To enhance a deep listen of the song, we literally tasted his metaphor: Rwandan Pili Pili sauce on a butter croissant. It’s actually a delicious combination and we enjoyed it several times over a week. After the third or fourth time, I had poetically and melodically translated the song into English, which you can also have a taste of below. Bon Appétit!
The song is a beautifully poetic telling of how Gaël Faye and his sister came to be, the product of a love between his dad (a little French butter croissant) and mom (Rwandan Pili Pili sauce). And we can tell you from experience that the taste combination is just as delicious as it sounds in the song.
As we listened deeply, tasted the metaphors, and sketched a bit, the song came even more alive to us and opened up interesting convos with my own kids who are also bi-racial.
The buttery croissant complements the spicy flavor as if they were meant for each other – no matter how unlikely the combo. Truly delicious, and a lovely reminder that often it’s the things we don’t think “belong” together that will blend to create something newly fabulous.
Try it yourself. Find Gaël Faye on your music platform of choice, and listen to all his amazing music while you make some Pili Pili sauce to go on a croissant. The recipe, English translation, deep listening tips, and more are all below.
For more information about the album of the same name, below is a great video, and taste of many of its songs (includes English subtitles)!
Pili Pili Sauce
Thanks to Priscilla (who lived in Rwanda and is married to a Rwandan man) for telling me how she would normally make Pili Pili sauce! And also thanks to Runner and Stone for the as-always delicious croissants. My kiddos are croissant snobs and Runner and Stone is their favorite.
I love the musical and lyrical challenge of translating French Hip Hop into English. For me, it’s a fun word problem to translate while ensuring that I keep the poeticism of the French lyrics, and rhyme structure, all while keeping within the original melody.
And then sometimes I learn the guitar chords for it so that I can play and sing an acoustic, English version of a French hip hop song. For this song, I’m still practicing my bar chords, so I only have the dub version where I “rap” in English over the original recording.
The lyrics are provided side by side so that you can compare, and also uncover the depth of meaning in the song even if you don’t speak French. I’ve also included yours truly doing the English over the original recording. I’m no professional! I share it to demonstrate the translate fits the melody.
|French Lyrics, as per Genius.||English Translation, by Megs|
|Il voulait quitter la routine, celle de son père||He wanted to run far away from the grips of his dad|
|Qui étiole les rêves au large des paupières||From the man who squashed, any dreams that he had|
|Enfourcher son vélo, repartir à zéro||Pedal away fast make that bike fly|
|Petit gone de Lyon aux oripeaux d’évasion||Little boy of Lyon to take to the sky|
|Partir ! Non pas pour voir de nouveaux lieux||Escape! But not to fill his passport|
|Mais voyager, pour ouvrir de nouveaux yeux||To open his eyes see the world and explore|
|Orpailleurs d’horizons, y’a que des hôtels mille étoiles||Dharma Bums ‘On The Road,’ sleeping in cars|
|Pour les clochards célestes qui ne s’embarrassent pas d’un toit||Trading 5 star hotels, for a blanket of stars|
|Petit croissant au beurre, petit français qui flâne||Little butter croissant, French boy with a dream|
|Il lisait Kerouac et chantait Bob Dylan||Reading Kerouac singin’ Dylan, beat poet wanna be|
|Il est parti vivre à la dure||He left the ease of his comfortable home,|
|Découvrir l’humain, épouser la nature||To meet souls to live, and to roam|
|Et de pays en pays, il pédale, il pédale||And from country to country he pedaled, he pedaled|
|Et de guerre en maladie, il pédale, il pédale||And from war to sickness he pedaled, he pedaled|
|C’est usé par la route d’un voyage de cinq ans||For five years he journeyed and near the end of his line|
|Qu’au bord de son doute il rencontre un piment||He had luck to meet a spice … in the nick of time|
|Elle était belle comme un piment, une robe du dimanche||Beautiful like a chili, dressed in Sunday best|
|Elle rêvait d’un charmant, d’un amour qui s’épanche||Dreaming of her prince, to take her on a quest|
|Elle vivait dans un quartier populaire||There she lived in a working-class ‘hood|
|Elle avait fui son pays, les pogroms et la guerre||Fled the war, family, country, looking for good|
|Et la terre des ancêtres était un vaste mouroir||Back home only death, of people AND the land|
|Et ce pays d’accueil, un sombre miroir||And here not welcome, dark mirror in her hand|
|Qui lui renvoyait cette image de paria||An outcast here, a refugee there|
|Une réfugiée HCR qui glisse aux parois||Slipping down an abyss she wasn’t anywhere|
|Et qui veut s’envoler, partir loin d’ici||She wanted to fly, fly far far away,|
