Archive for the ‘French’ Category

English translation of ‘Chercheur de Phases’ by Grand Corps Malade
19 April, 2011

Hello all!

My apologies for the very long break between posts, I guess life kind of got in the way. I started the blog when I was a Masters student and now I have a full time job, I have less time for my own projects. Anyway, below is a translation of Grand Corps Malade’s ‘Chercheur de phases’. I couldn’t work out the English for ‘phases’ (any tips?) so I translated this as a seeker of lines.  I suppose I would call it, ‘The Golden Poet’ in English. In the original, it is a fantastic extended analogy of the gold diggers of the American West and the job of the poet, and I hope I’ve captured some of that spirit in the translation. It’s one of the best written pieces about the obsession and joy that writing can bring that I know. Enjoy.

Here is the original song, with a video created by an arts student, not how I imagined it myself but it’s pretty cute:

He crossed a whole country to reach the Far West
With only a old pair of slacks, a large sack and a vest
He considers himself an adventurer, will he stick or fold?
He is, among others, a simple seeker of gold

He searches through all the rivers, tracking the faintest gleams,
By day his shakes his sieve, by night he searches in his dreams
He picks up each stone to see what on the other side
He sometimes looks until he’s drunk and wild eyed.

He sounds out the grains of sand to uncover the precious nugget
He always takes his time, and he knows not to rush it
Even at night at home, he still looks in the dark and cold
His eyes are like radar, he’s a true seeker of gold

It took hold of him one day, as he saw the others leave
He said to himself, why not me, I could be rich, I believe
And ever since, he’s criss-crossed the world with a bag, a few things
This is, at the end of the day, the most beautiful gift life brings.

When he finds a little gold, it’s like nothing else ever existed
He sees nothing, hears nothing, it’s like he’s autistic
And then he wants more, he’ll look until he’s frail and old,
He is, among others, a simple seeker of gold

I crossed a whole room to reach my writing desk,
With only a pen, some paper and my right hand
I consider myself a poet, is it true or just in my mind?
I am, among others, a simple seeker of lines

I search through all the sentences, and track the smallest rhyme,
By shaking my mind night and day, no matter the time,
I pick up each syllable to see the other side
I sometimes look until I’m drunk and wild eyed.

I sound out all the words to uncover the perfect ending
I always take my time, this technique is patent pending
Even when I leave home, I use every ounce of time
To catch inspiration, I am a simple seeker of lines

It took hold of me, day by day, as I saw others write
I realised that writing could make my spirit feel bright
And ever since, when I put the right word to its place and time,
This is the most best of all feeling, an eighteen-carat gold rhyme.

When I find a good line, it’s like nothing else ever existed
I see nothing, hear nothing, it’s like I’m autistic
And then I want more, I want someone to remember my rhymes,
I am, among others, a simple seeker of lines.

Here is the full text in French:

As ever, I really appreciate your comments, and suggestions for improving the translation!

Thank you,

Will Deben


Translation of MC Solaar’s Caroline
20 May, 2008

Have you found your ace of spaces yet?

MC Solaar’s Caroline is a spectacular, poetic, and profound song about love and loss. The poetry of the lyrics comes from word play rather than straight rhyme. MC Solaar sings la vie est un jeu de cartes (life is a game of cards) and weaves into the story of his break up with an ex lots of word play related to card and gambling. I’ve tried to replicate this is English. See the video and lyrics below and let me know what you think, of the orignal or the translation.

English lyrics:

I was chilling, sitting on a bench,
It was spring, and
Two lovers gather daisies.
Overdosed on tenderness
They play like children
I love you a little… lots… madly passionate…
But after a deception of the heart,
My good mood became brutal
But to hate another is not our right
Jealousy’s radioactive.

Caroline was a friend, a super fine girl
I think again of her, of us, of our vanilla ice creams
Of her cravings for strawberry, raspberry and blueberry,
Of her endless talk, of her tacky style.
I’m the ace of clubs that trumps [spade] your heart
The ace of clubs that trumps your heart…
The ace of clubs that trumps your heart…

Like the four-leaf clover [spade], I seek your happiness,
I’m the man who fell in time to take your heart
Let’s not gamble with this
Caro [diamond], this message comes from the heart,

A pyramid of kisses,
A storm of friendship,
A wave of feeling,
A cyclone of softness,
An ocean of thoughts,
Caroline, I offered you a
 bâtiment of tenderness.

My fears are deep blue,
The red army is on my tail
I took out green bills for you,
I had to move to prevail,
Fire-starter of your heart,
Fighter-pilot of your fears,
I offered you a symphony of colours.

