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France's changing face looks east

by Rosslyn Hyams

Article published on the 2010-01-22 Latest update 2010-01-22 16:39 TU

Dobet Gnahoré(Photo: Dirk Lenis)

Dobet Gnahoré
(Photo: Dirk Lenis)

Culture in France:Bonjour, India

22/01/2010 by Rosslyn Hyams

Eleven years ago, France won the Football World Cup with a team that was labelled by officials as “Bleu, blanc, beur”. Blue, white and red (bleu, blanc, rouge) are the colours of the French tricolour flag and beur is slang for someone of north African origin. So this was a reference to the ethnically mixed make-up of the team, since

Since then, France has been trying to promote an image that reflects its cultural diversity.

At home youngsters of immigrant origin have become TV and radio broadcasters and some have broken into the music scene and politics. Now the attempt to paint a new face of France, and the French language, is being exported.

“France has changed,” says Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, the executive director of Cultures France, the arm of the French Foreign Ministry which handles the promotion of French culture abroad.

“It's not the white France which was the image some 20 years ago. It's culturally diverse and modern and that's what we want to show. It's good to give people something they don't expect.”

Singer Dobet Gnahoré is originally from Côte d'Ivoire and her father was star percussionist, Boni Gnahoré. Today she's one of French-speaking Africa's most dynamic personalities. She was one of the many artists hand-picked to perform in a three-month programme co-organised by France and India called, Bonjour India.

She composes and sings hand in hand - literally - with French guitarist and songwriter Colin Laroche de Féline.

The invitation-only festival audiences in Delhi, Hyderabad and Bangalore, “were clearly more used to jazz”, she says.

But adds, “I don't use traditional instruments like the balafon or the djembe, so they eventually got into it, got up and danced. My music can appeal to everyone.”

Mayyakam Oxymore with Sangeeta Isvaran(Photo: MARKO93)

Mayyakam Oxymore with Sangeeta Isvaran
(Photo: MARKO93)

Poivre d'Arvor is one of the lynch-pins in the Bonjour India initiative which kicked off in December 2009 and is due to continue until July 2010.

The first part is the three-month festival in India due to end in February 2010.

The festival brings together, in 18 citites, prominent French politicians, thinkers, scientists and their Indian counterparts, in events which focvus on multicultural societies, the environment, infectious diseases, aerospace and architecture, as well as performers, writers, painters and sculptors.

For example, glass and metal artist, Jean-Michel Othoniel has worked on a project called The Precious Stonewall, with the renowned Indian glass-workers from the city of Firozabad in Uttar Pradesh.

Urban artist, and former hip-hopper Marko-93 teams up with Indian Sangeeta Isvaran, a classical dancer/choreographer and electronic musician Cyrille Brissot to produce Mayyakam Oxymore, a mixture of all three disciplines in a "here and now" show.

There are many more examples of this kind of new Franco-Indian cultural blend in Bonjour India, which France is clearly keen to see translate into stronger ties all round, not least economically.


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