Discussing slam poetry on TV and the schism in French slam

When I was contemplating a title for this post, the first thing that came to mind was the revolution will not be televised (Gil Scott-Heron’s eternal phrase). This association might seem a bit far off, but watching TV as rarely as I do, makes me surprised how crappy that medium is to pass on intelligible and sensible information. (Apropos French elitism versus Norwegian anti-elitism which I wrote about some posts ago; stating that one doesn’t watch TV is commonplace and almost expected in my circles in France, in Norway on the other side it’s seen as verging on elitism :D )

The show in question is a 30 minutes “debate” on French slam between four slameurs and an interrupting and not very knowledgeable journalist, called “Slam: from the bistro to the telly” (Slam: du bistrot à la télé). It was broadcasted 13.11.06 on France 3, and to my knowledge it’s not widely discussed in slam circles, and when it’s brought up it’s mostly in order to diss the fourth participant, which will also be my subject in this post (in addition to dissing TV in general)… I found it on the Internet here. In addition to a lot of interruptions and all-speaking-at-the-same-time (typical French TV entertainment), it also contains some throwing of water and some short slam performances. I’ll give a short résumé…

The show is recorded just after Toni Morrison invited the slam poets with her to Louvre, and it starts with a reportage from the event, first showing Yo (who hangs around in bars in Belleville and whom I just saw animating the monthly open microphone soirée Slam Caravane taking place in the banliues in Seine-Saint-Denis (9-3)), then Astien [myspace] (whom I just met at a huge slam tournament in Le Mans) and ending with D’ de Kabal (who is one of the initiators of Slam Caravane as well as the event at Louvre, my photo here).
The latter was also present in studio, together with Grand Corps Malade (a photo from the soirée in Saint Denis here), Dgiz [myspace, his old site with some old songs] and Pilote Le Hot. The four seems to me a fairy representative choice, except from – as Dgiz remarked during the séance – où sont les slameuses? ("Where are the female slammers?") GCM is the blockbuster guy, D’ the one initiating a million events, Dgiz for his personal and artistic trajectory and Pilote le Hot for being (one of) the first to introduce slam poetry to France and for being the central figure in a huge slam network. (Links to Slameur and Fédération Française du Slam Poésie).

It’s not a coincidence that I haven’t mentioned Pilote Le Hot before. The network he belongs to is – with very few people overlapping – almost entirely separated from the milieus I’m frequenting. I don’t know yet how I’ll incorporate this other milieu in my thesis. Initially, I was thinking of making it a small comparative case, but I’m not sure if I’ve got time to treat it properly (Any suggestions?)

The TV programme serves as a good introduction to this schism in French slam, as it turned out to be just a big fight over the definition of slam: For D’, it as a space for free speech (espace de parole libre), GCM emphasised the word partage (“sharing”) – of a text, words and emotions and of a stage – as well as free access to speech (accès libre à la parole) and Dgiz defined slam as taking place through l’écoute ((attentive) listening) and as an ephemeral, poetic moment. He continued by pointing to how representative he found the four slammers present there; un black (D’), un blanc ("white", GCM), un beur ("Arab", Dgiz) et un animal (Pilote – who quickly became on edge with everyone) [it was here Dgiz asked where the female slammers were]. D’ de Kabal followed by saying that the slammers is not a community like les jeunes (“the young”) and les rebeus (“the Arabs”) [he’s of course ironic here…], they have different opinions. Neither do they have a leader who tells them how to do things… Pilote on the other hand insisted – by interrupting, monologuing and not listening to the others – to such a degree on the original US-American definition of slam poetry as a competition with a jury in the audience, that GCM ended up calling him a fundamentalist (integriste).

Sharing, listening, free speech and the cosmopolitan environment are characteristics I often hear about the French slam scene. However, for Pilote le Hot, apparently only the rules set down in by Mark Smith Chicago in 1984 counts [wikipedia on history of American slam]. For an anthropologist this conflict between purism and cultural translation is of course interesting, but as I said, I don’t yet know how I best can integrate that other scene into my study – and if I’m not already to integrated myself into one part after the schism to cross the boundary to the other.

Towards the end of the program, the four slammers perform a text (Pilote, with a paper on what he claims slam is, D’ knows his – in rememberance of slavery – by heart, Dgiz improvises on the situation and GCM performs the start of Attentat Verbal - also on slam – from his record). As Pilote is not listening to D’, he throws him a glass of water, Pilote retaliates and later says to GCM that in your text you say that whoever can come and do whatever on stage and say that is slam, but that is not the case… and the slam will soon be a competition in elitisme d’underground… GCM calls him an integriste, Dgiz says that you can slam in French and you’ve got French slam now where you can do whatever you want… GCM says Pilot; you’ve certainly given a beautiful picture of what slam is tonight, but he also invites everyone to come to the small bars and cafés where the real slam is going on and see for themselves what it is. D’ almost gets the last word by saying something like (it’s hard to hear because of the noise…) slam is like a large pavement where everyone can find their place but where one sometimes finds a dog turd, and points in direction of Pilote...

Compared to the law of 20 sec concentration span obviously ruling on talk shows on TV, the three minutes recommended time for a slam seems like ages. But the journalist was perhaps happy with the noisy, distracted show he got…


Comment from: Åsne [Visitor]

Jeg kvittet meg med tv-en min for noen år siden - syntes det var veldig befriende å venne seg av den daglige dosen “nyheter” og “debatt” (les: ufullstendig informasjon og avbrutte resonnement…) Men jeg merker at det er et valg som kan virke demonstrativt og, som du sier, elitistisk, og derfor ikke blir særlig godt mottatt i en del sammenhenger. Det er pussig hvordan det å se tv er blitt en sånn enorm selvfølge at man ender opp med å føle seg omtrent like rar som Unabomberen hvis man lar være :)

26/03/07 @ 15:31
Comment from: [Member]

Hei Åsne

Jeg er enig med deg, og det er vel bare å stå for den man er… Ikke leser jeg andre norske aviser enn Overklassekampen heller :D

30/03/07 @ 13:35
Comment from: Åsne [Visitor]

Hehe, ja – folkets stemme, liksom! Jeg så forresten det opptaket som du linker til i posten. Det var mye jeg ikke fikk med meg (rusten i fransk), men det hjalp med referat … Morsomt at Pilote insisterer på at slam er demokrati (?), men samtidig tar uforholdsmessig stor plass i samtalen. Programlederen virket jo helt ute av stand til å ta noen grep, som å fordele taletid og sånne ting… j-zus. Herlig kaotisk!

30/03/07 @ 15:44

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