She left, masochist, with an old macho,
That she’d met in a station on the metro
When I see them hand-in-hand smoking the same cigarette,
I feel a flush in her heart, but she daren’t say a word.
I’m the ace of clubs that trumps your heart
The ace of clubs that trumps your heart…
The ace of clubs that trumps your heart…

MC Claude on the microphone, with a love story ragamuffin style
To tell you about a girl-friend called Caroline
She was my girl, my hit, she was my vitamin,
My drug, my dope, my coke, my crack, and my amphetamine
I think of her again, cosmopolitan, 20 years young and pretty,
Let me rewind the film on life’s video player,
Should I admit, for her tears have fallen –
Ocular haemorrhage…

A toast to our friendship,
To the past, the present, and I hope of the future,
I passed to be present in your future
This life’s a game of cards,
And Paris [bet] a casino,
I’m with the reds, heart,
Caro [diamond].

I’m the ace of clubs that trumps your heart…
The ace of clubs that trumps your heart…
The ace of clubs that trumps your heart…

Words in square brackets are where there’s a play on words in the original French that I couldn’t translate. The playing cards word play is beautifully interwoven into the original text: Caro – sounds like diamond in French – and the line I’ve translated at ‘The ace of clubs that trumps your heart’ (L’as de trèfle qui pique ton cœur) is literally, ‘The ace of clubs that stings (also ‘spade’) your heart’. My favouite verse in the original is the pyramid/ storm/ wave/ cyclone and the symphony of colours one which I think are real poetry!

Leave a comment, let me know what you think any tips from francophones to improve the translation most welcome.

Original French paroles can be found here:, another English translation is here:


Dissertation writing and Renaud’s ‘Hexagone’
25 July, 2007

This is to apologise for not writing so long, I’m in the final month of writing my dissertation so no time to spare at the mo.  If you’ve come back to look at the site, thanks a lot.  I’ve got a translation of ‘Je dors sur mes 2 oreilles’ in the making, so I’ll get that up sometime, and hopefully some stuff on UK hip-hop which I’m looking forward to.  Until then….

I’ve recently been playing Renaud’s song ‘Hexegone’ non-stop, it’s about France, goes through some of the big events in French history (Revolution, May 1968, D-Day landings etc.) and is written with each verse relating to a month of the year (Jan, Feb, etc.).  Awesome song, if scaldingly critical, check it out if you don’t know it:

This is a snippet from the ‘May’ verse, about student and workers strikes in ’68 that almost brought down the government, just as it is not rhymed:

They remember the month of May
Of a blood which ran red and black
Of a failed revolution
Which should have changed history.
Most of all, I remember those sheep,
Frightened by Liberty
Going to vote in their millions
For order and security

Ils se souviennent, au mois de mai,
d’un sang qui coula rouge et noir,
d’une révolution manquée
qui faillit renverser l’Histoire,
j’me souviens surtout d’ces moutons,
effrayés par la Liberté,
s’en allant voter par millions
pour l’ordre et la sécurité.

Full lyrics:

There is a video – but it’s not a great version:

‘Ça peut chémar’ translation – Grand Corps Malade (4)
2 July, 2007

This is for ‘b’ who said that the end of ‘ça peut chémar’ was one of his favourites, it’s one of mine too! This comes from the last verse – a new beat strikes up and Grand Corps Malade lays these rhymes over the top:

Alors on a monté des projets loin des projecteurs
Pour éviter les projectiles des rageurs jeteurs de sorts
Est-ce la mentalité de banlieue ou la mentalité française
Mais les meilleures idées sont souvent celles qui se taisent
Doit-on vraiment changer d’envie ou changer d’environnement
Pour se fixer des objectifs et les atteindre ouvertement
Des mecs qui te jettent le mauvais oeil, on en connaît depuis le préau
Je dois avouer que même entre nous, on s’est pas toujours tirés vers le haut
Mais fini de s’imposer notre propre censure, on n’a pas de sang sur les mains
Alors pourquoi ne pas être sûrs qu’on est sur le bon chemin
Nous n’étions pas forts mais ce passé nous a formés et plus jamais je me marre
Quand j’entends cette phrase résonnait : “Je te jure ça peut chémar”.