|Là où le ciel ne dit ni Hutu ni Tutsi||Where Hutu or Tutsi weren’t words people say|
|Et puis les murs de sa chambre au vert papier peint||Her room, a sanctuary, where she could just dream|
|Recouvert de poster de « Salut les Copains »||Magazines on her walls to offer other scenes|
|Etait son antre où elle rêvait d’être hippie||It was here that she dreamt of being a hippie|
|D’ecouter du Jimi et de vivre à Paris||Listening to Jimi, and living in Paris|
|Son destin croise celui d’un croissant au buerre||She met the butter croissant, changing her destiny.|
|Elle et il aux Sources du Nil||Where the Nile begins. She and he were there|
|Un vent souffle l’idylle sur les branches d’un nid||A light breeze blows the nest sways in the air|
|D’un croissant beurre et d’un piment swahili||Little butter croissant and the pili pili pepper|
|Qui s’étaient donc jurés de s’aimer pour la vie||Swore love for life, thru all kinds of weather|
|Malgré toutes les routes crevées d’ornières||Ride along together roads full of ruts|
|Dans le panache de poussières de saisons blanches et sèches.||Through dry and white seasons, and all the dust|
|Malgré le doute et les pluies diluviennes||Despite the doubt and the torrential rains|
|Malgré les torrents de boue qui s’écoulent dans la plaine||Despite the torrents of mud flowing in the plain|
|Le croissant, le piment ont le goût d’un enfant||The croissant and the chili, they longed for a kid|
|Puis de un puis de deux, carpe diem d’un instant||Then came one, then came two, content for a bit|
|Aucune écluse ne peut contenir les rêves||But dreams can’t stay under lock and key|
|Que le cœur transporte et pour lesquels il crève||The heart will die if it’s not set free|
|Pili-Pili rêvait de Paris||She, the chili, Paris on her mind|
|Croissant au beurre voulait vivre ici||The croissant? Wants to stay behind|
|Ils se croisent, se dêcroisent les chimins||Lives intertwine, two roads into one|
|Et laissent des enfants au carrefour des destins||Until that road ends; kids left in the sun|
Rather than Pili Pili Sauce on a butter croissant, for my own bi-racial kids the metaphor might be garam masala on clam chowder? Or maybe even one of the two favorites already captured in portraits: garam masala oatmeal raisin cookies, and Indian-spiced banana muffins.
Whatever the metaphor, they were excited to join me for this portrait, making the Pili Pili sauce, eating croissants and doing a deep listen as I coaxed the English version of the song into existence. After all, I am writing this in March 2020 when New York City (and most of the world) is on lockdown at home. Thankfully, they often ask to help or join me, and they are even working on their own posts, testing recipes they created, making playlists, and learning WordPress all the while.
In today’s case, the conversations that the lyrics inspired between my kids and I made the portrait that much richer of an experience. I was glad they joined me, and I would recommend finding a kid or two to join you when you replay this portrait.
Having seen me draw for a deep listen of @kabirmakesmusic recently, they requested to draw while we listened. This was not only an enriching experience in itself, but it also provided a good way for everyone to stay focused on listening.
More from Gaël Faye
If you’ haven’t read the English translation of his novel Petit Pays, you should (or the original in French if you can! Someday I hope to be able to). It’s a heartbreaking book, so beautifully written (at least as far as I can tell in translation). It will also enrich your experience of his album Pili Pili Sur un Croissant Buerre album. I look forward to when the film Petit Pays is available in the US.
Thank you Gaël Faye, for your inspiring and beautiful music! Support him by purchasing his music and merchandise here, buying his book (at a local bookstore if you can!), and seeing the film based on his book!
How-to: Deep Listen
I’ve been met with stares when I talk about this and was asked to explain exactly how to take a deep listen.
It’s simple! Just put music on loud, and just listen. Don’t “multi-task!” No simultaneous flipping through social media, or cleaning up… just listen.
In today’s fast-paced world, just listening is quite hard. I recommend either laying down with eyes closed (and your electronic devices far away!) or keep your hands busy doodling to keep ears and mind on the music.
Here are the steps if you want to do this with kids:
- Queue up the song, and prepare paper and drawing instruments of choice.
- Explain the sequence of events to them so they know what to expect.
- Without much explanation of the song, play it through once. At the end, share reflections about what everyone heard and felt during the song. What words were caught or emotions felt?
- Read through the lyrics (French and English provided at the start of this post), and share any additional thoughts.
- Listen a second time, and again take the time to reflect together.