November 12, 2022, Arles,
What common point between The crowd by Edith Piaf, Come chick sung by Maurice Chevalier or even Do like the bird by Michel Fugain? All classics, of course, but also, something perhaps forgotten, all adaptations – covers – of foreign hits.
Of course, everyone knows there have been covers; take the 1950s which are full of them ; let’s take Joe Dassin, Johnny Hallyday or Claude François; take the most faithful to the letter (Knock Knock open golden door by Hugues Aufray with Bernard Lavilliers, adaptation of a title by Bob Dylan) and the most whimsical (Who is this big black crow by Ringo, rhythmhomophonic adaptation of Video killed the radio star)… But did we know that the adaptation of foreign songs in France – and elsewhere, of course, the thing is not a one-way street – comes from afar, going back at least to the 19th century, and that it has mass-produced? That the recovery permeates our repertoire, that it is an essential component?
This is what Martin Pénet tells us, invited especially to decline a “little history of the translated song” at the Assises de la Traduction littéraire (from the letter to the note, there is only one measure). From decade to decade, the historian and chronicler of the song on France Musique traces us a hundred years of adaptations from 1890 to the 1980s. Why not later? Because these years constitute a real turning point in the tradition according to him: with the arrival of the radio and the record, there is no longer any need to bring these hits from elsewhere: access to the originals is immediate. The growing hegemony of English, too, is felt: no more need for Eurovision to adapt its song in the other languages present, since almost everything is now sung in English.
Exit therefore the adaptation of cabaret and music hall; songs from musicals (that time when films were remade or made simultaneously in all their different language versions); disco hits: the history of the translated song is intimately linked to the progress of technology which opens access to songs in their original language.
The presentation is dizzying: in an hour and a half, we are traveling through time, catapulted between all continents (South America, North America, Europe of course with Italy and Germany in particular) – or almost: we will not speak not, for example adaptations of Brassens in the land of the rising sun.
Nor will a typology of these adaptations be mentioned: whether they are homophonic (resumption of rhythms and sounds only), thematic (resumption of the theme, with other words) or tradaptations (resumption of music and lyrics), the distinction is not made. It’s up to us to do it, the presenter would surely tell us. Especially since this is far from being a small piece, “everything [étant] matter of degrees ».
The presentation gives us food but also leaves us thinking: would adaptation be relegated once and for all to the oblivion of our repertoire? Not quite: the French version ofAsereje by the Gaffettes in the 2000s or the very literal adaptations of the Franglaises (yes, parody is an excellent vein). Finally, let’s think about the art of sampling, so popular in the rap world – which consists of inserting a sample of an existing song into one’s own song. Thus the famous History by Jay-Z who samples Véronique Sanson…
If adaptation has disappeared from habits and customs, the influences of language to language and song to song are far from being put away. ” Long, long, long / Long after the poets are gone / Their songs still run the streets would sing Charles Trenet.