(Text in greek)

From Piaf to Zaz.

For French music the most significant musical expression form is chanson. Although the literal translation is “song”, for French people it means something much more. With roots in the German lieder of Schubert, chanson has been used by the French since the middle Ages onwards uninterruptedly so far as it constitutes an unmatched morpheme of musical expressiveness and lyrical diversity. In the 20th century chanson is being developed every few years, prone to mental changes and artistic pursuits of French society. Francis Poulenc with Jacques Prevert and Jean Cocteau compose chanson conservatrices (preservative songs) while later it returns to its more normal version, which touches themes related to the sea, mountains and landscapes. The requirement of these times is the chanson litteraire (literature song). Despite the small or large variations, chanson is seamlessly the vehicle for cultural and linguistic expression of an entire nation, and the shield that rejects all unwanted outside influence or attack.
The dramatic period of the Second World War and the defeat of the French by Nazi Germany sparked significant economic and social changes, but also marked the spiritual rebirth, directly affecting the French chanson in a new edge during the postwar period. This period is marked by the great lady of French song, the unique Edith Piaf. Her memorable performances in music halls of the time, ABC and Olympia, and her unique expressiveness revealed her as a mythical personality, despite her small size - just 1.47m- which was the reason for her artistic surname, Piaf, that means “little sparrow” in French slang. The little “sparrow” carries on her back a difficult childhood and a long-suffering past, including two years of blindness and the loss of her two-year-old daughter from meningitis, which strongly color her voice when she sings for deprivation, despair, misery, and unfortunate love. During the French resistance in World War II, her songs became a kind of national anthem, as for example the song Mon Legionnaire, despite suspicions - preserved until today - that Piaf collaborated with the Germans. But her most emblematic song is arguably the - written by her in 1947 - La vie en rose, with which she starts touring in America, which she won though with difficulty. Besides, she was a Frenchwoman who sang with only weapon her voice and the beautiful lyrics of the songs and without unnecessary accessories, always wearing a black dress and her cross. With the same difficulty she also won Greece, as evidenced in her autobiography. During a tour she met Dimitris Horn, she fell greatly in love with him and in her love letters she confessed: “I would give up everything for you”, while she urged him to visit her in Paris. This love might was unsuccessful, but her last husband was a Greek, a hairdresser of 20 years younger, named Theophanis Laboukas, whom she renamed to Theo Sarapo and transformed into a worthy singer singing beside her on the stage of the famous Olympia. The same tactic was followed also with many other singers she believed in or whom she loved like Yves Montand, Eddie Constantine, Gilbert Becaud, George Moustaki and Charles Aznavour, among others. Her death from cancer, but also from abuse and multiple car crashes that seriously affected her vulnerable health, in 1963, at the age of 47, made France mourn...they had just lost the voice of their homeland.
Since 1945 in Rive Gauche (left bank) of Seine, which for years is the center of intellectual and artistic life of Paris, after the years of deprivation from the war, youngsters enjoy the freedom of their views, they seek spiritual regeneration, but they live for the joy of entertainment. In Saint-Germain-des-Pres there are libraries, publishing houses, galleries and cafes, such as the famous Cafe de Flore and Cafe des deux Magots, the “caves” -relative boîtes-, Les Trois Baudets of the famous Jacques Canetti, and of course the cabarets, La Rose Rouge, the mythical Tabou, La Colombe. There they host bands of mimes-comedians-singers like the famous Freres Jacque and Quatre Barbus, who give a different interpretation of the French songs of the time, more tactile and tangible, while new singers adopt a different tone. It is the new chanson Rive Gauche and marks the golden age of the genre.
The spiritual vortex of Saint-Germain-des Pres is inconceivable. Political searches, philosophical movements, artistic currents from Marxism and existentialism up to Surrealism and Dadaism, bargain also the poets, those spiritual bellwethers who get inspired by the cultural orgasm and create poems in order to surrender them to music and soon to chanson litteraire (literature song), this is a basic component of the nights at Rive Gauche. Leaders in this stream are Jacques Prevert, Jean Paul Sartre, Francois Mauriac and later Francoise Sagan.
