Imagine being born, raised and educated in France, the country of the Rights of Man. Imagine learning French history and literature in school, speaking French as your native language, buying your morning croissant at the local bakery and yet not being considered French by most of the society around you. Imagine facing racism in the job market and at school because your last name is MOUKAFIH instead of DUPONT. What would you do? How would you react?
For many French citizens of minority origin the only way to claim, or reclaim, the French identity that is denied them is through artistic expression. In contemporary French society, one of the most influential and prolific of these representations is hip-hop dance and music. Although originally started in America, hip-hop took quite a hold in France in the 1980s; so much so, in fact, that France is now considered number two on the world hip-hop scene.
With lyrics like “…their bodies are falling apart/and their children are still being judged according to their origins” (“Ils ont” by Aktivist) it’s hard to ignore the anger, hurt and overall feeling of rejection that is made quite clear through their songs. Artists like Aktivist reclaim their identity as well as their voice with hip-hop. Music is not the only outlet for artists, however. Dancers and dance troupes have found a similar way to share their struggle for identity through movement.
Abdou N’Gom, choreographer for Compagnie Stylistik explains, “I wanted to restate my repulsion of all prejudices and bring up front the doubts and questions life confronted me with. They shaped me, helping me build the person I am now.” The title of Abdou N’Gom’s performance, “Entre Deux,” stems from a French expression-turned-phenomenon that represents the feeling of many second generation immigrants who are often caught “between two.” Caught, that is, between two cultures, two languages and sometimes two citizenships, they feel torn and rejected by both their culture of origin and their culture of birth.
Although French hip-hop originally mirrored American hip-hop, over the years it has taken on its own intrinsic battles, messages and artistic forms. Reclaiming French identity and expressing anger and pain through music and dance has given a voice to the musicians, dancers and choreographers at the heart of this contemporary movement.
For the first time ever in D.C., the Alliance Française de Washington will bring together four French hip-hop dance troupes, including Stylistik, during Urban Corps: A transatlantic hip-hop festival, which will take place from May 17 until May 25. Click here for more info about Stylistik
By Megan Russler