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A ‘French Agit Disco’, an annotated list of songs made by son and mother, Francis Haselden and Sharon Kivland, was offered for an ambitious Agit Disco benefit for London’s Housemans radical bookshop in April 2014, in response to the wider Agit Disco project. Agit Disco is an archive project. It refers to the ‘domestic’ record collections both in physical form in our houses and flats and in our memories. The process of selection is a critical process of second distillation. The first process occurs as particular records, CDs, and MP3s are bought or otherwise obtained from the mass of commercial commodities that reflects systemic interests or constructs a panoply of material which is not conducive to challenging these interests or thinking critically about them. Selectors produce their Agit Disco playlist. Intellectual processes of review, comparison, and evaluation bring into focus the themes and effects of this heritage of listening. Then a collaborative and communicative process happens. The playlist is produced as a real object, a ‘mix-tape’ that can be given, sent, heard by others, or imagined, finding its place in archives to be heard again when the right moment arises, perhaps with others, at a real disco, a party, an after-dinner session. The process generates proposals and statements, and it is important the tracks are liberated from systemic worlds of commodity and become part of another gift economy.

The French Agit Disco song titles and commentary were printed in a slipcase booklet that formed the cover of a plastic CD case containing an audio CD of the playlist. The first nine songs are organised into groups under the following genre sub-headings printed in red: Chansons (from 1957 and 1965), ‘Ye-Ye’ (from 1966 and 1967) and ‘a few chansons from May 68. These are then followed by two songs from 1979 and 1980, and then a final three from 2001, 2008, and 2011.The audio CD that accompanied the booklet was presented as a keynote to that event.

I assumed that these songs would be known by most people in the French Left who lived through that period. However, the changing styles also speak eloquently and concisely of the changes in French society and consciousness from the late Fifties to 2011. The playlist starts with the influential Leo Ferré, who sung on the first night of the barricades on the 10th May ’68 at a benefit for the French Anarchist Federation. Here he is singing his prescient L’invitation au voyage, issued in 1957.

The list ends thirteen songs later with Alex Beaupain’s 2011 Au Départ, ‘a song that traces a parallel between the history for the left in France and a couple in love.’  Beaupain is influential as singer of his own songs and as a composer of film scores. With the French National Front having recently gained control of twelve municipalities we can only hope that the younger generation in France can once again fall in love with a socialist project of their own creation and not become wedded to fascism.

French Agit Disco

The playlist from Sharon Kivland & Francis Haselden

 Chansons

1. Leo Ferré, L’invitation au voyage, 1957. One of the greatest protest singers ever, for love and revolution are never far apart, as the cause of the événements of May 68 show, founded on desire. While his setting of Baudelaire’s poem is not a dance tune, we thought about the invitation it offers, a departure. On 10 May 1968, the first night of the barricades, Ferré performed at the benefit for the French Anarchists Federation.

2. Jean Ferrat, Potemkine, 1965. The eponymous album, celebrating the naval revolt of 1905, was banned from French radio and television. Ferrat’s work is typical of chansons engagés, and we love how stirring it is, invoking the past in the present, the resonance of history.

 Yé-yé

3. Jacques Dutronc, La fille de Père Noël, 1966. We chose this because we love Dutronc so much; although it is yé-yé, it is satirical and it rocks. The son of Père Fouettard, the man with the whip who accompanies Father Christmas, punishing the naughty children (the children of 68?), loves the daughter of Father Christmas. Everyone in France knows the words … and they rock. The first time we heard it was on the car radio and we had to stop the car so we could dance to the music.

4. Nino Ferrer, Ho! Hé! Hein! Bon!, 1966. Like Dutronc, under the guise of popular music, Ferrer’s songs are satirical, commenting on petit-bourgeois preoccupations, and often nonsensical, like those of Henri Salvador. The satire was often lost due to his success, which he said disgusted him. In the song he loses everything, but in the end, BOFF. He committed suicide in 1988, in a wheat field, shooting himself through the heart, following the death of his mother.

5. Anna Karina, Roller Girl, 1967. More yé-yé, no satire (we think), but she GROWLS and she is a goddess. And we will think of her in Jean-Luc Godard’s films, as she sings, from Le Petit Soldat to The Oldest Profession, as well as the films she directed herself.

 A few chansons from May 68

6. Les Barracadiers: The song of the CMDO, of the barricades, that insists the Commune is not dead, with words by Alice Becker-Ho, and sung to the music of an old song, Our Soldiers of La Rochelle. It asks what you want: and the answer in the refrain is that we want canons, by the hundred, guns, by the thousand, and we want the old world to be swept away,

7. Dominique Grange, A bas l’état policier. Down with the police state. Grange’s active participation in the événements, including her role in the Comité révolutionaire d’action culturelle formed at the Sorbonne to organise performances in the striking factories by engaged musicians, led her to an engagement in perpetuity, including a prison sentence for her activism.

8. Evariste, La Révolution. The struggle explained in a surreal dialogue between father and son by a singer who is also a professor of particle physics.

9. Claude Nougaro, Paris mai. Nougaro is from an older generation of chanteurs populaires, and usually he is cosier than this, a cabaret singer in the style of Georges Brassens. The song was banned from the airwaves. It asks for a new world.

10. Serge Gainsbourg, Aux armes, et caetera, 1979. Gainsbourg first performed his reggae version of La Marseillaise, on 1 April on French television, and it was seen as an insult to the French Republic. Blimey, a Jew with Jamaican musicians playing the national anthem, and worse still (for some critics), eliminating half the chorus, the military bit: ‘aux armes, etc.’ When Gainsbourg is good, he’s good.

11. Renaud, Ou c’est qui j’ai mis mon flingue, 1980. Typical of Renaud’s earlier work, with its social and political themes, his loathing of the petit-bourgeois and the right wing, talking a stance of disaffected working-class youth, and always with anger. He wants his songs to be caresses, say the words, or better still, a punch in the face to whoever annoys him, who he wants to shake from their armchairs: Les pousse-mégots et les nez-d’bœux/Les ringards, les folkeux, les journaleux. Difficult to translate …

12. Manu Chao and Noir Désir, Le vent nous portera, 2001. We chose this because it has Noir Désir and Manu Chao (on guitar) together, and because we used to play it loud in the kitchen, singing at the top of our voices that we were not afraid, that the wind would take us away, would take everything away, the scent of dead years, our open wounds, those who knock on our doors, and yes, isn’t that what we want?

13. Grand corps malade, L’enfant de la ville, 2008. Not for dancing but for listening, a voice of the banlieue from the damaged slam-poet, who feels the heart of the city beating in his chest, who hears the sirens in the distance, who loves the sound of the street and the smell of petrol.

14. Alex Beaupain, Au depart, 2011. A song that traces a parallel between the history of the left in France and a couple in love. We started in 1957 with Ferré’s invitation to a voyage and we end with Beaupain’s song of departure. When we moved to France, when Francis was seven, the Front National did very well in the first round of elections. Francis was scared, unable to sleep the night before the second round. Some people tactically voted for the UMP to keep the FN out, while others could not bring themselves to do so. In March 2014 the FN took control of twelve municipalities, gaining 1200 seats. Beaupain sings that it is always the month of May, from departure to departure, the letter to all French people.

C’est toujours le mois de mai
Au départ au départ
La lettre à tous les français

voitures

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