Only one woman embodies perfectly this time, and is none other than Juliette Greco. She becomes the “Queen of Saint-Germain” and the muse of many poets, but especially of the existentialist Jean Paul Sarte, who says about her: “Greco has millions of diamonds at her throat. Millions of poems that are not yet written, but they will be written. People create projects for various actors, why wouldn’t anyone write poems for such a voice?” With Les Feuilles mortes by Jacques Prevert she has a huge success in the cabarets of Saint Germain, although it was first sang by Yves Montand, while Je hais les dimanches by Charles Aznavour captures the scene of the music halls. There the ultimate ambassador of chanson Rive Gauche perfects her performances and disseminates chansons from the elite to the general public. The short romance with the American jazz player Miles Davis marks her for a lifetime and since then the always politicized Greco also struggles against racism.
Simultaneously Gilbert Becaud and Yves Montand climb the stage of the music halls. It is no coincidence that they both have been formed by Edith Piaf. Having worked as a pianist for her first husband, Jacques Pills, her manager, at last he became a vocalist and got promoted by Piaf. And that was not unfair. With the nickname “Mr. 100,000 Volts” he gave very energetic performances and fascinated the public, especially with the success of Nathalie and beyond. With his distinctive polka dot tie, he managed to sing 33 times in Olympia, a record that no one else holds. The youngest Yves Montand on the other hand, sings Les feuilles mortes and manages to seduce 2,000 people every night with diverse interpretations, switching from comedy to poetry, from sadness to excitement, from the excessive romanticism to envy.
In pre-war France, where the composition, the lyrics and the song are roles for three different people, Charles Trenet first sings songs based on his own material while playing with the traditional form of chanson, creating the way for a songwriters’ generation thereafter, the auteurs-compositeurs-interpretes (authors-composers-performers). Inspired by the older generation, such as Maurice Chevalier, Trenet manages to modernize French songs, introducing realistic and poetic lyrics, and adopting elements of swing and jazz which then were culminated thanks to Quintette du Hot Club and Big Bands. It is no coincidence that Trenet wrote one of the most typical French songs of all time, La mer, including 900 songs of his repertoire and his death in 2001 triggered the re-compilation of the French chanson and the revised “old guard” of French music.
With Trenet as a leader, a new kind of artists that serve chanson Rive Gauche is formed, the auteurs-compositeurs-interpretes or ACI, who drastically renew chanson and expand their content. It is erotic, humorous, revolutionary, pacifist and even offensive. Main representatives are the most representative male voices of the era, initially Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, Leo Ferre, while at the end of the decade the emerging Charles Aznavour and Jean Ferrat. All form a different personal style.
Georges Brassens undoubtedly represents chanson d 'auteur (author’s song), a genre in which the lyrics are more important than the music. Besides, Brassens was led to music through the poems and verses, through deep knowledge of metric that he made and wanted to compose at some point. It's his unique feature that he manages to tell stories in infamous places, with prostitutes and thieves, yet the audience feels that comes into contact with the higher poetry form. Extremely rebellious and foul-mouthed, playing with words, idioms, slang and their symbolism, which is why his songs lose their subcutaneous meanings when translated. Nevertheless, we find some adapted by Greek artists, Christos Thiveos (the gorilla), Phoebus Delivorias (Patokos’ wife) and Theodoros Anastasiou (The assholes, my bad reputation, the will).
Tied with a strong friendship that lasted until the end of their life, but also with common liberal beliefs, Brassens and Jacques Brel were in fact very different. “Grand Jacques” (“Big Jacques”), as French people called him, although he was a monumental figure for the French song today, he was born in Belgium. Success did not come easily or quickly, but after many months of singing in 6-7 cabarets in one night and after some good advice for the placement of his voice by the owner of Les Trois Baudets, he is soon at the beginning of a great career. With the form of classic chanson as a vehicle, Brel uses sad verses dressed with joyful melodies, sometimes based on dance rhythms of French and Flemish dances and becomes the voice of the betrayed or lost love. Ne me quitte pas...
