An all-time student-favorite among the classes I created combines two French songs by Parisian hip hop artist Black M. The first one, Je suis chez moi (literally “I am home”) is about reclaiming and affirming Frenchness despite the social alienation faced as a black man.
The second part of the class contrasts the first song with a second one from him, À l’Ouest (literally “Out West”—in West Africa) in which Black M expresses his rootedness in Guinea; he travels back there to shoot the music video and reconnect with his parents’ home country.
It is always fascinating to put these two songs into perspective and hear students’ reactions and interpretations. Personally, I think the two songs reveal the pride and interests of French youths in multiculturalism despite France’s systemic opposition to hyphenated identities.
Song 1: Je suis chez moi
Song 2: À l’Ouest (featuring MHD)
This combination sparks vivid conversations among students as they interpret and analyze each song. This is part of a unit on globalization, and it contributes to students’ awareness of French social issues. It also broadens their perspectives and contextualizes historical phenomena like immigration and its consequences. The first song includes several references to French politics as well as to the French Revolution. For instance, Black M sings in the chorus:
“I am French / But they don’t want Marianne to be my fiancée / Maybe it is because of my dark skin / Let me just invite her to dance.”
Marianne is the allegory of France and of the French ethos. This goes together with visual references like the red Phrygian cap of the French Revolution present on the woman at the end of the music video. When teaching this lesson, I always take some time to walk students through these references.
Like with other songs by Belgian or French-Canadian artists, I make a point of introducing students to Francophone material that reaches beyond French culture in order to challenge their social and historical conceptions and to provide them with as much breadth of perspective as possible.