France: Censorship row over festival’s ban on rapper


20 July 2009


Censorship row over festival’s ban on rapper

27-year-old rapper Orelsan was removed from the programme of a major French music festival in the last minute — and then quickly became the centre of a national debate over censorship. Should rappers be able to sing whatever they like in the name of art? Should politicians be able to stop them taking to the stage?

Organisers of the Francofolies music festival in La Rochelle in Western France &mdash one of France’s most important summer music festivals — said in July 2009 that they had been forced to drop the rapper Orelsan from their line up after the head of the region where the festival takes place, Ségolène Royal, had contacted them, threatening to withdraw public subsidies for the venue if Orelsan appeared.

In a local newspaper Ségolène Royal had stated that she had written to the festival for ‘clarification’ on his part in the lineup, and that she was happy Orelsan’s appearance had been pulled.

The news made the French centre-right government shift from criticising the rapper to defending him, accusing Ségolène Royal of ‘intolerable’ interference

Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling centre-right UMP party, which earlier this year led criticism of Orelsan’s song, ‘Sale Pute’ (‘Dirty Slut’), issued a statement saying it was ‘intolerable’ to censor an artist, and that Ségolène Royal was ‘attacking freedom of expression’.

Ségolène Royal then issued a a statement in which she denied that she threatened to withhold funding from the festival, though she did say she spoke to the organisers after hearing from women’s groups.

‘The French Eminem’
27-year-old Orelsan (real name: Aurelien Contentin) is known as ‘the French Eminem’: a middle-class teacher’s son from a dull town in lower Normandy who raps about the rural drug epidemic, boredom and the hopelessness of French provincial teenagers. He shot to prominence in March 2009 when a video of his song ‘Sale Pute’ became an Internet hit. The song contains explicitly violent sexist lyrics, and created scandal in France among feminists groups, political parties and the government.

As a result, in June 2009, Orelsan’s new album was pulled from all Paris’ municipal libraries.

Violent lyrics

The online music video for ‘Sale Pute’ shows Orelsan holding an empty bottle of whisky as he raps:

    “You’re just a slut, slut, slut…
    If I break your arm, consider that we parted on good terms

    I hate you,
    I want you to die a slow death,
    I want you to get pregnant and lose the baby
    We’ll see how you manage when your legs are broken, sweetie
    I want to see you go back burning in flames”

    “You are just a pig who should go straight to the slaughter house
    I am going to get you pregnant
    and then abort you with a shepherd’s knife.”

The song is two years old and no longer appears in Orelsan’s stage show, but the controversy lingers.

‘Censorship affects certain artists’

Orelsan believes that his case brings to light censorship in France:
“I’m happy that the debate has finally got to the heart of the matter, which is the censorship that affects certain artists in France. We’re finally seeing that festival organisers don’t always have their hands free,” said Orelsan in the Sud-Ouest newspaper on 14 July 2009.

He told French radio that his removal from the Francofolies festival was ‘really abhorrent’, while stressing that he no longer sang ‘Sale Pute’ on stage, having removed it from his website, and that those censoring him had not seen his act.

Several other French singers made statements in his support. One of them, Cali, said the festival had totally discredited itself. In a letter made public by Orelsan’s record company, Cali said: “There will be a before and an after Orelsan. For my part, I’ll boycott all these muzzled places — with sadness but conviction.”

Jack Lang, the former popular culture minister under the late President François Mitterrand, said that censoring Orelsan set a dangerous precedent regarding controversial artists, and that the move to drop Orelsan was symptomatic of broader attacks against freedom of expression by local councils of all political persuasions.

“An artist has the right to have the wrong thoughts in the eyes of those who presume to impose the truth and justice or tomorrow we will remove from libraries the works of Sade, Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Genet,” he said.

“Orelsan talks about unrequited love in terms that I wouldn’t use … but he has the total right to do so,” said Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand in an interview on the tv channel RTL. He went on to compare Orelsan to Rimbaud, the bad boy of French 19th century poetry. “Rimbaud wrote much more violent things that went on to become classics.”

“It is doubly intolerable that an artiste is being boycotted as a result of blackmail by subsidy,” said Frédéric Lefebvre, the UMP party’s chief spokesman.


Examples of rap censorship incidents

• July 2009:
Danish rapper Carthage Beck McGosh was fired from his job as a summer rap course teacher because of the publication of controversial lyrics produced at the course in which a Danish politician is threatened. (Read more in Danish language)

• September 2008: Rap musician Hamé of a leading French underground rap group was acquitted of ‘defamation’ charges after a long, legal battle against president Nicolas Sarkozy.

• May 2008: The song ‘Get Out’ by Zimbabwean-born hip-hop artist Zubz was banned on the South African Broadcasting Corporation, SABC.

• September 2007: The police in Colorado Springs publicly condemned the music genre gangsta rap in a news release after a killing in July 2007.

• January 2007 Two members of a rap band from the south of Sweden are taken to court accused of ‘hate speech’ after a concert in Landskrona in 2006.

• Since 2006: The British government has repeatedly tried to ban the rapper Snoop Dogg after an airport brawl in 2006 left seven police officers with minor injuries.

• 2005: A Canadian MP tried to have the rapper 50 Cent banned because his lyrics promoted gun crime. The star, whose songs include ‘My Gun Go off’ and ‘Live by the Gun’, was shot nine times in a single incident in 2000 but lived

• 2004: The dance hall artist Beenie Man was banned from performing at an MTV concert in Miami for anti-gay songs such as ‘Bad Man, Chi Chi Man’ (‘Bad Man, Queer Man’)

• 2001 The mayor of Daytona in Florida told the rapper Eminem he would not be welcome back after a concert because of alleged drug references and profanity

Source: Times database, and Freemuse

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Orelsan’s official iLike profile


The Times – 14 July 2009:

‘Bad-boy rapper Orelsan gets chorus of approval from Sarkozy MPs’

Radio France Internationale – 14 July 2009:

‘Censorship polemic around French rapper banned from music festival’

The Telegraph – 14 July 2009:

‘Festival ban on ‘French Eminem’ sparks censorship row’


AFP / – 28 March 2009:

‘Sale pute le rappeur Orelsan s’excuse et s’explique’ – 27 March 2009:

‘Orelsan Sale Pute’

In Danish langauge

Berlingske Tidende – 15 July 2009:

‘Fransk rapper giver politisk uro’

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