This is my translation:

So, we made our plans far from the moves and shakers,
To avoid the projectiles of the angry magic makers,
Is it the mentality of the suburbs or of France that’s broken?
Why is it that the best ideas so often rest unspoken?
What is it we need to change: our minds or our environment?
To really focus on our goals and reach them, pride not bent
The guys that give the dodgy looks, we’ve known them since pre-school,
And, I must admit between us, not always helped each other stand tall
But it’s finished with the self-censorship, there’s no blood on my hands,
So why are we not sure our right path starts right where we stand,
We weren’t strong in the past, but it formed us, so no more do I see life as a dilemma,
When I this phrase hits my ear: “Trust me, ça peut chémar”

I left ‘ça peut chémar’ in French – the literal translation is ‘that can work’ or ‘we can do it’ something like that. The word ‘chémar’ is verlan – French slang from the suburbs. Verlan is made from taking a normal French word and swaping the first and second syllables; so ‘fou’ meaning crazy becomes ‘ouf’; ‘femmes’ women become ‘meufs’ and ‘marcher’ to work becomes ‘chémar’. What’s more if you take the French for backwards or in reverse which is ‘l’envers’, and flip the syllables round you get ‘verlan’, volia! 🙂

Check out the song here:

Love and train journeys – Grand Corps Malade (3)
15 June, 2007

Check out a new translation of Grand Corps Malade’s ‘Chercheur de Phases’


What do love and trains have in common?  Well for French slam poet Grand Corps Malade the answer is plenty! This is my translation of his song ‘Les Voyages en train’ or ‘Train journeys’. Alors, les paroles en anglais:

Train journeys

You could say that love stories were like journeys by train,
And sometimes when I see those travellers I’d like to be one again,
Why do you think so many people wait at the platform gate?
Why do you think we stress so much when we arrive a little late?

The train often pulls away when you least anticipate,
And the love story carries you off from those who commentate,
The commentators are you mates who say goodbye at the station
They watch the train pull away with a look of trepidation
You wave back at them and imagine their comments going round
Some say you’ve made a mistake, that your feet aren’t on the ground,
Each one makes a prediction for how long the trip will last,
Most of them think the train will derail at the first stormy blast.

Real love, it’s no surprise, changes the expression on your face
So, from day one you should carefully choose your place,
A seat by the aisle or next to the window glass,
What do you choose, a love story in first or second class?

In the first few miles you can’t take your eyes from her face,
You barely notice out the window the passing green open space,
You feel light, life is a flower and you’re drinking its nectar
You feel so good that you almost want to kiss the ticket collector,

But the magic only lasts a time, your story’s running out of steam,
You tell yourself you’re in it for nothing, ‘it’s all her fault’, you want to scream
The train’s rumble makes you drunk, you feel sick at each bend,
You’ve gotta get up, walk out and find a way for your heart to mend.

Now the train slows down, it’s already the end of your tale,
And what’s more you’re like a fool, your mates are at the other end of the rail
You say goodbye to the one you’ll now call your ex,
In her address book, she whites out your name in tippex.

So you see that love stories are like journeys by train,
And sometimes when I see those travellers I’d like to be one again,
Why do you think so many people wait at the platform gate?
Why do you think we stress so much when we arrive a little late?

For some Life is all about trying to catch a train,
To feel love and find their energy bubbling up like champagne,
For others the aim is to arrive with time to spare,
To have a safe trip and live life without care.

It is easy to catch a train but make sure you pick well,
I got into two or three but not the right carriage, I could tell,
For trains are temperamental, some you try to reach but fail,
And I don’t always think it’s possible on Network Rail

For some the trains are always on strike or so it seems,
And their love stories only exist in their dreams,
Others jump on the first train without paying attention,
But, of course, they get off disappointed at the next station,
Still others stress about commitment as they’re over-emotive,
For them it’s too risky to hold on to the locomotive,
And there are the adventurers who take trip after trip,
Once one story is finished onto the next page they flip,

I suffered for months after my only real journey,
We both agreed to leave, but she agreed more than me,
Since then, I hang out on the platform, watch the trains pull away
Some doors open, but for now it’s on the platform I’ll stay

It seems that train journeys end badly, more often than not,
If that’s the case for you hang on, don’t tie your heart in a knot,
Because one thing is certain there’ll always be a termin-us,
Now you’ve been warned – next time you can take the bus.

Check out the original video, you’ll see the ‘tippex moment’, lots of running for trains, some action in the loo and Grand Corps Malade taking the bus .

I like how the whole slam works with one simple metaphor that’s expanded throughout. It took a while to make the English lyrics even half as good as the French. I’ve kept the original rhyme scheme, and the same number of lines, and have only played around with the metaphors when it was necessary – it’s pretty true to the original.

The French lyrics (or ‘paroles’) can be found here:

I think this is a really typical French song – they are so proud of their super-quick TGV trains, and unlike in the UK where most users of trains are commuters, most French train travellers are recreational, weekend trips and the like.  If this was a British slammer I think there would have to have been much more about engineering works, ‘leaves on the line’ and delays!  It would certainly be less optimistic.

 If you’re a Grand Corps Malade fan (do they exist in the English-speaking world?) and have got a favourite song you would love to see translated, let me know.

