French fanatic and fastidious Bwogger Rachel Deal brings coverage of French hip hop, with an emphasis on both hips and hopping.
Last Thursday evening, The Maison Française hosted a talk about French Moves, a book by Felicia McCarren on urban dance practices of minorities in France. The speakers were McCarren herself, who is a French professor at Tulane University, Barbara Browning of The Tisch School, and Columbia’s Madeleine Dobie.
Although the lecture was entitled “The Cultural Politics of French Hip Hop,” the speakers made it clear at the beginning that “le hip-hop” refers almost exclusively to dance—not music (which was a little disappointing, because French music is pretty cool).
After an introduction by Dobie, McCarren gave a slideshow presentation on dance and identity politics in France. She discussed how in the United States we focus on individuality, but the French focus more on universalism and joining together. Because of this, visibility of minorities and their experiences is a difficult topic to discuss. She later clarified her idea of identity politics, saying that in talking about hip hop in France, she prefers to use the term “identity poetics.” Because the roots of hip hop are in the United States, she said, French hip hop is a citation—while hip hop in the United States often functions to empower, hip hop in France tries to not just say something, but to say something different—to articulate difference.
She showed different images and clips of dancers using their art to tell their stories. One dancer in particular named Yiphun Chiam told the story of her family’s experience during the Cambodian Genocide and as immigrants in France. She showed another clip, too, of a dance group named Paname (slang for Paris and its suburbs) dancing hip hop to old French music.
The presentation ended with questions from the other panelists, Browning and Dobie, and from the audience. One topic they covered was the recent terrorist attack in Paris on the magazine Charlie Hebdo. The panelists discussed how dance could “play a part in the response,” and McCarren also expressed her discomfort in how the French media tried to portray one of the attackers as representative of “hip hop aesthetic” by broadcasting a video of him rapping. They wrapped up the talk by discussing the power of dance—how it responds to current events but can also offer new ways of thinking—and McCarren expressed her belief that minority politics in France will continue to develop.
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