A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Premier Gaou

One of the perks of working from home is listening to loud music whenever I want. My sons are out of range even when they're home, which most of the time they're not. I've got great speakers, several gigabytes of mp3's to choose from, and pretty good acoustics in this big loft of mine. Blasting punk rock, hiphop, or reggae at 3 a.m. feels naughty and nice.

I'm crazy for African music, and I was happy to find a zouglou classic on a world mix CD I obtained recently. I immediately added it to my favorite playlist.

"Premier Gaou" is the biggest hit of Ivory Coast foursome Magic System. Originally released in 1999, it's been re-mixed and re-recorded countless times by MS as well as by other African groups. It sold over a million copies in Europe, the biggest hit song to come out of Africa in twenty years.

"Premier Gaou" is a song about a guy whose girlfriend leaves him, but comes back when he's become famous. Tries to, anyway. The refrain of this incredibly peppy song is "On dit premier gaou n'est pas gaou ô/C'est deuxième gaou qui est gnatar ô. ("They say the first rube isn't a rube; It's the second rube who's an imbecile.") The meaning is pretty obvious: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Zouglou is an ivoirien musical style which dates from the 1990s. It's got a dance beat and subject matter dealing with the trials of everyday life. The lyrics are usually in French street slang, or they can be in an African dialect. The ô at the end of nearly every line is a musical convention, making understanding or translating the lyrics confusing if you're not aware of it.

A gaou is a country bumpkin--naive or ignorant. It can be used rather affectionately to mean a regular guy (like paisan in Italian). Gnatar, on the other hand, is far more pejorative--idiot or imbecile. It's a corruption of "Qatar."

In the United States, it's Polacks. In Iran, it's Turks. And on the Ivory Coast, apparently, it's Qatars. Dress it up in any beat, any language, dig down deep enough, and it's still the same old story.

The U.S. music industry is huge, and we're not terribly interested in anybody else's music. More's the pity. African music especially has universal appeal. "Premier Gaou" has a theme anybody can identify with--the games people play, especially in love--and the entrenched attitudes embedded in all language. Above all, there's the beat. Even if you've got no idea what they're saying, it's near impossible to sit still and listen to this song.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this song. it is good to finally understand the meaning.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I think that most songs, in any language, are about relationships. Down here, they are playing a song which has the same underlying theme as Premier Gaou. Although it is not African, I think you will like it. It's called Mi Canción by Nicolas Mayorca and featuring Cali Y El Dandee. This is a link to the video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTpZvW2Z51w

3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Found this post 11 years later. Nice work. :)

4:38 PM  

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