Kaddour Hadadi (HK) is a French author and singer born to Algerian immigrant parents in the Northern French town of Roubaix on September 6th, 1976.
From 2005 to 2009 he was one of the two singers of Ministere des Affaires Populaires, an eclectic rap group from the town of Lille with a repertoire of accordion, working-class rap, rai (a form of Arab folk music), and ch’ti (the dialect spoken in Northern France). The group has been described as “rap-musette”: a reference to its blend of hip-hop with traditional French accordion music.
Ministère des Affaires Populaires: ‘Lillo’
HK refers to his attachment to this dual tradition with characteristic playfulness: “Ces deux histoires dansent en moi!” (These two stories dance inside me!).
In 2006 Hadadi decided to form a new group, HK et les Saltimbanks (‘saltimbanque’ being the French word for ‘acrobat’), also in Lille. This time the music leaned more towards blues and chaabi (Arab-Andalusian music featuring, among other things, mandolin, banjo, tambourine, flute, violin and piano). But the most important departure was its political stance, with lyrics frankly targeting what Hadadi sees as society’s gross blemishes: social exclusion; blatant consumerism; racial prejudice, and the plight of the homeless: the ‘SDF’ or ‘sans domicile fixe’ (‘no fixed abode’). On 31st January, 2011, after three years of touring and appearing in French music festivals, the group released its first album, Citoyen du Monde (Citizen of the World). One track, “On ne lache rien” (We don’t give up!), became the rallying cry for left wing demonstrations, especially one held in the Place de la Bastille on March 18th 2012 by the Front de Gauche, a federation of left wing parties founded in 2008 with a strong ecological bias.
HK et les Saltimbanks: ‘On lâche rien’
The famous square was crammed with 100,000 people dancing to the rhythm of the song which had come to symbolise the struggle of the working class, although HK himself carefully distances himself from any one party. “J’ai hesite. Il faut toujours faire gaffe avec le monde politique.” (I’m hesitant. You can’t trust the world of politics). An idealist, for HK ‘utopia’ is not a rude word but ‘the only way forward’.
When his cousin Said had approached him to join Ministere des Affaires Populaires in 2005 Hadadi replied, “Si l’on reprend ‘Amsterdam’, j’en suis” (If you’re going to re-record ‘Amsterdam’, count me in). On May 21, 2012 he had his way when the Saltimbanks released their second album, Temps Modernes which included a cover version of the classic ‘chanson’. Hadadi says, “J’ai eu une révélation en voyant Jacques Brel chanter Amsterdam à la télévision. La force, la puissance, le visage en sueur. Je reste scotché. Je comprendrai plus tard que c’est le trait particulier des génies de vous embarquer malgré toutes les frontières, même s’ils n’appartiennent pas du tout à votre univers. » (It was a revelation when I saw Jacques Brel sing ‘Amsterdam’ on television. The strength, the power, the face covered in perspiration. I was stunned. I realised that geniuses have a way of transporting you across barriers, even if they are not part of your universe”).
HK et les Saltimbanks: ‘Amsterdam’
Jacques Brel: ‘Amsterdam’
From then on Hadadi added the string of la chanson francaise to his bow.In fact his next album, Les Deserteurs, (2013) was devoted to it.
Songs like ‘Padam padam’ (Edith Piaf), ‘Les P’tits Papiers’ (Serge Gainsbourg), ‘Ne Quelque Part’ (Georges Brassens) and ‘Le Plat Pays’ (Jacques Brel) and ‘Le Deserteur’ (Boris Vian) were performed to an accompaniment of chaabi; prompting one critic to comment, “C’est comme si Brel, Brassens, Renaud, Piaf, Boris Vian, Ferre, Ferrat et Nougaro s’etaient rendus ensemble un soir, a Alger.” (It’s as if Jacques Brel, Georges Brassens, Renaud, Edith Piaf, Boris Vian, Leo Ferre and Claude Nougaro had gathered for the evening in Algiers).
HK et Les Déserteurs: ‘Le Deserteur’
Boris Vian: ‘Le Deserteur’
Speaking of the influence of this heritage, HK says, “ It’s magnificent to interpret these great singers and writers. When you come to take up the pen again yourself, you cannot but retain the things you have learned”.
