Un Goût: Gaël Faye’s “Pili Pili Sur un Croissant Beurre”

A portrait from Burundi, France and Rwanda

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!

Our “À Table” series provides easy weeknight French dinners paired with French music and activities and games to create a whole fun-filled evening of practicing spoken French with friends.


The Song

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.

Pili Pili sur un croissant beurre, Delicious, just like the song by Gael Faye


The Album

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.

pili pili sauce ingredients: habenero, red onioin, garlic, tomato and lime


The Lyrics

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 pèreHe wanted to run far away from the grips of his dad
Qui étiole les rêves au large des paupièresFrom the man who squashed, any dreams that he had
Enfourcher son vélo, repartir à zéroPedal away fast make that bike fly
Petit gone de Lyon aux oripeaux d’évasionLittle boy of Lyon to take to the sky
Partir ! Non pas pour voir de nouveaux lieuxEscape! But not to fill his passport
Mais voyager, pour ouvrir de nouveaux yeuxTo open his eyes see the world and explore
Orpailleurs d’horizons, y’a que des hôtels mille étoilesDharma Bums ‘On The Road,’ sleeping in cars
Pour les clochards célestes qui ne s’embarrassent pas d’un toitTrading 5 star hotels, for a blanket of stars
Petit croissant au beurre, petit français qui flâneLittle butter croissant, French boy with a dream
Il lisait Kerouac et chantait Bob DylanReading Kerouac singin’ Dylan, beat poet wanna be
Il est parti vivre à la dureHe left the ease of his comfortable home,
Découvrir l’humain, épouser la natureTo meet souls to live, and to roam
Et de pays en pays, il pédale, il pédaleAnd from country to country he pedaled, he pedaled
Et de guerre en maladie, il pédale, il pédaleAnd from war to sickness he pedaled, he pedaled
C’est usé par la route d’un voyage de cinq ansFor five years he journeyed and near the end of his line
Qu’au bord de son doute il rencontre un pimentHe had luck to meet a spice … in the nick of time
Elle était belle comme un piment, une robe du dimancheBeautiful like a chili, dressed in Sunday best
Elle rêvait d’un charmant, d’un amour qui s’épancheDreaming of her prince, to take her on a quest
Elle vivait dans un quartier populaireThere she lived in a working-class ‘hood
Elle avait fui son pays, les pogroms et la guerreFled the war, family, country, looking for good
Et la terre des ancêtres était un vaste mouroirBack home only death, of people AND the land
Et ce pays d’accueil, un sombre miroirAnd here not welcome, dark mirror in her hand
Qui lui renvoyait cette image de pariaAn outcast here, a refugee there
Une réfugiée HCR qui glisse aux paroisSlipping down an abyss she wasn’t anywhere
Et qui veut s’envoler, partir loin d’iciShe wanted to fly, fly far far away,
Là où le ciel ne dit ni Hutu ni TutsiWhere Hutu or Tutsi weren’t words people say
Et puis les murs de sa chambre au vert papier peintHer 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 hippieIt was here that she dreamt of being a hippie
D’ecouter du Jimi et de vivre à ParisListening to Jimi, and living in Paris
Son destin croise celui d’un croissant au buerreShe met the butter croissant, changing her destiny.
Elle et il aux Sources du NilWhere the Nile begins. She and he were there
Un vent souffle l’idylle sur les branches d’un nidA light breeze blows the nest sways in the air
D’un croissant beurre et d’un piment swahiliLittle butter croissant and the pili pili pepper
Qui s’étaient donc jurés de s’aimer pour la vieSwore love for life, thru all kinds of weather
Malgré toutes les routes crevées d’ornièresRide 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 diluviennesDespite the doubt and the torrential rains
Malgré les torrents de boue qui s’écoulent dans la plaineDespite the torrents of mud flowing in the plain
Le croissant, le piment ont le goût d’un enfantThe croissant and the chili, they longed for a kid
Puis de un puis de deux, carpe diem d’un instantThen came one, then came two, content for a bit
Aucune écluse ne peut contenir les rêvesBut dreams can’t stay under lock and key
Que le cœur transporte et pour lesquels il crèveThe heart will die if it’s not set free
Pili-Pili rêvait de ParisShe, the chili, Paris on her mind
Croissant au beurre voulait vivre iciThe croissant? Wants to stay behind
Ils se croisent, se dêcroisent les chiminsLives intertwine, two roads into one
Et laissent des enfants au carrefour des destinsUntil that road ends; kids left in the sun


Mixed Metaphors

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.

Drawing while taking a deep listen of Gayel Faye

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.

Sketches during our deep listesns of Gael Faye's Pili Pili Sur Un Croissant Au Beurre

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

Small Country by Gaël Faye: 9781524759889 | PenguinRandomHouse.com ...
support your local bookstore if you can…

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:

  1. Queue up the song, and prepare paper and drawing instruments of choice.
  2. Explain the sequence of events to them so they know what to expect.
  3. 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?
  4. Read through the lyrics (French and English provided at the start of this post), and share any additional thoughts.
  5. Listen a second time, and again take the time to reflect together.