The musicians who are preserving France’s Occitan language claim that “our government views it as cute but unimportant.”

It was attempted to be eradicated in post-revolutionary France, but working-class communities continued to use it. Gianluca Tramontana Wed, July 5, 2023, 12.00 BST 19 It’s May Day in Marseille, and in addition to the celebrations and ongoing protests against President Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age, a smaller but just as powerful group is standing up for marginalized voices. Now Occitan powers vivacious and political music in Europe. The annual street party La Sardinade des Feignants, also known as the Lazy Man’s Sardinade, is in its 30th year and is put on by the 40-year-old raggamuffin reggae and dub collective Massilia Sound System. As cooks grill sardines, the regional staple that gives the celebration its name, off to the side, the band toasts the ecstatic crowd in the scorching sun.

Massilia likewise sings in Occitan, Also known as langue d’Oc, and advances the protection and liveliness of this language and its tongues. The romance language is spoken across the Pays d’Oc in southern France, into the Pyrenees, and into northern Italy. It sounds like a mix of Catalan and Italian with barely a hint of a French accent. “The government still sees regional cultures that are not the language of the court of Versailles as exotic, folkloric, bizarre—cute but unimportant,” however, states Massilia’s Tatou, AKA Moussu T (Mr. T in Occitan).

The government imposed a clear interpretation of French identity that did not include regional languages and cultures as the 1789 French Revolution established the first French republic. Henri Grégoire, a Catholic priest, was tasked by the revolutionaries with learning regional languages; His 1794 report on how to “universalize the use of the French language” and “annihilate the patois” became the foundation for laws banning any language other than French from being used in public, taught, or even spoken in schools. Regional languages like Occitan were viewed as anti-progress by the middle and upper classes as Parisian French became the symbol of liberation, unity, and progress.

These dialects kept on being spoken in common areas, manufacturing plants, on the docks, and in the wide open past Paris, and during the 1960s, “when the US and England were rediscovering their customary musics like blues and society, French craftsmen, performers, and journalists did likewise,” says Benjamin Least, a lyricist and previous music manager of worldwide music magazine Mondomix.


Through the 1970s, records were released in Occitan by Jan dau Melhau in Limousin and Claude Marti in Carcassonne. Mont-Jia was a Provence quartet that played lute, mandolin, dulcimer, and regional instruments like the galoubet recorder, tambourin drum, and zither string tambourine.

The Fabulous Trobadors from Toulouse, who sang in Occitan to Brazilian and hip-hop rhythms, and the Massilia Sound System, who took their name from the original Occitan word for Marseille, formed a second wave in the early 1980s. As far as they might be concerned, the motivation to sing in langue d’Oc came from further abroad: Tatou describes hearing “the Jamaicans singing in their patois and owning their heritage.” We decided that our own French-Occitan patois could be used in singing. The chorus of the title track of Massilia’s 1992 debut album, Parla Patois, which is sung in Occitan, makes the band’s mission statement crystal clear: He communicates in a language that Babylon will not comprehend/Talk patois, begin and don’t stop.”

A youthful metropolitan following began to grab hold in lined up with the response against the counter migrant party Front Public; Parla Patois’ message of solidarity through-toasting reverberated with the people who saw an association between the underestimation of minorities and provincial societies the same way English troublemakers during the 70s felt associated with reggae. ” According to Occitan-speaking singer Manu Théron, whose band Lo Cr de la Plana has been performing in Europe and the United States since the 1990s, “les arabes à la mer—send Arabs to the sea” was written on graffiti in Marseille in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, Arabs were subjected to ratonnades—racist attacks similar to lynchings in the United States—all over the city. It had a lot of violence.

This sparked the March for Equality and Against Racism, which began in Marseille in 1983 and spread across France for two months. Tatou, who performed with Massilia Sound System at numerous anti-fascist demonstrations, asserts that “the fight against centralism has always gone hand in hand with the fight against racism.” The Massilia Chorma, a group of their fans, also staged demonstrations in areas where the Front National was gaining ground. They used the same line from the Occitan philosopher Felix Castan that inspired Massilia Sound System: We are not the result of soil, but rather of our actions toward it.

Gacha Empega, Théron’s band at the time, performed at a number of anti-fascist demonstrations, including the Front National’s Bruno Mégret 1995 mayoral campaign for Vitrolles outside of Marseille and demonstrations against the fascist militants’ murder of rapper Ibrahim Ali in 1995.

Another performer at anti-fascist demonstrations was Théron. Playing piano and singing Delta blues, classic Neapolitan and French songs, he had previously traveled throughout Europe and Algeria. Because he was dissatisfied with his nation’s attitude toward its regional cultures, he began writing Occitan poetry and studying ancient texts while teaching French in Bulgaria. In the northeast, you have German culture, in the north, Flemish culture, Celtic culture in Brittany and Occitan culture in the south, Basque culture in the west, and Italian culture on Corsica, “he says. The public authority attempted to drop” these societies, he says, since they were “not piece of the purported ‘French personality’.”

After he teaches a class on polyphonic singing at the Occitan cultural center in our neighborhood, Ostau dau Pas Marselhés, we meet. Until Théron founded the polyphonic singing trio Gacha Empega upon his return to Marseille in the middle of the 1990s, Occitan music was monophonic (singing with one voice) or purely instrumental. I needed to feature the actual language and the words, which the original had neglected to do.”

Today, music in the langue d’Oc is encountering a comparable restoration to any semblance of Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco as youngsters recover their social legacy. Limoges hallucinogenic stone threesome Brama shaped in 2019 and sang in Occitan to drums, guitar, and electric hurdy gurdy; When Barcelona musician Raül Refree, a collaborator of Rosala and Lee Ranaldo, produced the Toulouse polyphonic singing duo Cocanha’s album Puput in 2020, the group caused a stir.

In 2019, the duo Butor Stellaris formed in Arles, Provence. They play old digital technology like Gameboys and touch-tone phones with traditional Occitan instruments like guitarróns and hand drums. The band was founded by Henri Maquet and his partner, Emmanuelle Aymés, an ethnomusicologist who has been involved in the indigenous music movement for more than a decade.

“The well-known Occitan poet Frédéric Mistral once said, The one who holds the tongue holds the key, or cotin, la lengo, tin, and la clos. Language reveals popular knowledge that is concealed in songs, texts, and individual expression. It opens up a whole new way of thinking about the country’s culture. You can communicate things that you can’t communicate in French.”

The stigma associated with France’s regional languages has diminished in recent years. At the end of the 1970s, regional languages started to be taught in schools. Occitan is taught in university courses. La Seria, a meta-comedy drama about one man’s attempt to get an Occitan series off the ground, was released in April by France Télévisions, the state-owned national public television broadcaster. In contrast to much of classical French culture, government grants for projects in langue d’Oc are hard-won, meaning that the majority of them are self-funded, and France continues to refuse to ratify the 1992 European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which is a convention for the protection and promotion of languages used by traditional minorities. Maquet asserts, “We are directed to a marginal department with a much smaller budget.” Therefore, we are completely DIY—fai lou tièu. We must constantly fight to preserve this’s value.

Back at the Sardinade des Feignants, Massilia Sound System shared the microphones with a rotating group of friends to conclude the street party. Flares are lit as individuals chime in and cheer while the cooks start cleaning the barbecues. The merry climate infers a remark Tatou made before. ” He states, “I don’t like to say we defend Occitan culture because it implies closing ranks and excluding other cultures.” Our central goal is to advance it and make it for everybody.”


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