Leo Ferre, on the other hand, manages to take chanson one step further from where Trenet left it. He borrows elements from diverse musical genres, such as rock, jazz, classical and Latin American music, juggling with his experimentation to the limits of the form and structure of chanson. In an effort to maintain a high lyrical level, he composes Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud and Aragon. Ferre was extremely unconventional, satirized, complained and accused through his songs, and scandalized public opinion by openly anti-national attitude, claiming the withdrawal of French troops in the Algerian war of 1961 and the end of colonialism of France.
Beyond Aznavour with the unsurpassed Mon vieux and Ferrat, also new talents become successful, but do not write their own material. The beautiful Dalida, Alain Barriere, Anne Sylvestre, Barbara, Michel Aubert, Pierre Vassiliu, Boris Vian, and Francis Lemarque.
At the same time the cinema takes revolutionary tactics and becomes a means of expression of social movements and political positions. With main exponents Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godart, enters into the era of Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) and chanson Rive Gauche musically dresses the cinematic scenes. Often chansoniers sing and interpret a role in the film, switching more and more easily between these two properties, such as Yves Montand and Eddie Constantine.
The bad boy, as they use to call him, of the French music scene was none other than Serge Gainsbourg, a musician that changed genres with extreme ease and so it is difficult for his repertoire to be categorized. With Russian-Jewish origin and a musician father, he learned piano from an early age and soon he composed and played his own songs. Entering the world of show business he changed his real name Lucien to Serge in order to be considered as a “tough guy”, although his stress on stage betrays his innate introversion. His career takes off when Juliette Greco sang with him in La Javanaise, while he writes his first love song to Brigitte Bardot, with whom he has a short romance, but her husband prohibits its release. He sings it a little later with the woman who marked him, the Englishwoman Jane Birkin. “Je t’ non plus”, with the indecent lyrics on a musical carpet by groans, is a bomb to establishment. It scandalizes throughout Europe and is banned in England, while, susceptible to challenge, he recorded a few years later the national anthem of France, the Marseillaise, in a rhythmic cover with Jamaican musicians. He entitles it “Aux armes et caetera” and triggers a new wave of reactions. Nevertheless, on the day he takes his last breath in Paris in 1991, flags fly at half mast.
Beyond songwriters, those who played a dramatic role in the development of French music, especially from the 60s onwards, were the key holders of the cultural agenda and show business at the time. Among them is Jacques Canetti, producer of the record company Philips and extremely effective hunter of new talents, like Greco, Brassens and Brel-, the owner of the famous music hall that still exists in the boulevard de Capucines, Olympia, Bruno Coquatrix, and finally the owners of small record companies that will be able to attract new talents. Eddie Barclay, owner and director of the record company Disques Barclay, and Leon Cabat, owner of the small Vogue.
The passage in the 60s marks the decline of chanson Rive Gauche, at the same time that the French economy grows unexpectedly, with immediate effect to culture, but also in the country's cultural life. The youth at last has money, that in the cultural fever of Paris, they spend them for concert tickets, but mainly for discs. Within the decade 150 billion discs go out, companies record and release discs incessantly, new names become popular, a new sound is formed, while French people open their ears to the music of other countries. This time belongs to young people and arts, which meet a new zenith and stigmatize not only the young but also the older generation. Soon Paris is the center of the world.
