of the voice is not matched by the intensity of the body language or the throat and mouth movements). The mise-en-scène, supposedly set inside a cave, does at least light the trio strongly from above, making them look fairer and smarter and more intense than they actually are. (Except for Martial. More on him shortly.)

The best part? Ærial shots of the lads atop a real castle, presumably in Brittany – marred, alas, by further lip-synching.

All that didn’t dissuade me from playing it nonstop the other day.

Frankly, I think Martial is the brains of the operation. (And anyway, Hervé quit.) Two albums: Panique celtique, 1998 (two million sold), and Fest noz de Paname, 2000 (just how do you pronounce that?). Quite possibly the kids are receiving bad advice and/or are getting shafted by Universal. Their Web presence is certainly poor:

(Manau.net and Manaufficiel.com are now defunct.)

The name Manau, ostensibly derived from an ancient variant of Man, as in Isle of Man, has a certain magic packed into two short syllables. The amalgam of flutes and bagpipes and fiddles, and rap, and French, shows just how resilient the hiphop format really is. (Rap works better in French anyway.)

But, in a post–Laura Ashley MacIsaac mediascape, Celtic music has been done to death, turning it into something as safe for soft suburban moms as Crowded House. And «La tribu de Dana» may rank in history alongside the other novelty single, unrelated to anything else the artiste ever wrote, consisting of three minutes of historical declamations: “Camouflage” by Stan Ridgway. And all too many Christian pop hits retell tales of ancient days. God help us all.

Updated 2006.01.03

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