Head, Heart and Balls – Grand Corps Malade (2)
1 June, 2007

Another good song from the album Midi 20 is ‘Ma tête, mon coeur’ – ‘My head, my heart’.  Now, the title could make you think that it was a soppy, sentimental poem but just wait. The song actually revolves around ‘Ma tête, mon coeur, mes couilles’, ‘my head, my heart, my balls’! It has a rawness and reality that is refreshing.  This is how it begins, I’ll put my translation first and then the original French after.

The human body is a state where each organ wants to be governor
There are in man 3 leaders who try to impose their law
This constant fight is the greatest source of life’s tangles
It has always set against each other: the head, the heart and the balls.

(Le corps humain est un royaume ou chaque organe veut être le roi
Il y a chez l’homme 3 leaders qui essayent d’imposer leur loi
Cette lutte permanente est la plus grosse source d’embrouille
Elle oppose depuis toujours la tête, le coeur et les couilles.)

This is the first time I’ve translated poetry and it’s pretty tough, it’s very hard to translate the literal meaning and keep some of the flow and rhyme of the original.   Anyway, it goes on:

Ladies excuse us if we do some dodgy things
If one day we’re like lambs and the next like wolves
It’s caused by this combat that runs in our bodies
The head, the heart, the balls discuss but they never agree

(Que les demoiselles nous excusent si on fait des trucs chelous
Si un jour on est des agneaux et qu’le lendemain on est des loups
C’est à cause de c’combat qui s’agite dans notre corps
La tête, le coeur, les couilles discutent mais ils sont jamais d’accords)

You get the idea, notice in the first two lines in the French how chelous/agneaux/loups rhyme. He then describes what all three are like: his heart is a sponge open to everything, his head a soldier that’s not easily moved, his balls are motivated and ‘want to screw that brunette’! Next, impossible to translate, is a kind of dialogue between them full of word play, so: his balls have heart-ache, or have their head in the clouds; his heart needs some balls, or loses its head – clever, witty and at the same time true to life.

The song finishes up with him saying that he’s crazy about women and scared of them too. There is no solution to the ‘permanent fight’ and he’ll carry on being guided by these three leaders:

I haven’t found the solution, I’ve been searching for some time
I guess I’ll stay controled by my head, my heart and my balls.

(J’ai pas trouvé la solution, ça fait un moment qu’je fouille
Je resterais sous l’contrôle d’ma tête, mon coeur et mes couilles.)

How many guys out there could say any different?

Watch the live performance of the song here (starts 30 secs into video)

Full French lyrics :

A meeting – Grand Corps Malade (1)
31 May, 2007

I heard about Grand Corps Malade about six months ago.  I asked this French girl I knew if she could recommend any French hip-hop acts and she said, “No, I don’t like hip-hop, but you should check out this guy, great lyrics.”  Well, I only got hold of his album a couple of weeks ago and loved it from the first play.  It’s not hip-hop but slam, spoken word poetry with some melodic musical backing.  Supposedly ‘slam’ started in Chicago in the 1980s, with some guy who was bored at poetry reading sessions, and it seems to have blossomed in France.  Grand Corps Malade is the first mainstream hit from the slam circuit with his album Midi 20, that’s sold in the hundreds of thousands.  I’ll try to translate some of his stuff on this blog in the next couple of posts. 

 Just to start out, he’s got a song called ‘Rencontres’, ‘Meetings’ or ‘Encounters’ where he describes walking down a windy path a bit like life and meeting some bizzare characters: innocence, sport, poetry, distress, love, tenderness, nostalgia, friendship, and finally the future.  As he describes each one the authenticity of his experience shines out.  This is the the song performed live on a French TV show:

This is my translation of Grand Corps Malade’s meeting with poetry (1:05 – 1:26 on the video):

Then I met Poetry, she looked so pretentious,
She claimed that with words you could cut across the skies.
I told her, ‘I’ve already come across you and frankly you’re not worth it,
They told me about you in school and you seemed pretty sh*t’.
But Poetry insisted, and caught back up with me in other forms
I understood that she was cool and that you could break her norms
I asked her, ‘Do you think we can live together? I feel like I’m hooked’
She said, ‘Don’t worry the world belongs to those that too often dream’.

The last two lines sound great in French, but I couldn’t capture the same rhythm, it all rhymes in French too -prétentieux/cieux, accroc/trop etc.  This just seemed to sum up for me my own thoughts about poetry.  I used to think that it was useless and meaningless, a pretty arrangement of words on the page with no realtion to my life and to be honest not something a man would boast about liking.  Now I think that good poetry can describe better than anything else what it’s like to be alive and feel and question.

The full French lyrics to the song are here: