Elegance With A Dash Of Disturbance

The HK Danser Encore Phenomenon

Writer, singer, composer HK. Photo : Julian Pitinome.

Nous on veut continuer à danser encore

Voir nos pensées enlacer nos corps

Passer nos vies sur une grille d'accords

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From your car to the metro to your job and coffee break

You’d better justify every move you make 

All this nonsense about where you can’t go

Woe to anyone who gives it a thought

Anyone who dances will be caught

         If we’re talking about revolt, disturbance, uprisings, where does music come in ? Is it the stage set or the scene stealer ? Is it enough to set things in motion or does it satisfy rebels that they’ve done something by singing in unison ?  Does it come before the paving stones fly or only after, to commemorate ? A brutal foray in the direction of more delicate questions, such as, Is music meant to encourage or to soothe ? (Or a bit of both and who cares anyway.) Aren’t there moments when music, which sets bodies in motion, makes us remember the things we’re in danger of forgetting ? Music exists to create solidarity, doesn’t it ? Good questions for a time like this, when the only way to hear the real thing live is to get up early for church. Maybe not.           

         He goes by the name HK (Ash-Kah). Born in 1976 in Roubaix, a ch’ti town on the outskirts of Lille, a stones’ throw from the Belgian border, HK grew up in a working class neighborhood, the son of a fruit and vegetable seller, a kid who made his theatrical debut in the markets alongside his old man, tap dancing to entertain. At fifteen years old, he formed his first group, Juste Cause, touring the north with his song ‘Piece of Salam.’ He’s rarely stopped since, producing three novels, illustrated books, poems and plenty of songs. MAP, the Ministry of Popular Affairs, his second group, followed, rappers backed by an accordion, cutting discs and collecting awards along the way, all of it far from the bright lights of Paris. In 2018 he adapted his novel Le Cœur à l’outrage for the stage.

         “I never lacked for anything, above all for love,” HK says on his site, “In this proletarian, working city where I was born, in the small towns where you fashion and forge a character that makes you swear to never give up. In a region flavored by Portugal, North Africa and Italy, I became a Ch’ti, citizen of the world. Roubaix has made me what I am.’   

         (Ch’ti or Ch’itimi, in Picardy, Nord Pas de Calais, means northernmost France or Someone From Here in Picard, a language to itself or simply a patois, depending on your point of view.) 

         And now Kaddour Haddadi, the son of Kabyle immigrants to France, has a hit on his hands, with the sweet rush of likes on Facebook and replays on Youtube. But he has something else, too. The song, Danser Encore (Dance Again), elegant but unafraid to be provocative, perfect for a ballroom scene in a film, traditional in style, is political without being too pushy about it. It fits a moment when people are fed up with restrictions and want, more than anything, to be together again. The need for physical community probably outweighs, in the popular temprament, political concerns.

         In the last month people all over France have been singing and posting versions of Let’s Dance Again in the forests of Avallon, in Switzerland, near the beach of Estaque outside Marseille and in train stations all over the country. For my money, the standout is the extended version inside the university hospitals in Rennes and Nice. It begins with the startling footage of a doctor welcoming a well-dressed young man, whom we only see from behind. “We must save our public hospitals, which are en route to burning at the same speed as Notre Dame,” the doctor says, gesturing, hands only inches away from this no-doubt important dignitary’s face. “This is not a game we’re playing around here.” The important young man then dares a few words. “I’m counting on you.” “You may count on me,” the doctor replies.“Whether I can count on you is yet to be seen,” he hurries to say before the man we now realize is the Head of State escapes his embarassment. A splendid piece of agit-prop with humor to spare.  

Et quand le soir à la télé 

Monsieur le bon roi a parlé

Venu annoncer la sentence

Nous faisons preuve d’irrévérence 

Mais toujours avec élégance

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Chaque mesure autoritaire

Chaque relent sécuritaire

Voit s’envoler notre confiance

Ils font preuve de tant d’insistance

Pour confiner notre conscience 

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On the television at night  

The good king sets us right

He comes to deliver our sentence

We respond with irreverence 

And a dash of elegance

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With each authoritarian measure

Each insinuation of security

Our confidence is blown to the winds

They insist we cannot win

Our conscience is under lock and key 

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         It isn’t the first time French musicians have satirized our current tight squeeze. Last summer a group of housebound actors made hay with Brel about being cooped up in their apartment, and Fred from Rouen had a hit with Merde Mon Masque (Shit, Forgot My Mask) earlier this year. But this one has hit a nerve and it would be interesting to understand why.

         The song itself sounds a touch wistful, a little on the order of I can’t go on, I’ll go on. But that ignores context and culture. Le Temps des Cerises is as plangent as a lullaby, yet it immediately brings to mind the Commune. The lyrics of Danser Encore save the tune from banality, and the tune supplies an elegant flow for a poetic description of our present moment. The fruit and veg man’s son has dreamed up something that may surprise radical ears accustomed to Chumbawamba.

Music, always sur le vif, is, like love, the crystalization of the moment.

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The “official” version of HK’s Danser Encore is here. This is his site.

For the photographer Pitinome, look here.

Parking your carcass in the forbidden zone is an act of rebellion.