In response to the advent of the American rock ‘n’ roll and the British Beatles, a new movement and genre is formed, called chanson yeye, paraphrasing the English “yeah-yeah”. Chanson yeye addresses to the youth, but its rival awe, chanson contemporaine still exists. The first has innocent, even naive subjects, and describes sweet romances, broken hearts and robust friendships, while the second uses complex vocabulary, tells stories and sometimes is based on poems. Yeye people appear on television and radio microphones and amplifiers, while chansonniers exclusively at musical theaters, cabarets and music halls with acoustic instruments. The yeye movement includes mostly women, like the queen of twist, Sylvie Vartan, the innocent Francoise Hardy with Tous les garcons et les filles and Sheila with the characteristic L 'ecole est finie. Some of them are teenagers, still schoolgirls like Jacqueline Taieb, who starts her career at 16 years, and France Gall who at the age of 17 won the first prize in Eurovision 1965 with Poupee de cire, poupe de son by Gainsbourg. The latter calls her “French Lolita”. On the other side there are the Greek Georges Moustaki with the -sung by Edith Piaf- Milord, the different Brigitte Fontaine, Christophe of Aline.
On the state radio, the show “Salut les copains” of Daniel Filipacchi, a highly musically informed man, promotes yeye music and has such a resonance that soon they issue a namesake magazine. It becomes equally popular and its runs will reach in a few months the 1,000,000 copies. At the same time, with radio, discs, television, magazines and show business, the musicians become part of the show business, a game whose terms they are required to learn. Yeye people adapt easily and soon become popular, and men like the romantic Michel Polnareff, Jacque Dutronc of j 'aime les filles, Claude Francois - French people call him Cloclo- and Serge Gainsbourg with a part of his songs.
Yeye people were accused by the older generation that lacked creativity. With their subjects, which were not literary merit, they believed that they promote the intellectual inertia of youth and simultaneously lead to the oblivion of the cultural heritage of the nation, and that is why among chansioniers there are many of their opponents. Although with the increasing influence of television the gap separating them shrinks and separations stop. However, yeye people also have to waive the rockers who mock them for their self-indulgence.
First to introduce to the French public the American rock ‘n’ roll was Johnny Hallyday, who will continue to leave his mark on the French rock music also the coming decades, while becoming so popular that soon they will call him “Elvis of France”. In the rock scene of the time, Gene Vincent shows up, EddieMitchell with his band “Les Chaussettes Noires” and the jazz musician Henri Salvador, with the nickname Henry Cording, in songs of Boriw Vian and Michel Legrand. In 1966 the Rock & Folk magazine was found, initially as a supplement of the Jazz magazine, but soon it becomes independent and comes with a faithful audience that trusts it up to date.
The political circumstances have marked this decade. With the Vietnamese War, the Cold War and with Europe suffering from dictatorships, Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal, Papadopoulos and Patakis in Greece in 1967. In this tense climate and against a tough government, the politicized and liberal poets of Sorbonne revolt. It is May 1968. The protests of students and their clashes with police have philosophical implications, and that is why Jean Paul Sartre runs to Cartier Latin to talk with young people, and many leaders of the intellectual and artistic life of Paris show their support. Students stand against the absolutism of Charles de Gaul, but look for channels of expression and communication, such as political writing, philosophical thinking and thoughtful lyrics. Musically they express themselves with singers of the previous generation, Yves Montand, Gilbert Becaud, Charles Trenet and of course L 'Internationale, the Communist anthem. From here onwards the fashion of yeye does not have the same resonance. In response to the events Charles Trenet writes “C'est extra” and our “own” Vangelis, who is in Paris during the events, releases a symphonic poem entitled “Fais que ton reve soit plus long que la nuit” (Make your dream bigger than the night), while all auteurs-compositeurs-interpretes differentiate verses in response to the requirements of the time.
At the same time in Greece the dictatorship brings dramatic changes, among others, in cultural life. Censorship is intense and any attempt to create a cultural object with messages against the colonels is only possible with symbolism. Mikis Theodorakis, Melina Mercouri, Maria Farantouri, Giannis Tsarouhis, Vassilis Vassilikos, Nikos Koundouros, Yannis Xenakis, Chris Sartzetakis, among others, are self-exiled and manage to raise their revolutionary voice in Paris. A companion in this fight, Costas Gavras, directes the famous “Z” -from the slogan in favor of Gregory Lambrakis “He lives” (“zi” in greek) - starring Yves Montand. The film is awarded at Cannes, but also at the American Oscars. The music of Theodorakis is sung by Greek and French people and Paris is formed in a reaction defender against the regime out of Greece.
In the 1970s, the auteurs-compositeurs-interpretes and rockers continue their actions, but not the singers of chanson yeye. The fashion has passed. Instead born there is born the chanson populaire or chanson de pop (popular song) considered by the French as a kind of light music, talking about love and life. This kind is entirely subject to the music recording regulations and mass production, reaching out to the masses. Thus, the concepts and vocabulary used must be simplified, the tunes easy to listen to, while the structure follows the standard switch between verse and chorus. And the duration of each song cannot exceed 3 minutes, so to be able to record with discs of 78 or 45 rpm. The artists of the chanson de pop are extremely communicative and friendly with the new media, especially television. These include many of the chanson yeye who have changed their type, like Michel Polnareff, who dramatically changes appearance and sings the English “Love me please love me”, Salvatore Adamo with his ballads, Dalida, the only one that makes an international career, Mireille Mathieu who sings in 11 languages and Michelle Torr with “Emmene-moi danser ce soir” reaching the 3 million sales.
The variete music encapsulates different elements and we find various musicians who renew their style. Henri Salvador stops experimenting with his rock music and returns to his old love, jazz, but making music more accessible. Also his friend Sacha Distel has a jazz past, who creates and sings the famous Monsieur Cannibal, while Capri c 'est fini gives popularity to Herve Vilar and sells 40 million records. Antoine, a peculiar hippy from Madagascar knows terrible success with Les Elucubrations, but soon gives up everything to travel the world. Francoise Hardy and Serge Gainsbourg cooperate during this decade with musicians from Latin America and the Caribbean, the first one bring bossa nova elements in La chanson d 'O and the second one creates its own rhythmic version of Marseillaise in 1979. Brigitte Fontaine continues to assimilate Arab influences.
During that decade, new artists revamped French chanson, which by the end of this decade was incorporated in pop. Michel Sardou belongs to the generation of auteurs-compositeurs-interpretes and in this decade he is one of the most popular singers in the country. With 120 million albums to his credit, he is even more loved with the song La France, in which he essentially blames President Valerie Giscard d 'Estaing and the Chirac government. Unions and communist organizations praise him, forgetting his right-wing past. In 1975 Joe Dassin records L 'ete indien which becomes his biggest success, and a few years after he gives a full concert at Panathenaic Stadium. Francis Cabrel, Alain Souchon and Jacques Higelin move in the same spirit.
French rock develops slowly compared to other kinds, since many are skeptics about it. Apart from Johnny Hallyday and Gene Vincent, who continue dynamically, in 1976 the Telephone are created, one of the first French rock bands and one of the few who were able to make tours beyond the narrow confines of their homeland. Following the trends of American and psychedelic rock Jean Pierre Massiera's records the radical Les Maledictus Sound and the Greek band Aphrodite's Child, which includes Vangelis Papathanasiou and Demis Roussos, releases one of the disks with the greatest impact in their area, 666. Alan Stivell combines the traditional elements of Britain and Celts in an original combination of folk-rock, moving in the boundaries of progressive rock.
With the fall of the dictatorship in 1974 Greece is reborn and beyond the warm welcoming expected for Mikis Theodorakis and Manos Hatzidakis, who returns from America, it is also expected for the French singers that it has loved. Johnny Hallyday, Charles Aznavour, Dalida give melodies to the hopes of the people, while Louis de Funes with his movies brings the smile again on the lips of the Greeks. In contrast, the French embrace our own Nana Mouskouri.
The classical period of French song with the minstrels of chanson and the revolutionary aspects of French youth is completed in the late 70s. From 1980 onwards, the course of French music is influenced by international trends, but also by the music of former colonies, which are incorporated in the term “francophonie” which we will look further.