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C'est un Rital

by Michèle Bernand
For me, this song is about how immigrants--people of all colors and backgrounds--contribute to art and culture.

It's a wop and his shake box (An accordion)

A guy from the Auvergne and his cabrette (A small bagpipe-hear on this link.)  

In mixing the brushes of their songs

That invented the bal musette

(A style music for dancing that was fast, easy, and could be done without a lot of space. It was associated with accordion bands, though it grew out of the cabrette bands in which people did bourrées, a folk style.)

It's a little Jew escaped from the ghetto

That made tunes the most beautiful about Paris

(Probably referring to Francis Lemarque who wrote “À Paris,” “La Rue," and “Paris se Regarde.”)

Songs that weaved in and out above the cobblestones

Towards the beach to boats spilling over with the dreams of emigrants.


It's the war where children were sent elsewhere

(During World War II, many children were sent from their homes to other places for safety from the Nazis.)

It's Manouchian on his communist poster

(Manouchian was a French-Algerian poet and communist who worked with Aznavour among others. He led groups

in the French Resistance and was murdered by the Nazis.)

Celebrate Black Nat who laughs all the time

In his tata fortress, more scared he'll move

(Probably refers to Senegalese battalions who fought for French colonization.  There was a commercial poster

of an over-laughing Senegalese, the enfantalized

African, popular in France in early 1900's.)

It's Abdel who turned towards Mecca

In the depths of the bayonet trenches

(Bayonets were used throughout the 19th century and early 20th, not only in combat but to help dig trenches. Algerians like Emir Abd El-Kader fought France's colonization and was respected by even the French. Many Muslims, though, fought witht he French died in colonizing efforts. There also were Algerians who fought with the French against Germany during WWII.)

Dead for France and her beautiful colonies

Of Dakar to Saigon (Senegal to Vietnam),

What a delight! Our colorful postcards.

It's the dance of the clandestine people

When little boats have legs

(Perhaps about illegal immigrants.

The second line refers to a children's song and I believe translates as "When pigs fly!")

To lead us to joyous tomorrows

Where we could dance all together

But the boats are in quarantine

The misery is an island a bit far

(Immigrants are put into quarantine.  During WWII, the USA kept many desperate refugees on Ellis Island and even turned back refugees.)

Our grandfathers, though, rubbed shoulders there

The pants-less hillbillies, the famished, or the Canuts,

Poor people from everywhere!

(Without underwear, or sans-culottes, means so poor they couldn't afford even under-garments.  The Canuts were empoverished silk workers from Lyon.)

It's the countryside of sunflowers at midday

through the burning eyes of Vincent (Van Gogh)

It's Picasso, it's Modigliani

(These great French artists were emigrants from Holland, Spain and Italy respectively.)

And the beauty that jostles us

Through the suburbs the infernal racket,

A big fanfare that would like to take the tune

(Algerians and Africans fill the outer parts of Paris playing their own music, influencing French music.)

And the sparrows, the little orphans born in technicolor

the Blacks, Yellows (Asians), Arabs,

Oh, my! What a mix-melo-dy Boby 

(The “dy” or “dis” also means “says”.  Boby Lapointe, from the South of France near Spain, wrote songs with lots of word-play, including many words that sounded the same but were written differently, so he could appear very innocent as he said very blue things.)


It's a wop and his box to shake

A guy from the Auvergne and his cabrette

In mixing the brushes of their songs

That invented the bal musette 

Janet Rayor copyright ©2016-

(Any mistakes I've made are purely my own fault!)

Les Paroles:

C'est un rital et sa boîte à frissons
Un Auvergnat et sa cabrette
En mélangeant les pinceaux d' leurs chansons
Qu'ont inventé les bal musettes
C'est un p'tit Juif échappé du ghetto
Qu'a fait sur Paris les airs les plus beaux
Des chansons qui s' faufilent sous les pavés
Vers la plage aux bateaux renversés
Sur les rêves des émigrés

C'est la guerre où vont valser les enfants
C'est Manoukian sur l'Affiche Rouge
Fête Nat', le Noir qui rigolait tout l' temps
Dans son tata, craint plus qu'il bouge
C'est Abdel qui s'est tourné vers la Mecque
Au fond de la tranchée des baïonnettes
Morts pour la France et ses beaux paysages
De Dakar à Saïgon, quel régal
Nos couleurs sur les cartes postales !

C'est la java de tous les clandestins
Quand les p'tits bateaux ont des jambes
Pour nous mener aux joyeux lendemains
Où l'on danserait tous ensemble
Mais les bateaux, ils sont en quarantaine
La misère est une île un peu lointaine
Nos grands-papas pourtant s'y sont frottés
Sans-culottes affamés ou canuts
Pauvres gens de partout venus

C'est un champ de tournesols à midi
Dans les yeux de Vincent, qui brûle
C'est Picasso, c'est Modigliani
Et la beauté qui nous bouscule
Dans les banlieues, c'est un raffut d'enfer
Une grande fanfare qui voudrait prendre l'air
Et des mômes qui naissent en technicolor
Des Blacks, des Jaunes, des Beurs, oh la la !
Quel méli-mélo dis, Boby !

C'est un rital et sa boîte à frissons
Un Auvergnat et sa cabrette
En mélangeant les pinceaux d' leurs chansons
Qu'ont inventé les bals musette

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