On April 20th, 2015 the group released Rallumeurs d’Etoiles (Lighting Up the Stars) – an album about revolution, but with an optimistic slant. As France Culture‘s Helene Hazera said in her interview with Hadadi in her weekly programme Chanson Boum, ‘C’est une revolution ou l’on danse’ (It’s a revolution with dancing), and ‘On parle des choses profondes, mais de maniere degagee’ (You talk about deep things, but in a relaxed way). The Saltimbanks paid their children to take part in the title track.
HK et les Saltimbanks: ‘Rallumeurs d’Etoiles’ (School choir with class CM1 et CM2, Ecole Henri Tranchier, Martigues)
We’re lighting up the stars, lighting up the stars/ Lift high our ideal, lift high our ideas/I’ve landed a crazy job with adventurers, visionaries and madmen!/Yes, madmen! Oh! Oh!/The only pay I’m offering/Is a trail of powder to the Pole Star/”OK!”, they said,”OK!” Oh! Oh!/At dawn, while the world is still asleep/They get out their ladders and blowlamps/Straight away they climb up, Oh! Oh!/Perched on the stars, nutcases that we are/In the dead of night we work for humanity/We’re still working, on and on. . ./ We’re lighting up the stars, lighting up the stars/ Lift high our ideal, lift high our ideas. /Do you know the story of the comet-hunters?/On each shooting-star sits a dreamer, a poet/ Who throws light on the world. / If by some happy omen you raised your head thanks to those who blow the clouds along/You would see us as well./We’re waiting for you! Oh! Oh!/ Quick, get out of the town with its rotten lamp-posts/ And come and join us beyond those cold lights!/Leave now!/Get on board, we’re taking you with us! Oh! Oh!/ We’ve got a job for you if you want it:/ Lighting up the stars from morning to night/ Again, and again, and again!/ We’re lighting up the stars! etc/ One by one, this evening/ We’re lighting up the stars.
Others, like ‘Sans haine, sans armes, sans violence’ (Without hatred, guns or violence) and ‘Merci’ continue HK’s trademark chirpiness. ‘L’action ne doit pas etre une reaction, mais une creation’ (Action should not be a reaction but a creation).
HK et les Saltimbanks: ‘Merci’
Yesterday evening I came across an elderly Arab gentleman/Leaning on the counter in a friend’s cafe./ He came over to lecture me because I had not said ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you’ to the barman./He spoke, but he cannot write the language of Moliere/And he hasn’t got his school certificate./But he likes to reflect on human nature./’If everyone said ‘Thank you’, France would be a better place/ If everyone said ‘Thank you, Thank you’./ He knows France, it’s his second home/ An immigrant worker of the first generation, he left his village 60 years ago./ Scarcely adolescent, he paid for the long journey./A recruiter of coal-miners came after him, /Stamped a green brand on his chest and said: You will be a workman. /He sweated over this job for his whole life /And would have just liked someone to say thank you./ If everyone said ‘Thank you’ France would be a better place/ If everyone said ‘Thank you, thank you.’/ Shuunkraann! (‘Thank you’ in Arabic)./ After 40 years his wish was granted./The mine closed and his boss thanked him./Since then he has appointed himself the official guardian of politeness in this rebellious suburban cafe./Like a schoolteacher he placed his hand on my shoulder and said,/’If everyone said thank you, France would be a better place/If everyone said ‘Thank you, thank you’./If I have understood aright it’s not rocket science/ You should always say ‘Thank you’; ‘Hallo’; ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Please’.
On November 30th, 2015, seventeen days after the attacks in Paris at the Bataclan music hall and other places, 58 people including Hadadi (HK) signed a manifesto opposing the government’s prohibition of public demonstrations following the declaration of a state of emergency in France immediately after the attacks, saying this only played into the hands of Daesh (ISIS). This became known as L’Appel des 58.
As part of his anti-consumerist stance, Hadadi likes to castigate reality television (La tele-realite). “On prend; on jette; c’est de la musique Kleenex” (You pick it up and throw it away; it’s musical Kleenex). “Comment aujourd’hui quand on n’a aucun talent, aucun grand baggage philospophique on peut aller dans n’importe quelle grande emission de tele pour aller dire des conneries?” (How come that today with no talent and nothing important to say you can get on to any old tele-realite show and talk crap?). “Il faut se debroncher, se deconnecter, et puis s’ouvrir aux autres un petit peu. Je veux sentir nos ames sur le meme longeur d’onde, positives et rebelles, nomads et vagabondes’ (We’ve got to opt out, disconnect, and open up to others a bit. I want to feel we are on the same wavelength: positive, rebellious and free.)
He has given away his television set.
Copyright January 2016 Pat Harvey